Teams in the NEPL Premier Division reach the half way stage of their season on Saturday which provides a chance to reflect on their progress against the targets they set themselves before the action began back in April.
Sunderland have blown hot and cold, five wins and four defeats, seeing them nestled in a comfortable mid-table position with no apparent danger of becoming involved in the relegation scrap, but no real chance of being up amongst those challenging for honours.
Skipper Dan Shurben was realistic about his teams prospects, which he outlined just before the season began: “This will be a year of transition for us as losing half a team (that did so well last year) would be impossible for any club to deal with.
“However, we still possess a lot of quality and I expect us to be competitive.”
And they have been, with several excellent performances, intermingled with the odd disappointing, one as typified by the last two results which have seen them lose to Gateshead Fell, the only team to have done so this year, and then defeat the much stronger Blaydon seven days later.
This week, they have a Tyne-Wear derby to look forward to at Jesmond, but the same player availability issues continue to dog their planning.
Simon Brown is still on honeymoon, whilst Greg Davison and Greg Applegarth are both unavailable, as is new signing David Hill.
Hill hit an NEPL career best 67 not out for Gateshead Fell against Sunderland just two weeks ago, and then promptly signed for them, making his debut in last week’s win over Blaydon.
On the bright side, Craig Burdon, James Davies and Tom Skilbeck all return. Skilbeck is back in action for the first time since his century in that very same Gateshead game.
Before the Newcastle game, Sunderland travel to Willington tomorrow night to try and complete the T20 quarter-final.
Chester-le-Street’s target was to be challenging on all fronts again, so there was some disappointment at the surprise Salver exit at the hands of Tynemouth last week, but they still have T20 glory to chase with last week’s abandoned quarter-final at Hetton Lyons re-scheduled for tomorrow night.
And they are second in the league table, although, with some work to do if they are to knock surprise-package Stockton off their perch.
The next league match is a big one with South North due at Ropery Lane on Saturday, but the Cestrians are boosted by the return of leading wicket taker David Foster, as well as Usman Arshad who will be needed to take on full strength opponents.
Hetton Lyons were another team disappointed to exit the Salver last Sunday, but a current fourth position in the league is fulfilling their pre-season ambitions which were stated as ‘confident of challenging for the top four positions in the league as well as causing some surprises in cup competitions.’
Their surprise chance comes tomorrow night when they entertain Chester in that T20 game, while they return to league duty the following day when they play at Benwell Hill, who are one place and 20 points above them.
Lyons have to reckon without Ryan Pringle, who is on T20 duty with Durham, as well as skipper Shaun Birbeck who is working.
Gary Scott continues as captain and Martin Stephenson comes straight back in after his holidays.