SUNDERLAND are in danger of finishing the season in their lowest ever position in the Dukes North East Premier League unless they can produce a late flourish.
Despite fending off defeat against South North, they dropped into ninth place, which is where they finished in their poorest year in 2010.
Winners in the first year of the league’s formation back in 2000, they have never been able to repeat the achievement although they have twice finished in second place and have only been out of the top six on four occasions in the 13 years.
Saturday’s drawn finish at Gosforth coincided with the continued improvement in form of Durham Academy, who are immediately below them in tenth place but have won their last two games and are now just 12 points behind.
South North’s bid to retain the championship has long gone but they showed their batting power by making 260-9 with their opening pair of Adam Heather (76) and Sam Jobson (75) sharing a century-plus partnership.
Wickets for Dan Sanderson (4-28) and Ian Stephenson (4-45) kept the Wearsiders in the game. but they found the hosts’ seven man bowling attack on the ball and restricting them to a reply which was 88 runs short of the winning target.
Dan Shurben, with 34, gave Sunderland a steady start but only Arsalan Rahim (42) was able to maintain the challenge and they finished with 173-8.
Durham Academy’s second successive win, and their fifth overall, came at Hetton Lyons but it was a close, exciting affair as the margin between success and failure was only 10 runs.
The Academy posted a challenging 220-9 from 65 overs with 17-year-old Reece Carr making 87 with 13 fours and a six from 133 balls, and Andy Ireland unbeaten on 41 from a more watchful 130 balls.
Lal Kumar tested the students to take 4-42 from his 20 overs and Jack McBeth (3-39 from nine) gave the most support.
The Lyons hit back strongly with a brilliant century from Ryan Pringle. His 122 from 102 balls should have won Hetton the game but the last six batsmen managed just 13 runs between them and the collapse left them ten runs short.
Pringle’s innings included 14 fours and five sixes and he got good support from Sean Tindale (33). Adam Hickey (4-39 from 11.3 overs) and Max Morley (3-85 from 15) combined to leave Hetton disappointed.
Chester-le-Street had another disappointing day with a drawn finish against Blaydon seeing them lose more ground in the championship race. They lost their second place to Benwell Hill, who are now closest to the runaway leaders, Stockton.
The Cestrians weren’t able to restrict their opponents to a manageable score despite five wickets for David Foster, whose 18 overs cost just 57 runs.
Half centuries for Paul Freary, Graeme Bridge and Geoff Stewart took Blaydon to 234-9 but Chester finished on 173-7, 61 runs behind in reply. Opener George Harrison made exactly 50 but the challenge proved too daunting.
Meanwhile, Stockton enjoyed their 11th win in 15 and continue to lead by enough points – 84 – to all but guarantee them their first-ever championship success, even though they still have seven games to play.
But there’s no joy for South Shields, who were beaten by 10 wickets at Tynemouth after being skittled out for just 52 runs, a result that left them pointless and now just three points clear of the relegation placing.