SUNDERLAND’S plight near the foot of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division table was eased by the washed-out stalemate with relegation-threatened Gateshead Fell last week.
With just six games left in the season, the Ashbrooke men should not get dragged into a last-ditch battle to save their own Premier Division skins.
The Wearsiders are 38 points clear of the Fell and, with the bottom-placed club averaging just five points per game in their 16 matches so far, it is going to require a major uplift in form for the Eastwood Gardens club to overhaul any of the sides above them.
However, with 30 points at stake in each game, one positive result can make a huge impact.
With Sunderland likely to be pushed for points in their Ashbrooke encounter with Hetton Lyons on Saturday, the Fell will be hoping their trip to Maiden Castle to take on Durham Academy will be the one where they start to claw back some of the lost ground.
Hetton Lyons have not given up all hope of catching table-topping South North in the closing weeks, but they need the results to start going their way quickly with games fast running out.
South North face a potential banana skin when they go to Blaydon, so the Lyons will be putting everything in to winning at Ashbrooke and they have Chris Varley back in action following a three-week injury absence, although Rob Talbot is on holiday.
After last week’s bold move to bring in Test bowler Graham Onions, Sunderland will have to cope without him this week.
With fellow Durham player Usman Arshad still struggling with injury, the club are hopeful that the visa issues which delayed Dinesh Jayamuni’s arrival from Sri Lanka will be sorted out in time for him to make his debut.
David Hill will play after his return from holiday.
Gateshead Fell will hope that the modest league form of the Academy’s youngsters will continue this weekend, and they will draw confidence from the fact that the county lads have not won a single league game so far, although their 12 draws from 16 outings suggests they also take some beating.
The first meeting between the pair back in May was one of those draws, although only a quarter of a game was possible on another rainy Saturday. Fell are unchanged for this one.
Chester-le-Street signed Durham’s Michael Richardson last week, just in time to play in Sunday’s Banks Salver semi-final against Hetton Lyons, although he endured a difficult start to his Cestrian career, bagging a duck as the Ropery Lane men slumped to 3-3 in the opening exchanges before recovering well enough to win through to the final by 14 runs.
His availability for Saturday’s trip to Tynemouth will depend on Durham. With Max Morley injured, and Quentin Hughes and George Harrison on holiday, resources are stretched a little, although Andrew Bell will be back in action after missing last week’s league game in favour of a trip to the races.
Despite the missing personnel, the Cestrians indicate they face some difficult selection choices given the excellent displays of Stephen Cantwell and Chris Metcalfe in the Salver success.
Whitburn go to Denton Bank to take on an in-form Benwell Hill side.
While the chance of title glory has gone for the Hill, they are still keen to extend a sequence which has seen them win their last three completed league matches since suffering their only defeat of the season.
During that spell, they also won the Tyneside Charity Bowl to put some welcome silverware on the sideboard.
Whitburn welcome back Lee Henderson – he replaces Mark Thursby in their side – and they also hope to have the services of Durham bowler Paul Coughlin available to them.