SUNDERLAND’S Dukes ECB NEPL title challenge is under threat with several absentees and the improved form of their hosts making the trip to Stockton on Saturday a more formidable proposition than it might have been a few weeks ago.
Add to that the fact that the Wearsiders have hit the buffers in the last two weeks in terms of their own form then this game has all the hallmarks of another banana skin after successive defeats by two sides in the lower reaches of the table in Sunderland’s last two outings.
By contrast, Stockton go into the game on the back of two straight wins which have lifted them into a position of mid-table security, and with Keaton Jennings in outstanding form for county and club, Jamie Harrison possibly in the home line-up, and Richard Waite’s skills starting to motivate his home club, then the Teessiders are set to test Sunderland’s resolve.
The Wearsiders have to reckon without Tom Skilbeck, Chris Youldon and Paul Woolston for this game, and with Dan Woolston having recently transferred to Washington the acquisition of Dale Shaw from Coast League outfit Seaham Park sees the youngster pitched straight into first team action.
Ruel Brathwaite is expected to play even though he is currently taking part in the three-day game against Australia A at the Emirates.
With new leaders Blaydon also facing player shortages at revitalised Gateshead Fell, the chance may be there for Chester-le-Street to barge their way back into contention after recent performances have seen them slip 32 points behind the table-toppers.
Chester have everyone bar skipper Quentin Hughes back this weekend, and with struggling Benwell Hill due at the Lane the home team should have enough power to re-energise their title bid.
And it’s a big couple of days for the club as they attempt to move a couple of steps closer to a second consecutive appearance in the national T20 finals day.
The area finals are being held at Oulton Cricket Club near Leeds on Sunday with the Cestrians set to face Central Yorkshire League side Methley in the first semi-final at 10am.
The winners of that match will then play the winners of the game between Great Ayton (NYSD) and Great Harwood (Ribblesdale) in the final timed for 4.30pm.
After that the victorious side is just one match away from a trip to Edgbaston for a finals day televised live on Sky TV.
The fourth side in the title equation, South North, will be hoping depleted Blaydon slip up at the Fell as that would provide the opportunity to close the eight-point gap between the pair when they entertain Hetton Lyons.
Lyons will face a full strength home team, and hope to be at optimum strength themselves, their only concern being over the fitness of Anthony Watson who was injured in last week’s warm up and unable to play against Shields. He faces a late fitness test.
Ben Debnam is back from holiday to lead Tynemouth, the team having fared exceptionally well while he has been away by defeating Blaydon in the Salver semi-final and Sunderland in the league.
With Nick Armstrong unavailable that is the only change for the trip to Newcastle.
In Saturday’s final game South Shields entertain the Academy.