Table-toppers Whitburn walking on Ayre

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WHITBURN reinforced their status as Dukes North East Premier League First Division leaders with a convincing victory over winless Seaham Harbour on Saturday.

With Brandon dropping points in a stalemate at Eppleton, the table-toppers are now back to a 24-point advantage over the chasing pack.

The game at Whitburn only lasted 80 overs in all, the home team using up 43 of those as they rattled up 262-3 before declaring.

Stuart Walker was once again at the forefront, hitting 12 boundaries in his 82, but for once he was upstaged as opening partner Neil Ayre took the main plaudits with an unbeaten 129 which included 13 fours and two sixes.

After that, it was any port in a storm for Harbour, but they failed to find a safe haven despite a fine effort from Dale Shaw, who made a defiant 67.

When he became one of six victims for Michael Bittlestone, the game was up, Harbour washed up for 154 in just 37 overs to lose by 108 runs.

Brandon were looking to be positive in their game at Eppleton, but obviously the hindsight question will be asked as to whether they were too inflexible in their plans after being inserted by the Church Road side.

They set their minds on the clear target of a 50-over declaration, but with Karl Turner cracking 70 from 72 balls, and opening partner John Carmedy 81 from 107, as they shared an opening stand of 133, they were well ahead of schedule almost from the start.

And then Ruel Brathwaite threw another element into the equation by smashing seven fours and seven sixes, which lifted the visitors to a gargantuan 303-7 before the players were called in.

This brought to mind the classic Atherton-Hick moment as Brathwaite had 99 from 67 balls to his name when the skipper waved him in, sticking rigidly to the pre-determined declaration plan.

Eppleton now had a target themselves, and, with Liam Mallaburn top-scoring with 43 from 106 balls, they had little difficulty holding out on 209-5.

Boldon’s star continues to rise. A winless four-game opening to life in the new league has been followed by a three-game winning streak, the latest success coming at Felling, who remain bottom.

Felling took control courtesy of Danny Clark’s 57 and Phil Taylor’s 84, but a declaration on 240-4 backfired as Chris Ellison gave Boldon the perfect start to the run chase with 88, and James Coyne (45) and Neil Mulvaney (45no) then finished the job in style for a five-wicket win.

A first defeat of the season for Sacriston saw their conquerors, South Hetton, leapfrog them in the table to go third.

Sacriston’s batsmen struggled badly against a three-pronged strike force led by John Leslie, who continued his splendid form with a return of 4-22 from 15 overs, seven of which were maidens.

Pro Murtuza Hussain (3-29) and Tony Murphy (3-8) gave Leslie the necessary support as the visitors were rolled over for a total of 82 in 38.3 overs.

South Hetton then found themselves in a spot of bother as Graham Hubber claimed three retaliatory wickets, but Liam Irving remained calm under pressure to ease his team to a five-wicket win with an unbeaten 33.

Washington plucked victory from the jaws of defeat to overcome Willington with just four balls remaining.

Patrick Stephenson (6-25) caused early mayhem among the Washington line-up to reduce them to 55-7.

But then a remarkable fightback began, led by Dan Woolston (76) and Jak Gaff (43), the pair putting on 95 for the eighth wicket before important, late contributions lifted the total to 200-9.

Willington then had their backs to the wall as they slid to 92-6, but they, too, fought back only to lose their final wicket from the second ball of the last over, on 181, Gaff and Ash Thorpe sharing six of the wickets for the jubilant winners.