Title race drama ahead of F15 finals day fireworks

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IT’S the biggest weekend of the summer, with a set of crucial league matches being followed by Sunday’s inaugural F15 Cup finals day at Crook.

The league’s only cup competition has been running on a group basis over the summer and the semi-final line-up sees Whiteleas taking on Castle Eden at 11am, and then host club Crook meeting Burnmoor at 1.45pm.

The two winners will meet in the final, which is scheduled to begin at 4.30pm.

For underdogs Whiteleas, the semi-final presents something of a coincidence, as it means they will be visiting Crook twice in two days as they play a league match there on Saturday.

They have just one change to personnel with batsman Andrew Potts missing out and Dom Slater returning from holiday.

Castle Eden expect to have a full squad available to them on Sunday, with John Thompson back in harness.

The league match has more significance than the cup tie for Crook, who are one of a clutch of teams battling it out for a top-14 finish (and a top-flight place next season).

Their only doubt is over John Nuttall’s availability. However, semi-final opponents Burnmoor will have a number of absentees as the event clashes with their annual club beer festival, which means skipper Alec Linsley and a couple of others will have to miss out.

Even Ian Linsley won’t be there as he is required for bouncy castle inflation duties among other things.

But the key part of this weekend for Burnmoor is their home league game against Dawdon.

After Monday’s matches, the wonderfully mesmerising mysteries of the league’s points system, which seems to have baffled even the most astute of cricketing brains this summer, have unravelled slightly.

Title-chasing Moor have two more than originally suspected, something that would have put them on top of the table, apart from the fact that Esh Winning also feel their total is understated by one point!

Burnmoor will go into the league match at full strength, with Paul Davidson back from his holidays, and they will be meeting a full-strength Dawdon team with plenty to play for, as they are just 22 points above the mid-table “cut”.

Esh Winning play at Philadelphia, where their hosts have David Baxter back from holiday.

The Bunker Hill side have only losttwice this summer, something that could threaten Esh’s title plans, although, they do have a full squad at their own disposal following the return of Paul Rayner.

Surprisingly, Esh chairman of selectors Kevin Carmedy was somewhat downbeat about his team’s chances earlier this week.

He told the Echo: “We make Burnmoor clear favourites because they are a big club with players who have played at a much higher level than the Esh players, and now they are being helped with divine intervention by the weather and extremely generous declarations.”

The battle for promotion could not be more intense, with just 24 points covering six teams in mid-table, and two of those destined to be disappointed.

Durham City have come from nowhere after an unbeaten run of 10 games, and now they are in with a great chance of making the final leap into a top-14 slot.

But they have two difficult final matches to contend with, a home game against Castle Eden followed next week by a trip to Esh Winning.

Aussie Jake McCann has been an inspiration since his late arrival in June.

In just half a season, he has amassed more than 600 league runs at an average in the 70s,. With his fellow countryman, 18-year-old Nick Maiolo, also in a rich vein of form, City are capable of giving anyone a run for their money. Maiolo now has more than 900 runs.

All Hylton’s hard work in climbing into the top half of the table looked in danger of being to no avail when a winless run of four matches saw their position threatened.

However, Monday’s victory at Bill Quay has re-energised their bid and they round off their programme with a game at Horden on Saturday, followed by a visit from Marsden.

Horden expect to be unchanged this week, as do Hylton.

The other two matches, involving the mid-table rankings, see Ushaw Moor entertaining Mainsforth, and Marsden hosting Shildon.

Marsden miss the working Michael Gandy and they promote youngster Patrick Jackson as they seek to protect their top-half placing.