THE big games keep coming thick and fast, and this weekend is no exception as Whitburn get the chance to reclaim the upper ground they held for the first three months of the season.
Having been season-long Dukes North East Premier League First Division leaders following a 10-game unbeaten start, the Villagers slipped down the pecking order following two successive defeats.
But last week’s victory at Willington kept them firmly in the title picture and, with Brandon visiting on Saturday, the chance is there to strike a crucial blow with just four games to go.
Sacriston are top at the moment, but they hold a wafer-thin two point advantage over Brandon, with Whitburn only six points further back in third.
All three contenders have identical match stats of seven wins and two defeats from their 14 games.
The good news for Whitburn is that they have a full squad to choose from, with everyone fit again, subject to no late mishaps with sight screens or flies, and the contest could well be billed as the battle of the batters with the division’s top three in action.
Brandon’s Karl Turner tops the league rankings with 832 runs, but in second and third are Whitburn’s Stuart Walker and Neil Ayre, with 737 and 672 respectively.
The visitors make just one change to their line-up for the trip to the seaside, with Stephen Parnaby, who missed last week, returning in place of Jordan Grossert.
Whitburn skipper Andy Turns pointed out just how important last week’s win was and knows the pressure is on, telling the Echo: “It was important to show our mettle after the previous week’s draw, and our win put us right back in the mix along with Sacriston and Brandon in particular.
“There are only eight points between the three teams with four games to go and it’s going to be a very tense finish to the season.
“I don’t think the league could have wished for a more competitive first season. It’s impossible to say who might actually win the title with so many sides in with a chance, so every point is worth fighting for.”
One team who will definitely be hoping the two sides slug each other to a standstill are leaders Sacriston.
A stalemate at Whitburn would suit them down to the ground as it would provide the opportunity for them to put some clear blue water between themselves and their rivals if they can win at struggling Felling.
Ben Hall comes back into the Sacriston reckoning this week, but they expect to go with the same team.
Last week’s defeat at Sacriston was a major blow to Washington’s championship ambitions, and they will need a perfect storm amongst the three teams above them if they are to make up the lost ground.
The Harraton outfit stick with the same team against a visiting Boldon, who are able to include returning keeper Andrew Doherty.
In Saturday’s other games, South Hetton have to reckon without back injury victim Johnny Davis and hand a chance to Liam Houghton in the home game against a Seaham Harbour team missing Jack Lacey, while Eppleton are back to full strength with the return of Liam Mallaburn and Craig Scurr for the visit of Willington.