WHITBURN’S season-long leadership of the Dukes ECB NEPL First Division is over after they were held to a draw by neighbours Boldon at the same time as the other three major contenders were all winning.
Washington now lead the way, with Sacriston a single point behind in second after victory at Eppleton.
The top four positions are covered by just seven points as the championship race, and with it probable promotion to the Premier Division, approaches its five game climax.
And amongst all the excitement at the summit, Seaham Harbour managed to win for the first time this season to lift themselves off the foot of the table.
Washington significantly enhanced their championship credentials with an emphatic home win over South Hetton.
The hosts had to work hard to total 186 in the first innings, Ashley Thorpe leading by example with nine boundaries in his 66 scored from 90 balls, and Stephen Cuthbertson providing solid support with a half century.
John Leslie continued his own fine season with another four-wicket haul while Murtuza Hussain also claimed four as the match looked to be in the balance at the interval.
But Hetton were humbled in a calamitous reply as they were skittled for a paltry 40, Jordan Matthews (5-21 in 6.4 overs) and Jak Gaff (4-18 in 6 overs) running through the visitors in 12.4 overs of mayhem.
For Matthews, the day was even more memorable as it was his first five-wicket haul for the first team.
Sacriston were given a fight by Eppleton before eventually emerging with a 44-run victory, the hosts picking up three cheap wickets to leave their visitors on 36-3.
But Daniel Anderson engineered a revival, hitting 13 boundaries in a 120-ball 80, and Sacriston were confident enough to declare in the 51 and Craig Scurr shared six of the wickets to fall.
That decision looked a little flawed as the Eppleton openers put on 82 for the first wicket, but then four wickets fell for the addition of 16 more runs to change the complexion of the innings, and the crucial scalp of Kyle Davis (55 from 72 balls) was amongst those to be claimed.
Nevertheless, Dean Musther (32) then dug in, but he couldn’t muster support, and from the relative calm of 148-4 the end came suddenly as the tail failed to wag.
The last six wickets went for 24 runs, the end coming with just over two overs of play left. Graham Hubber (4-45) led the Sacriston strike force, while Ryan Moralee and Max Bailey made important two wicket contributions.
Whitburn were knocked off their perch when they were held to a draw by Boldon, but it could have been worse as just one run separated the sides at the end of an enthralling game.
The bat dominated, and no one’s more so than Neil Ayre’s as he hit a glorious 124 to enable the home team to declare on 258-6 after 48 overs, but led by Neil Mulvaney (65 from 50 balls) Boldon closed on 257-9 after 55 overs, just one wicket away from defeat, but two runs from victory.
Seaham Harbour skipper Stuart Lacey showed all his experience to motivate his side to their first victory of the season, and with Felling being the victims it is now they who occupy the bottom spot.
Lacey sent down 15 immaculate overs to pick up figures of 3-26, and with Swaru Purkayastha supporting his captain with 4-44 Seaham had a target of 173-9 to chase in 50 overs.
And they did it with four to spare, Dale Shaw’s half century, 38 from Stuart Pattison and an unbeaten 32 from Jeff Laws, lighting up the Harbour.