Whitburn gear up for massive double header

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WHITBURN face one of the biggest weekends in their recent history as they seek to retain top spot in the Dukes North East Premier League First Division when they play one of their closest challengers, and then follow that with a home Banks Salver semi-final on Sunday.

Last week’s defeat by South Hetton brought an end to the fairytale start in their new surroundings, and that first setback also meant their previously comfortable lead as table-toppers was whittled down to just seven points so, with just seven games left, every remaining match carries real significance.

And none more so than tomorrow’s trip to Sacriston, who also have title ambitions having been in and around the top three all season.

They are third, just 24 points behind Whitburn, with skipper Ian Hunter and professional Moh Ali their key players as highlighted by this week’s official league averages.

But those statistics also show the power of the Whitburn batting machine, with Neil Ayre, Stuart Walker and Michael Turns occupying second, third and fourth placings in the rankings. Walker’s aggregate of 652 places him just behind the prolific Karl Turner in the volume of runs scored.

All three will feature again in a team that shows a couple of changes, keeper Ross Carty returning from holiday, and Andy Turns declaring himself fit after being a late withdrawal last week because of an unusual injury.

The skipper slipped a disc in his back moving a sightscreen, which raises the question “what’s the point of being captain if you have to move the sightscreen yourself?”

After a week of intensive, and occasionally exotic treatment which included acupuncture, Turns will take the helm again. Although the league match takes priority, the chance to reach the Banks Salver final is also an exciting prospect as, with all the Premier big guns already out of the competition, it presents a very realistic chance to make history.

The Tynemouth game starts at 1.30pm on Sunday.

Brandon have the bit between their teeth after last week’s win over Sacriston lifted them into second spot.

As luck would have it, they won’t have to worry about meeting up with Nelon Pascal when they go to Boldon on Saturday as the West Indian international is already back in his home country.

Boldon are also missing Sean Bradbury and James Coyne, with Gareth Smith and Graham Fox drafted in, and with Brandon able to include the returning Jamie Robinson, as well as Scott Hopson, they will be at full strength.

Robinson has proved a revelation with the ball, his 25 wickets placing him at the top of the divisional bowling averages, but Karl Turner is the undoubted leading light in the team.

Although he will feature again this weekend, he was on trial with a county earlier this week so his longer term availability may not be so certain.

Seaham Harbour will be missing Stuart Lacey when they entertain Willington, the skipper breaking his finger last week with the injury likely to sideline him for up to three weeks.

With Peter Hambleton and Andy Boal also unavailable, Neville Gustard has agreed to help out over the holiday period and makes his seasonal debut, and Jack Lacey and Lewis Aiken return.

South Hetton are unchanged for their home derby against Eppleton, while Felling have to reckon without leading player Paul Leonard when they entertain a Washington team who include Mark Watson and Durham Under-14 captain Matthew Potts in place of the unavailable Jak Gaff and Dan Woolston.