Sunderland Harriers and Strollers embroiled in relegation battle

Michael Wilson.
Michael Wilson.
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SUNDERLAND Harriers face the threat of relegation for the first time in their history at the final fixture of the North Eastern Harrier League at Wrekenton on Saturday.

They are one of only two clubs – Wallsend is the other – that have never been out of the first division since the league was split into divisions nearly 20 years ago.

After the last match, they were lying third off the bottom of the league and within in touch of the clubs above them. But an administrative blunder has seen the club penalised and they now sit second off the bottom of the league – five points away from safety.

One of the club’s team counters in the first two fixtures had not gone through the first claims procedure after changing clubs and his performances have been deleted from the results.

This relegated the Wearsiders from seventh to tenth and last in the first fixture at Blaydon and from sixth to seventh at the next one at Jarrow.

They now have a total of 43 points, two above bottom club Sunderland Strollers and four points behind Tynedale, who are third off the bottom. Gateshead are one point above Tynedale. The relegation issue seems to be between the four clubs and both Sunderland club’s have a mountain to climb to avoid the drop to division two.

Now only a much improved team result can save them, as the relegation threatened club’s pull out all the stops to ensure that they are at their strongest for the final contest.

Sunderland club captain Dave Savage has been busy summoning his troops for the battle ahead. He said: “We should be at full strength and they will be fired-up after this blow. All our runners know the significance of this fixture, so I expect a good turnout. It’s a handicap race so we should have a good selection of runners in each of the three packs. We need our six counters well inside the first 60. Hopefully, we should have some nearer the front of the race. The ball is our hands.’’

He could be relying on Michael Wilson, who may return to the country after a long absence. The talented 800m runner could be chasing a top three position, if he decides to run from the slow pack. Veterans’ Tom Campion, Rob Rush, Jon Dobson, Alan Knebel and Tony Allinson, also run from the slow pack, who enjoy a five minutes start. Medium pack runners include Kevin Calvert, Matthew Fearn, Craig Isherwood, Noel Hitchcock, Graham Lancaster and Steve Gordon. While Mark Hood and Nathan Reed, will charge their way through the massive field from the fast pack.

The fixture was originally going to be staged at Prudhoe, but the league management has been forced to change it to Wrekenton through parking issues. With the growing number of competitors, space is needed for at least 1,000 vehicles.

Wrekenton was also the venue for the fourth fixture in December when Saltwell Harriers were hosts. They have come forward again but are now relying on volunteers from other clubs to lend a hand for course building and overseeing the car parks

Women’s league secretary Vicki Thompson said: “We will need volunteers from all clubs. We need help to set out and dismantle the course, four car park marshals will be required and we need persons to act as course marshals.”

There will be an under-11s race at Wrekenton, starting at 12.15pm. The senior men are off at about 2.10pm.