Sunderland Harriers’ women’s team face battle for North Eastern Harrier League promotion

Sunderland Harriers' Michelle Avery, who makes a return to competitive racing.
Sunderland Harriers' Michelle Avery, who makes a return to competitive racing.

The sixth and final Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League of the season takes place at Alnwick on Saturday.

And local clubs have plenty to run for as they chase league titles and promotion at the Pastures.

Sunderland Harriers’ women’s team, who had promotion within their grasp to the First Division, saw their hopes take a battering through a disqualification in the penultimate league meeting at Thornley.

After winning the team race ahead of league leaders Heaton, one of the team counters was disqualified for wearing the wrong number. And with only a full team of four turning out, that meant they failed to finish a team.

Instead of gaining one point for winning, they suffered a penalty of nine points and this put the Wearsiders 13 points behind league leaders Heaton, who have eight points.

Now, instead of challenging Heaton for the league title, they are in a promotion fight with three other clubs. Sunderland are in second place on 21 points, Elswick have 22 and Crook 23.

Sunderland Harriers’ team manager Eddie Maddison said: “It was a big blow, but we have taken it on the chin and ready for the battle ahead.

“We will have a good team out, but a couple of our fast pack, Vicky Haswell and Linda Mudford, will be missing.

“We will welcome back Michelle Avery, who carried the club flag for many years. She will be running from the slow pack and could get the team off to a good start in the handicap race.”

This will be Avery’s first Harrier League race since she last competed at Alnwick in 2013 where she clocked the sixth fastest time overall.

Since then, her racing has been confined to Parkruns after the birth of her son Henry.

The rest of the team will include captain Coleen Compson, Alice Smith, Vicki Cotton, Lauren Flaxen and Nikki Woodward.

The Sunderland Harriers’ senior men’s team look safe in the First Division in fourth place after suffering their worst result of the season at Thornley.

Houghton Harriers’ senior men’s team are in third place in the Third Division and have a realistic chance of promotion.

They are only one point behind second club Low Fell, with Blaydon looking the likely league champions with a three points lead.

Houghton club captain Lee Dover said: “It’s fantastic that Houghton Harriers senior men’s team are still very much in contention for promotion. I’d like to give big thanks to everyone who has turned out so far.”

“I’m confident that we have a strong team who will be in contention at Alnwick.

However, I’d also like to extend my best wishes to athletes at both Blaydon Harriers and Low Fell RC, may the best two teams win in what I’m sure will be a thrilling race.”

Dover can call on Matty Tomlinson, Alex Brown, Thomas Grey, David Cleugh, Juma Tatah, Shaun McGrath, David Coulson, Alan Foster, Stephen Johnson, Rory Graham and Adam Middleton, for the final charge.

Houghton Harriers’ Under-15 Girls’ team look as though they have just to turn up to win their league.

They are seven points ahead of Birtley at the top of the division. They will be relying on Nicole Phillips, Lydia James, Anna Pigford, Laura Megan Greggs and Amy Leonard.

The Houghton Boys’ team are also in with a slight chance of winning their league, with Will Bellamy and Henry Johnson leading the squad.

Sunderland Strollers’ slim hopes of promotion is in the Third Division of the Women’s League where they are in third place (26 points) behind Blaydon (20) and already league champions Saltwell, who are on six points.

The Harrier League fixture sees the conclusion of the Sunderland Harriers’ Cross Country Grand Prix which has been running since September and covers 10 events.

There are five prizes to be won and the runners that have emerged as the contenders are: Paul Redman with 45 points, Vikki Cotton 44, Allan McManus 41, Paul Merrison 32, Alice Smith 32, Steve McMahon 29, Sean Mackie 28 and Karl Robinson 28.

Directions: North on A1, take turn off to Alnwick onto A1068. At roundabout take B6341 (second exit) and follow signs to Alnwick Gardens. Alnwick Pastures NE66 1YU

This is a traditional cross country course with a variety of terrain and some steep inclines/descents. Limited facilities at the start and finish area. Good for spectators.

There is ample parking at Alnwick Garden car park. It is an easy walk to the start.