Ashbrooke’s lead at the top slashed

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SUNDERLAND’S lead at the top of the Dukes North East Premier League looks a little less secure after reigning champions South Northumberland took the majority of the points in Saturday’s rain-hit top-of-the-table draw. The visitors had the better of the day at Ashbrooke and although Blaydon and Chester-le-Street, the other challengers, also drew they had the better of their games.

Now Sunderland have seen a 10-point lead over Blaydon reduced to just four, with the third-placed Cestrians only another six points adrift.

South North, after a couple of unexpected defeats in their opening six games, looked much more assured, and with Durham paceman Chris Rushworth absent from the home attack the cutting edge was missing as the visitors posted 208-7, with Adam Cragg in particular in great touch.

His 79 runs came after the visitors’ openers had gone cheaply, and it was the partnership with Jimmy Miller (42) that really set South North on the way to their 48-over total.

Playing against his former team-mates, Chris Hooker headlined for Sunderland with three wickets and an unbeaten 22 runs when they needed him to keep one end safe and sound.

Michael Robson top-scored with 27, but, with just 39 overs to bat, and three wickets falling early in the reply, the Wearsiders opted for discretion being the better part of valour and played out time on 119-7 – 89 runs adrift.

Chester-le-Street enjoyed much the better of their clash with Durham Academy, who they had clinging on for a draw exactly 100 runs behind with just two wickets remaining.

The Cestrians posted 215-5 before declaring after 39 overs with their top three batsmen, John Coxon (61), Simon Birtwisle (60) and Andrew Smith (50 not out) all in splendid form.

The Academy replied with 115-8 ,with Cole Pearce hitting an impressive 61 with five fours, but Andrew Tye (3-19) and Liam Simpson (3-35) kept the rest of the Academy lads rather subdued.

Hetton Lyons held back Blaydon’s championship bid, but it was a close call as their last two batsmen held out for a draw. The Tynesiders made 128-9 with Kiwi batsman Cole McConchie hitting 40 and Geoff Stewart, with an unbeaten 45, looking good too.

Lyons’ attack of Anthony Watson (4-38) and Kamran Shah (3-27) pinned down the visitors, but, when the hosts replied, Ben Raine gave them something to think about. His five wickets at a cost of just 27 runs sent Hetton digging in to finish with 101-9, so near to victory, but closer to defeat.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Stockton and for Benwell Hill, both their first of the season, and it left Gateshead Fell 22 points adrift at the bottom after another devastating defeat.

Benwell crushed Fell after bowling them out for a paltry 68. Meanwhile, the Tyne derby between South Shields and Newcastle ended in stalemate.

Shields took the bulk of the draw points as Chris Watson (82) and Rameez Shahzad (70 and 6-19) deserved to be on a winning side.