JUST four points separate the top three teams, and two of them meet on Saturday when South Shields and Eppleton slug it out for the Dukes North East Premier League First Division leadership.
Eppleton are in a purple patch at the moment, and they took over as top dogs last weekend when Shields slipped up at South Hetton.
The new leaders have Gary Burlinson back for their trip to Shields, and he replaces Michael Jefferson in what will be a full-strength side apart from long term injury absentee Craig Scurr.
The news on Scurr is also positive as he is expected to be fully recovered from his hamstring problem in time to play next week.
Club secretary John Smithson is trying to keep a lid on expectations, saying: “We don’t want to be shouting from the roof tops after just five games – fair enough if there were just five to go.
“But I do want to mention the impact skipper Graham Hoban has had on the team.
“He has marshalled his troops superbly, he’s getting the most out of the side, and his leadership skills have been fundamental to our success and our aims as a club.”
Shields would love to have Durham batsman Gordon Muchall in their line-up, but that isn’t going to happen, and, with Rob Gibson now having de-camped to his Hampshire home following the end of the academic year, the only change from last week’s team will be the inclusion of Anth Marshall for one of the youngsters.
Shields aim is to get to the halfway stage of the campaign and still be in a challenging position as they will then enjoy an influx of school-linked players in the shape of Sam Taylor-Gell, Ryan West and Mike Fishwick.
Shields begin their weekend with a T20 group game tomorrow night, and they are handily placed to reach the last eight having won both of their matches to date.
The Wood Terrace outfit should have a good chance of further success at Gateshead Fell, where victory would almost certainly clinch qualification for the last eight.
Eppleton are able to put their feet up tomorrow as it is their free night, but with three wins from three matches so far they look likely to have their progress formally confirmed by the other results.
One team facing serious fixture congestion is Sacriston.
They begin a daunting schedule of four games in four days tonight with a lengthy trip to Tynedale in the AM Brown Trophy, and ending on Sunday with an even lengthier trip to Wales where they take on Northop in the last 32 of the National Village Cup.
Sandwiched between those matches is a T20 group game at Blaydon tomorrow, although that is almost academic following three consecutive defeats, with the important league match at Washington to follow on Saturday. Their hosts are at full strength following the return of Jak Gaff from holiday.
The run of matches has created a major selection headache for Sacriston, with 27 players said to be unavailable for tonight’s cup tie, although that situation eases at the weekend when Callum Appleby and Jack Hardy are the only first-team absentees.
Peter Scaife and Jonathan Rudolph earn call-ups. The trip to Wales rounds off the four in four, but at least the players should get a little time to relax on the bus trip, with a coach and 40 supporters setting off at 7am.
Boldon have Nick Sampson-Barnes back from holiday, although Neil Johnson misses Saturday’s home game against Felling due to work commitments.
Seaham Harbour, away to South Hetton, are pleased to have Jack Lacey and Peter Hambleton available again as Shoaib Akhtar is suspended and Jack McBeth has decided to return to his former club, Hetton Lyons.