Chester-le-Street’s hopes of reclaiming the NEPL title suffered a potentially fatal blow when they were beaten for the fourth time this season, at the same time as leaders Stockton were winning yet again.
The Teessiders now enjoy such a massive advantage as table-toppers, they can start to think about ordering in the celebration champagne, even though there are still eight games to play.
Stockton have never won the championship in the 14 years since the league was formed, or for that matter been near winning it, but they’ve taken a remarkable 87 point lead and it would now take an almighty collapse to throw away such an enormous advantage.
Last year’s champions, South North, who were expected to give them one of their closest games, became their latest victims, beaten by eight wickets, with Durham’s Keaton Jennings in stunning form.
He took three wickets in a 20-over stint and then hit an unbeaten 71 as Stockton enjoyed a rapid run chase to secure an emphatic eight wicket success.
The youngsters from the Durham Academy produced one of their best results to defeat Chester-le-Street and leave their championship bid looking forlorn.
Although, with their main rivals Benwell Hill being held by Sunderland, the Cestrians clung on to second place.
Street batted well enough and rattled up a challenging 293 for the loss of just four wickets, with a majestic 132 from Andrew Smith.
His 109-ball innings, which included 14 fours and five sixes, looked certain to give his side a massive advantage, especially as Usman Arshad contributed a run-a-ball half century.
But the Academy’s outstanding opener, Jack Clark, produced a brilliant knock, unbeaten with 153 from 175 balls, to puncture the hosts’ hopes of success.
He hit 22 boundaries and shared in a sparkling first wicket partnership worth 160 with James Thompson, who made 71.
Paul Coughlin, with an unbeaten 39, kept Clark company as they hit the final 78 runs to win with overs to spare.
Sunderland enjoyed a competitive afternoon and with more time, might well have beaten Benwell Hill, who are always tough opponents.
In another high scoring match, the hosts hit 268-6 before a declaration after 58.5 overs.
An unbeaten century from Zohaib Khan and 65 from Ali Maiden, put the Hill on top after Jonny Craigs had set the pace with an opening half century.
But the Ashbrooke club showed plenty of enterprise in their reply, with Dan Shurben and Mark Dale putting on 128 for the first wicket, and taking the team to the brink of success.
The Wearsiders finished with 235-7, just 33 runs short of what would have been an exceptional victory and with wickets in hand.
David Rutherford’s five wickets for the Hill kept Sunderland in check.
Newcastle have become the team to watch after moving into fourth place, just two points behind Benwell Hill and well placed to catch Chester-le-Street.
With their sixth win of the season at South Shields, they have gained momentum in the last few weeks with James Carding, who hit 113, and Jacques du Toit, who made 54 and then took six wickets, enjoying the limelight.
For South Shields, the defeat left them looking anxiously over their shoulders, but bottom-club Gateshead Fell only collected one more point, despite doing well enough to draw with Hetton Lyons.
Nine points now separate the only two relegation candidates.