THE agony is over for South Shields.
The inevitable could not be delayed any longer and the expected defeat at the hands of new champions Stockton confirmed their relegation to the First Division.
Without a win all season, the club’s 15th loss in 21 games saw the axe fall on Shields on Teesside as their rivals were celebrating winning the Dukes ECB NEPL Premier Division title for the first time in front of their own supporters, and there was sympathy for their demise from fans of a team which had not always enjoyed the best of times themselves in recent years.
Shields lost by 43 runs, with the other candidates for the drop, Gateshead Fell, unable to play due to a waterlogged ground at Chester-le-Street’s Ropery Lane.
Stockton, who chose to bat first, notched up 203 runs in 47.5 overs despite being without their two county stars, Keaton Jennings and the injured Jamie Harrison.
Another Durham man, all-rounder Josh Bousfield, stepped up to take top rating with a 69-ball half-century, even though Gordon Muchall took five wickets relatively cheaply.
The Ward brothers, Jimmy and Kevin, made 26 and 25 respectively after the hosts lost their first four wickets for just 51, and their 50 partnership was followed by one of 62 between Bousfield and Tom Coulthard, who made 32.
Muchall took his five wickets at a cost of just 43 runs in 10.5 overs, and then hit a half-century in Shields’ reply of 160.
He fell leg before, eighth out, to the bowling of Jimmy Ward, who took star billing with seven wickets for 27 in 20 overs. Mark Appleton (25) shared a stand of 61 with Muchall, who finished on 52.
Friday’s heavy rain knocked out two of the six matches, with Sunderland’s visit to Blaydon falling victim along with Chester-le-Street.
But the other three games went ahead with Newcastle defeating Durham Academy at Jesmond, Hetton Lyons beaten at Tynemouth and South North enjoying a winning draw at Benwell Hill.
The Academy decided to bat first after a slightly delayed start due to a wet pitch and their 195-8 looked good enough for a win before Michael Richardson hit a superb 70 from 66 balls, with 14 boundaries.
Alex Nicholson, with an unbeaten half-century, and Jacques Du Toit (34) enjoyed the challenge of knocking off the runs in 45 overs – and succeeded with four to spare. Nicholson shared a partnership of 110 with Richardson.
The Academy batsmen all contributed runs, although 36 from opener Jack Clark was the highest individually.
Seven others got good starts, but Richardson, normally a talented wicketkeeper, turned over his bowling arm to good effect to finish with five for 70 from 15 overs. Newcastle won by seven wickets.
Hetton Lyons’ batting collapsed against Tynemouth’s Ruhan Pretorius (5-27) and they were bowled out for 112 chasing 168 to win.
Sean Tindale (3-26) and Jonny Malkin (3-41) did well enough for the Lyons, who won the toss and decided to bowl first. But in reply no-one scored more than Ryan Pringle (24) and Gary Scott (20).
Benwell Hill had to fight hard to prevent being beaten by South North who made 170-5 in a reduced overs match, with 63 from John Graham and 57 from Adam Heather. The Hill replied with 105-8 but South North’s points haul from the game ensured they will finish as runners-up.