Dukes North East Premier League preview

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UNBEATEN Chester-le-Street are still firing on all fronts, with a chance of a clean sweep of all competitions still very much on the cards.

A lead of 27 points in the league has been complemented by progress into the semi-finals of the Banks Salver, qualification for the four-team T20 finals day on July 24, and a place in the area final of the national club cup.

That national regional final is on Sunday when the Cestrians will face either South Northumberland or Blaydon, the pair of them due to settle their semi-final at Roseworth Terrace tomorrow night in a 20-over game after two postponements.

Chester will be away to the winners and they see those two sides as the teams most likely to put a spoke in their clean sweep ambitions.

With the games coming thick and fast now, the Ropery Lane will once again rely on the strength and depth of their squad as club spokesman Tony Birbeck emphasised: “The club is pleased to be top of the league standings approaching the halfway mark in the season.

“To achieve our goals of winning the league and progressing in the national knockout, we need to maintain the same strong squad to cope with holidays and avoid any injuries.

“In the league, we are expecting strong challenges from the likes of Blaydon and South North and we will be looking to the experienced players, such as Ian Hunter, Quentin Hughes and Simon Birtwisle, to guide us through the second half of the season.”

Before Sunday’s cup test, Chester travel to South Shields on Saturday. They do so with a full-strength line-up, with Shields’ spirits boosted after a first victory last weekend which lifted the Wood Terrace club off the bottom of the table for the first time in a difficult campaign.

Sunderland’s season is meandering along at the moment. They are lodged firmly in mid-table with little or no chance of mounting a challenge to Chester, but are well clear of the danger zone at the other end of the table.

They take on the newly-installed bottom club, Gateshead Fell, this Saturday but will not have Chris Rushworth or Tom Skilbeck available to them, although Michael Turns comes back in from university.

Fell are 21 points adrift after last week’s results, with relegation a real concern, but Steve Devenport is back from injury and Arsalan Rahim also returns.

Hetton Lyons are keeping things under wraps at the moment, but they do hope to unveil their new overseas man in time for their home game against another of the strugglers, Stockton – so it’s a case of wait and see. Other than that, they are unchanged.

Durham Academy are in a similar position to Sunderland in the table and they reach the halfway point of the season at South North, where the home team hope to have Stephen Humble back in harness. Academy choose from a virtually fully fit squad.

In Saturday’s remaining matches, there should be a cracker at Jesmond where unbeaten Newcastle entertain second-placed Blaydon, while Tynemouth welcome third-placed Benwell Hill to Preston Avenue.