Fired-up Fell eye safety with a week to spare

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WITH the Dukes NEPL Premier Division title race done and dusted a couple of weeks ago, it is just a case of completing the league programme for most clubs this Saturday.

 Gateshead Fell, though, still have the important issue of top-flight survival as they prepare for the final two games of an arduous season.

With a 40-point cushion over bottom club South Shields, Fell should be safe, but they will want that fact confirmed sooner rather than later.

A game at Ropery Lane against Chester-le-Street does not provide a lot of comfort, but with Shields travelling to take on newly-crowned champions Stockton, it is likely that Fell will be celebrating salvation come Saturday night.

The Cestrians will obviously have a desire to finish as high as possible in the table, but with South North 31 points ahead of them in second place, it looks like their realistic ambition will be third.

And, of course, a major part of their focus is now on their big day in front of the TV cameras next Friday when they appear in the ECB National T20 finals at the Kia Oval.

Chester go into the penultimate league game with an almost complete squad. Usman Arshad has impressed on Durham duty this week and may not be available, although, with the County clash against Sussex likely to finish early, he may yet make an appearance at Ropery Lane.

Fell make one change, with Malik Javed replacing David Daley.

South Shields have almost become resigned to their fate. The Wood Terrace men probably have to win both their games to stand a chance of survival, and with not a single victory all summer, this would appear highly improbable.

Hosts Stockton will be playing their first game in front of their own supporters since their ground-breaking title success was confirmed.

The Teessiders will not be at full strength, though, as Jamie Harrison picked up an injury in Durham’s win over Yorkshire at Scarborough last week, while Keaton Jennings will possibly also miss out with his Durham commitments.

Sunderland skipper Dan Shurben has plenty of incentive in the final two games.

Despite his team’s struggles, Shurben has still managed to accumulate 647 league runs, placing him fifth in the runscorers’ charts.

The 700 mark will be the first aim, but there is an outside chance of overhauling Newcastle’s Jacques Du Toit (767) as the top man.

The Ashbrooke outfit visit Blaydon, who reckon without Martin Pollard and Chris Varley, although they hope to have Geoff Stewart back after a two-week injury lay-off.

As Blaydon’s seconds are top of their division, it is unlikely they will weaken that side too much.

Sunderland show just the one change, with Tom Skilbeck coming in for the unavailable Simon Brown.

Hetton Lyons have been delighted with the contribution of overseas proLal Kumar, who has made 621 runs and taken 44 wickets in the league.

He plays his last game on Saturday before flying home. Lyons go to Tynemouth, who miss Nick Armstrong and Andrew Smith. Graeme Hallam and Oliver McGee replace them.

Durham Academy have another man on the casualty list, with Charlie Parker sidelined by a knee injury, so Irish fast bowler Peter Chase will play his first game of the season when the youngsters go to Jesmond to take on Newcastle.