WHITBURN’S exalted position as runaway Dukes North East Premier League First Division leaders is sure to be severely tested on Saturday when they travel to meet a Washington team buzzing after their surprise success over Brandon last time out.
That game is just the beginning of two days of intense competition for the Villagers, who host Brandon in Sunday’s Banks Salver quarter-final.
Three of the eight sides contesting on Sunday come from the First Division, and with some notable names already eliminated, including holders South North, Premier leaders Stockton and the powerful Blaydon, there is a real chance that one of the new boys could spring a surprise in their first year in the competition.
But it’s first things first for Whitburn, who enjoy a 32-point lead with the halfway point of the season about to be reached once Saturday’s games are completed.
They will travel to Washington with exactly the same side which won so convincingly against Eppleton last week, but with Ash Thorpe wringing some excellent performances out of his new club this won’t be a straightforward encounter for the unbeaten table-toppers.
Former Sunderland star Thorpe was understandably delighted with the Newtowners’ win over Brandon, saying: “I was thrilled with the way everybody contributed in a real team effort to beat one of the competition’s front running sides.
“It’s now down to us to build on this, gain more consistency and take the confidence the win has given us into the rest of the season, starting with another massive game against undefeated leaders Whitburn on Saturday.”
Both Jak Gaff and Stephen Cuthbertson are back to put the home team at optimum strength.
The two teams who have yet to win a game meet this weekend, with Eppleton entertaining Seaham Harbour.
Last week’s defeat at Whitburn left Eppleton just seven points above bottom club Harbour and while relegation is not a factor this season, there is pride at stake given that no one wants to be gazing at a wooden spoon on the mantelpiece all winter.
The good news for the hosts is that key bowler David Wilkinson returns to action after a three-week lay-off. During his absence, Eppleton have lost twice, and with the other match resulting in a draw where they leaked more than 300 runs, it will be good to have the man who, along with the now retired Joe Dodd, headed their strike force in 2012.
Wilkinson will be the only change in the home dressing room, but Harbour also have players returning ,with Jack Lacey free from work commitments and Sean McKenna fit again after recovering from his back injury.
Boldon’s three-match winning run came to a juddering halt against South Hetton last week, the one positive coming out of the 143-run drubbing being the successful bowling debut of Masood Mirza, who picked up three wickets shortly after signing for the club.
The former Horden man will play at Sacriston on Saturday, but there are injury worries over Michael Walker (back) and Phil Shakespeare (knee), who face late fitness tests. Given that it is the end of June and sides complete half their fixtures on Saturday, if Shakespeare plays it could be a midsummer night’s dream for Boldon!
Felling entertain unchanged Brandon, while second-top South Hetton include young all-rounder Nathan Adamson and seam bowler Liam Houghton for the visit of a settled Willington side, who are the third team representing the First Division in Sunday’s Salver when they host Durham Academy.