Imran back, but Fell clash is no Shah thing for Sunderland

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SUNDERLAND are one of only three remaining unbeaten sides and, with a home game to come on Saturday against rock-bottom Gateshead Fell, they look well placed to continue that record and climb the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division table.

Despite their unbeaten tag, the Wearsiders lie in the lower half of the table after two abandonments, so they are in need of the boost a high points return would provide, and a game against struggling opponents should provide that opportunity.

Gateshead Fell are already feeling the relegation heat at the foot of the table after gathering just 12 points from their opening four games, their only relief from a series of defeats being provided by last week’s downpours.

It’s familiar territory for the Eastwood Gardens outfit, who finished bottom in 2011 and 2012, though they managed to scramble up to 11th last summer just as the First Division was formed and demotion for one team became an annual fact of life.

Fell had hoped for better times after an influx of four new players during the close season, and the return of Aussie Adam Whatley for a further campaign, but so far things have not worked out and it looks like a long hard summer beckons.

But Sunderland have worries of their own. In their two played games, they have displayed admirable qualities with the bat, but have been disappointing with the ball, taking just six wickets so far while leaking just short of 600 runs at a rate of 5.7 an over.

With an appearance from one of their Durham players unlikely again this weekend, they are grateful for the return of Imran Shah, who replaces Dan Wilkinson. Simon Brown is also back to take up the slot vacated by unavailable skipper Dan Shurben.

Gateshead show two changes, with Javed Mirza and Chris Dodds replacing Andy Porter and Malik Javed.

Hetton Lyons will have another crack at getting their National Club Cup tie against Harrogate completed on Sunday, but, before then, they travel to take on a Newcastle team who have been enjoying an in-and-out season, although arguably unlucky to have been beaten twice in their four outings.

Jacques Du Toit continues to be the Jesmond club’s trump card, as he was for much of last season, although he has yet to strike top form with the ball.

But there is a doubt over the pride of the Lyons, Lal Kumar, who is struggling with an ankle injury after turning it last Saturday. With their other star all-rounder, Ryan Pringle, likely to be on Durham duty, strenuous efforts will be made to get the Pakistani fit for this one.

If Kumar makes it, the Lyons’ team will be unchanged from last week’s draw with South North.

South North will also field the same side when they welcome Whitburn to Roseworth Terrace.

Last week’s rain did not put too many spanners in the works for the Gosforth outfit, who extended their lead at the top of the table to 20 points in their bid to reclaim the title they once regarded as their personal property.

A heavy weight rests on Whitburn’s shoulders as the chasing pack cannot afford for South North to get away from them, despite the fact there are still 18 games to go. Batsman Neil Ayre will be back this week – he comes in for Craig Henderson – but Michael Bittlestone is sidelined by exams, with Mark Thursby drafted in to replace him.

Chester-le-Street head to Denefield to face Blaydon, where bowlers have been on top again this season.

In Blaydon’s two home games to date, the four innings have produced only 390 runs in total, while 38 wickets have fallen, with both matches being won by the side batting second with just a single wicket to spare.

Given the firepower at the Cestrians’ disposal they should have the ability to cope, particularly as David Foster should be back from university cricket. Mark Drake makes a welcome return for the hosts after beating a back injury.