After back-to-back victories, Chester-le-Street could not be in better fettle at the moment.
And they are keenly anticipating Saturday’s Premier Division clash with old rivals South North at Ropery Lane.
Skipper John Coxon said: “We often regard the matches between the two of us as our biggest of the season, and, with the league table now so tight, this match has taken on additional importance for us.
“Things are so competitive this year, with most sides capable of beating each other.”
Following their return to form over the last few weeks, the Cestrians have risen to fourth in the table, just 14 points behind front-runners Newcastle, and just three behind South North, so the stakes are high.
And Chester have the in-form Liam Simpson back from his holidays to put them at full strength – he claimed two five-wicket hauls just before going away, and was also in the runs, making 70 in a cup tie earlier this week.
South Shields have the chance to make a real statement in the title race this weekend when they entertain new leaders Newcastle.
Newcastle are now the only unbeaten team in the division, and moved to the top of the table following a 10-run success against local rivals Benwell Hill.
More than 600 runs were scored in that match at Jesmond, with the final wicket falling in the last over of the day, and it was Newcastle skipper Jacques du Toit making all the headlines as he plundered 167 runs, and then took the winning wicket among a haul of five.
He stands third in the league runscorers list, with 412 at an average of 103, and second in the wicket-taking stakes with 21.
Newcastle director of cricket Doug Hudson described an innings in which 13 sixes were scored.
“He didn’t give a single chance,” recalled Hudson.
“He was in total control and it was just one of his outstanding knocks.
“He actually put six balls into the cemetery, and also smashed Callum Harding’s windscreen in the car park!”
But while Shields will be wary of du Toit, they have their own key players, with experienced Durham batsman Gordon Muchall leading the runmaking charts with 480 at an average of 240, and Tim David fourth on 379 at an average of 63, so it is almost certain this match will feature the first man in the league to reach the 500-run milestone for the season.
Shields are just 20 points behind their opponents, and have lost just once so far themselves, so the scene is set for a great contest.
The Shieldsmen have Ollie Stedman back in their ranks now, although Connor Brydon misses out after suffering a broken jaw while batting against Durham Academy in the last league game. Newcastle expect to be unchanged.
Whitburn, without a win since April, are just 23 points above bottom club Gateshead Fell ahead of their trip to Stockton. Jack Burnham is unavailable because of Durham commitments.
Eppleton are one place above Whitburn, but 21 points to the good, ahead of a tough home date with second-placed Tynemouth.
The Church Road side have a full squad to pick from other than Paul Coughlin, who is sidelined by injury.
Hetton Lyons have to reckon without their sub pro, Ockert Erasmus, as he is unavailable for the game at Benwell Hill, while Durham Academy go to the one team below them, Gateshead Fell, and expect to field an unchanged team.