Chester-le-Street returned to their best league form on Saturday, but it took a while for normal service to be resumed.
The Cestrians went into the Ropery Lane encounter with South Shields on the back of a five-game winless run which had seen them deposed as leaders by arch-rivals South North and, when they slid to 64-4 against some incisive bowling by Liam Dixon, things didn’t look too good.
But then John Coxon donned his captaincy cape and, in unison with youngster Chris Martin, the pair rebuilt the Chester innings in a fifth-wicket partnership of 98 before Coxon fell for a solid 59 made from 84 balls.
The force was now with the hosts, and Martin (66 from 96 balls) shepherded the tail until three wickets fell for five runs to encourage a declaration on 245-9. Dixon ended with figures of 5-70 from an impressive 19-over stint.
Shields’ talisman, Aussie Tim David, looked like setting off on another run-scoring spree as he raced to 22 from 25 balls, but, when he became the first wicket to fall with the score on 29, the steam seemed to be taken out of his side, and they slumped to 58-7 before Ollie Stedman (34 not out) rescued some respectability before the final act on 114. Mark Turner (3-26), Simon Birtwisle (3-6) and Gareth Wade (2-13) ensured there was no escape.
The win brought 30 welcome points for the Cestrians, and even though South North hammered Gateshead Fell by 135 runs, they dropped a point in the process with the difference between the pair now a wafer-thin two points.
Newcastle’s defeatto Durham Academy looks to have locked them out of the title race. They remain third but are now 64 points off top spot.
The Tynesiders actually dragged themselves back into the game against Durham’s youngsters, recovering from 112-8 to lodge an eventual target of 180, Tom Harper and Ben Whitehead the bowlers sharing six of the wickets to fall as Newcastle No 10 Callum Harding (44 from 49 balls) saved the home side’s blushes.
An opening 46 from Jack Burnham provided a decent launch pad, but it needed the steadying influence of Adam Hickey (59no from 96 balls) to ease the Academy home with two wickets to spare, John Boyle’s run-a-ball 30 at No 9 also proving crucial in calming nerves after a slide to 103-6 had suggested a home win.
Hetton Lyons look to be slowly clawing their way out of trouble. They could only draw at Stockton, but they had much the better of the game and have now moved 40 points clear of the relegation slot.
Allan Worthy (63 from 102 balls) and Jarvis Clay (57 from 86 balls) were the main men as Hetton’s top seven batsmen all got into double figures, the Lyons declaring on 260-7 after 61 overs. Opener Tom Hewison (59 from 126 balls) then dropped anchor as the hosts closed on 172-7, young Cameron Grimwood grabbing 2-15.
Whitburn came a cropper at Benwell Hill, who gained a welcome win after their recent horrendous run.
Zohaib Khan (44 from 68 balls) and a last-wicket stand of 47 led Hill to 181, a disappointing outcome for Mark Elliott, who bowled brilliantly in a 19.1-over spell, taking 5-39. Kieran Waterson and Scott Condy both struck twice.
Khan (3-25) and Mattie Muchall (3-18) then rolled Whitburn over for 94, the last three wickets evaporating without a run being scored. Dan Woolston (38) offered the only real resistance.