NE Premier League: Eppleton, Burnmoor in epic title showdown, with Washington hoping rivals draw

Washington opener Matthew Potts hits out on his way to a century against Burnmoor last weekend. Picture by Kevin Brady
Washington opener Matthew Potts hits out on his way to a century against Burnmoor last weekend. Picture by Kevin Brady
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It’s fasten your seatbelts time as the roller-coaster ride that is the First Division championship race reaches its pulsating conclusion.

This week must seem like one of the longest in the Eppleton and Burnmoor players’ lives as the big dipper that they have been travelling on slowly grinds its way to the top of the final precipice before hurtling downwards towards the stomach-churning finish.

And there will certainly be a few stomachs churning ahead of one of the most important games in both clubs’ history.

Eppleton lead the table by four points from Burnmoor going into Saturday’s Church Road clash between the two of them, and the conundrum for both sides is whether to stick or twist.

Stick, and that would possibly let in third-placed Washington, twist and a defeat would realistically spell the end ... but win and the title would almost certainly be just one game away.

The two clubs, old adversaries from their Durham Senior League days, have two great servants of the game as their driving force, and their views of what lies ahead were fairly similar and straightforward.

Burnmoor secretary Ian Linsley was emphatic in his thoughts. “We’ve got to win,” he said. “A draw is not good enough as it would probably let Washington in as, on paper, they have the easier fixtures.

“We’ve always played to win anyway, so there’s no point changing now.”

Eppleton kingpin John Smithson backed that viewpoint up.

“It’s still very much in our own hands,” he said.

“And with Washington ready to pounce on any slip-ups, a win has to be the aim.”

Washington, who are just eight points off the summit, have home advantage against Boldon on Saturday, and then follow up with a trip to relegation-doomed South Hetton, while Burnmoor end the campaign with a home game against Felling and Eppleton go to Sunderland Road to meet Boldon.

Washington skipper Ash Thorpe, who is out for the season with a knee injury, is delighted that his side are in with a shout.

“We’re just happy to still be in there with a real chance,” he reflected.

“If the other two can tie each other up on Saturday, it will present us with a great opportunity, although Boldon are a dangerous side, so we won’t be taking anything for granted.”

The team line-ups for the two blockbusters see Eppleton having to cope without Zaheer Shahbaz, who is at a family wedding, although they are boosted by the return of Dean Musther and David Wilkinson.

Burnmoor will be at full strength with Stephen Meek now back from his holidays, while Washington were delighted by the dedication shown by Mel Betts last week when he returned early from his holidays to play.

Betts makes up what should be a full team on Saturday, the one doubt being over the availability of James Thompson.

Boldon, who defeated Washington in the first meeting between the sides, will be missing the holidaying Gareth Welsh who bowled so well for them in last week’s win over South Hetton, but other than that they will have a full complement with Stephen Lamb in for Welsh.

Whatever the result on Saturday, it will be early to bed for the Eppleton boys (well, maybe) as another big date awaits them on Sunday when a second attempt will be made to play the Banks Salver final against Tynemouth, following the washout a couple of weeks ago.

The game is once again at Church Road, with the start time being 12.30pm.

Barring injury, Eppleton will field the same 11 who will face Burnmoor, with Shahbaz still absent.