It’s d-day for Eppleton on Saturday when they travel to Boldon in search of the 23 points which will determine their destiny.
There is just one more hurdle to cross in a fabulous season for the club which reached unscaled heights when the Banks Salver was won last Sunday, just 24 hours after title rivals Burnmoor had been seen off in style.
Eppleton became the first club from outside the Premier Division to win the Salver, and no one can claim it was a fluke after a tremendous long-format cup run which included victories over no fewer than four top-flight teams – and all by significant margins – the 100-run trouncing of Tynemouth providing the perfect ending.
The Salver was the icing on a wonderful 2015 cake, but now it’s down to the bread and butter stuff, and the most important prize of all – the championship.
Eppleton have been at the forefront of the race all summer, and they have managed to cope well with the additional pressure that expectation brings, and they are now just one more win away from the holy grail.
The club’s driving force, secretary John Smithson, was trying to keep a lid on his emotions when he spoke earlier in the week. He said: “It was a fabulous achievement to win the Salver, but the victory over Burnmoor the previous day was perhaps even more satisfying, and it was a real team effort, with nearly everyone contributing something to the win.”
And now the end is nigh.
“I’m not going to make any predictions. As always, we’ll do our best. We’ve played well all season, so, no matter what the outcome, I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done,” Smithson added.
But there are one or two other major decisions to make ahead of the game as they have every one of their first-team squad available, which means someone is going to have to miss out.
“That’s a real headache,” said John, “As each and every one deserves to play – but only 11 can.” That decision will be made closer to the game.
Boldon are waiting quietly in the wings. The wildly inconsistent hosts, who sit in mid-table after a number of fine wins, but an equally baffling number of surprise defeats, can match anyone on their day.
They show one change, with Gareth Welsh filling in for Neil Mulvaney.
Washington are eight points behind Eppleton and, realistically though not mathematically, the only team who can overhaul the leaders.
Their final game is at South Hetton, where they will be expected to pick up a major points haul given the fact their hosts are 59 points adrift at the foot of the table.
Ashley Thorpe played through the pain barrier to provide a boost to Washington last week – it had previously looked as though he was out for the season with a serious knee problem.
He will do so again as he takes an unchanged team to Front Street to take on a side who may be handed a surprise NEPL lifeline.
Depending on the outcome of ongoing discussions between the interested parties about promotion from the DCL, it could be that a play-off is required which would involve South Hetton.
If that was the case, that would take place next weekend with South Hetton having home advantage.
That one’s a case of “watch this space”, but, in the meantime, South Hetton are likely to have a full strength side out for virtually the first time this summer, with Nathan Adamson and Rameez Nawaz returning.
Willington, 23 points behind Eppleton, go to Seaham Harbour, while Burnmoor put out an unchanged side at home to Felling.
Sunderland finish off at Brandon, while Sacriston head to Tudhoe.