NE Premier League: Houdini-like Fell can avoid fall with victory over fellow strugglers

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With the championship race all but over, it is at the opposite end of the table where the main action will occur this weekend.

Gateshead Fell, who lifted themselves off the foot of the table for the first time this summer with last week’s win at Hetton Lyons, take on the team who have taken over the job of propping the rest of the division up.

Blaydon have finished fourth in each of the last two seasons, but that form has deserted them this season. After a bright enough start, which saw them win two of their first five undefeated matches, they have suffered a horrendous run of results with just one win in the last 15 games, and that coming nine matches ago.

By contrast, Fell reached the exact halfway point of the season before they won for the first time, but that triggered another great escape bid that would have had Houdini applauding.

Their recent record shows five wins from their last nine matches, and another victory in Saturday’s Eastwood Gardens clash would just about be enough for them to avoid the drop again.

Fell will see victory against Blaydon as crucial given that they have to play Chester-le-Street in their final match, while, on paper, Blaydon would appear to have the easier finale with a home game against Whitburn.

Gateshead make one change for the big game, with Barry McCarthy back in place of Durham star Graham Onions, while Gary Stewart returns for Blaydon to strengthen their bowling following the recent birth of his son.

Whitburn are not totally out of the relegation woods yet – they have a 24-point advantage over Blaydon but will be conscious of how the last two games of the 2014 campaign saw a much bigger deficit pegged back by Fell to the dismay of relegated Sunderland.

The Villagers host Hetton Lyons with the chance to rid themselves of any last-day worries, but they do have a couple of fitness concerns over Neil Ayre and Ian Elliot, although they are hopeful that both will play.

One definite is that Ross Carty returns to the side.

One other positive for the home side is that Lyons’ overseas pro, Lal Kumar, has returned to Pakistan, although he has had a disappointing summer when compared to his previous years at Hetton, with 36 league wickets taken and just 205 runs scored.

One man not short of runs is back for Lyons – Allan Worthy missed last week’s match but returns for the final two games seeking the 60 runs which would make him the first man in NEPL history to break the 10,000 league barrier.

Chester-le-Street still have a mathematical chance of winning the championship, but in reality it is no more than that as South North need just 15 more points to claim their 10th title in 13 seasons.

Following the huge disappointment of losing Sunday’s Royal London National Club Championship semi-final to Merseyside team Northern, it’s a case of what might have been this season, but spokesman Tony Birbeck was philosophical about an ‘almost’ campaign.

“It was obviously a disappointing result in the ECB, but Northern were outstanding in the field and very much deserved their win. They were excellent hosts and the match was played in great spirit from both sides,” he said.

“To finish in the last four of the 45-over national competition, and last eight of the T20, has been a great achievement in 2015.

“We now need to win our last couple of league games to get momentum back and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Chester play Durham Academy on Saturday and have a full squad to choose from. South North are also at full strength as they go to Stockton in search of championship-clinching points.