Newtowners hold all the aces in battle for Mini crown

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IT’S the last hurrah for the Dukes North East Premier League First Division Mini League this weekend, with the competition unlikely to be seen again once the final matches are played on Saturday.

The tournament was introduced on a one-off basis to fill the fixture gap left by a league programme consisting of just 18 matches.

But, from next season, the First Division will almost certainly have two additional sides in it, with the leading teams from this summer’s Durham Cricket League set to make up the numbers subject to meeting NEPL criteria.

In the meantime, the Mini League initiative has taken on a marmite-like quality, with a number of clubs enjoying the relatively relaxed nature of what they have seen as a useful warm-up in competitive conditions, and a few others itching to get it over with and get on with the real action, which starts next week.

The final weekend arrives with four teams still in with a chance of taking the trophy – and all four have home games in which to press their claims.

Washington and Brandon are level on seven points, while Sacriston and South Hetton are just a single point behind.

If teams end up with the same number of points then net run-rate decides the winner, which gives Washington the upper hand as theirs is significantly better than Brandon’s at the moment following their big win over Boldon last time out.

Meanwhile, Brandon were just happy to see their victory boat come in at Seaham Harbour when just two runs separated the sides in a great game of cricket.

Washington will no doubt be further encouraged by the fact that they are hosting winless Eppletonm who have struggled badly so far, their negative net run-rate of 3.56 demonstrating the problems they have had.

Last week’s heavy defeat at the hands of a South Shields side who were enjoying their first “league” victory since 2012 was a further blow to the Church Road men.

Melvyn Betts has certainly proved a valuable addition to the Washington ranks, the former England A man, who made his debut for Durham back in 1993, has featured strongly with both runs and wickets.

He has been backed up by the contribution of the other astute signings of Cole Pearce and Adam Randall.

With their net run-rate well behind Washington’s, Brandon will be hoping that Eppleton can overturn the early form book. If they do, then victory over Felling would be enough to secure Brandon the title.

Brandon are at full strength for the first time this summer, with Scott Hopson set to make his seasonal debut, and Jordan Grossert and Mathew Whalley free from school commitments.

In the unlikely event that both Washington and Brandon slip up, Sacriston are in the best position to take advantage as their run-rate is significantly superior to South Hetton’s.

They host Willington and will be fielding a full-strength team against opponents who have to reckon without Steve Alderson.

South Hetton, requiring all the stars to align in their favour to stand any chance of the title, finish their programme with a home game against Boldon, who will take an unchanged team to Front Street.

With Tony Murphy, Daniel Stewart and Scott Taylor all returning, the hosts will have their number one line-up in the field.

The final game carries no significance other than providing the last chance for some match practice for both South Shields and Seaham Harbour.

It’s as you were for Shields, who have used the competition to rotate selection and provide an opportunity to have a look at one or two promising youngsters, while Harbour make just one change, with Jack McBeth returning from work commitments.