WITH South North wrapping up the Dukes NEPL Premier Division championship as expected on Saturday, attention in the top flight focused on the battle to avoid the drop, and the bad news for Sunderland was that they will have to wait another week before having their fate finally confirmed.
The odds remain firmly stacked in their favour, but the element of doubt has not been erased after the weekend’s games, indeed it has increased following Gateshead Fell’s surprise home victory over Stockton.
That win, coupled with Sunderland’s relatively modest return from their home draw with Blaydon, meant the deficit between the two sides was cut to 18 points, a margin that could still be overhauled if results go the Fell’s way.
The Wearsiders elected to bowl when winning the toss at Ashbrooke, and then they used seven bowlers in sending down 56 overs to a Blaydon side in a game where the start was delayed because of the rain.
The visitors put on 210-4 in that time, Craig Burke top scoring with 54.
With 47 overs to chase the target. Sunderland got off to a bad start, losing two batsmen with nine on the board, but after another wicket went down on 47 a fourth-wicket partnership of 80 between Usman Arshad (51 from 106 balls) and Dinesh Jayamuni (57 from 91 balls) raised hopes of salvation, only for the innings to then lose momentum and fade to 170-7.
Sunderland took just seven points from the game, so Gateshead Fell lived to fight another day when they toppled 2013 champions Stockton.
Fell managed to clamber up to 183-9 after a poor start, Adam Whatley cracking 49 from 58 balls and David Daley notching up a watchful half-century to keep the former champions attack at bay.
Cameron Oliver (4-73) then had the Teessiders listing badly on 73-6, only for number eight bat Peter Howells (63 from 70 balls) to bring the visitors back into the match, and they looked set to end Fell’s top-flight existence when they reached 151-6, with just 33 more needed.
But Sam Roseby (3-8) induced a late collapse to 162 all out, to hand Fell one last crack at saving themselves.
Gateshead go to Ropery Lane this Saturday, while the Wearsiders are at Tynemouth.
South North claimed the title emphatically when they bowled out the Academy for 98 and then knocked off the runs without loss, and with their title dream fading Hetton Lyons took the consolation prize of the runners-up spot with a 30-run victory over Whitburn.
Hetton made 180-9 in 50.3 overs, Lal Kumar top-scoring with 40, and when they reduced Whitburn to 89-7 it looked like a regulation win, but Neil Ayre’s battling 75 kept them waiting before Kumar (3-29) claimed his wicket to hasten the end of the contest as the visitors were bowled out for 150.
Chester-le-Street’s flying finish to the campaign continued unabated as they thrashed Benwell Hill by 79 runs, victory ensuring that they will finish in third place.
A third-wicket stand of 108 between Andrew Smith and Quentin Hughes set the Cestrians on their way to a formidable 58-over declared total of 273-8.
Hughes made 42 from 98 balls, while Smith added another 66 runs to his impressive season’s aggregate which now stands at 862.
He hit nine fours and one six in facing just 75 balls. Chris Martin (56) and Liam Simpson (43) then added the late run-a-ball surge.
The Hill started their reply solidly enough, Sameet Brar’s half century holding out hope of a draw, but Callum Thorp’s four-wicket burst knocked the stuffing out of the visitors and they slid to 194 all out in 44.1 overs.