After their mini mid-season break, teams in the Dukes ECB NEPL First Division get set to do battle again this weekend, and with just six games left to go, and only nine points separating the top four sides, the climax to this inaugural season looks set to be spell binding.
And there are some intriguing games in store to kick-start the run in, with the pick of the bunch being Whitburn’s head to head with neighbours Boldon.
Whitburn’s once comfortable lead has now dwindled to a single point, following two successive defeats, which followed a ten-game unbeaten opening sequence.
So the break possibly came at just the right time to allow them to catch their breath and regroup.
Conversely, Boldon were enjoying their best spell of the season prior to the gap in the fixtures, having won three in a row to move to within striking distance of the summit.
They have now won six of their 12 games, a wins ratio that equals the other top sides in the division, and leaves them just 26 points behind the leaders.
The one downside for them has been the loss of Nelon Pascal, just as he was hitting his straps, and with no replacement brought in, they will go with what they’ve got for the rest of the campaign.
On Saturday, they have a full squad to choose from with Nick Sampson-Barnes in the selection mix again and James Coyne returning.
Whitburn’s skipper Andy Turns faces a late fitness test again as his back is still not right.
Although, it’s fair to say he won’t be shifting any sight screens or moving any covers if he does play.
If the captain does turn out, then the table-toppers will be at full strength as Lee Henderson is back from holiday.
Sacriston, currently third, just seven points behind Whitburn, look to have the easiest task as they go to Eppleton, where the home side are struggling after three consecutive defeats and just one win all summer.
The visitors are hopeful of naming an unchanged team, their only doubt being Ben Hall, who may be tied up with Ashes preparation work at the Emirates ICG.
Eppleton welcome back Neil Young after seven weeks on the sidelines with a broken thumb, but they have to reckon without Liam Mallaburn.
Washington are the surprise package to some degree.
They looked to have splashed out on some marquee signings at the beginning of the season, but for one reason or another the big names haven’t featured, yet they have put together a wonderful run which has seen them win five and draw one of their last six.
That great spell of form has lifted them to second spot, just a single point behind the leaders, and they have home advantage on Saturday when they entertain South Hetton.
It’s two in and one out for the hosts, with Dan Woolston and Jak Gaff both back from holiday, but Mark Watson is missing.
Hetton will be turning to youth as they have gaps to fill with the unavailability of Robbie Atherton, Tony Murphy and Stephen Massey – in come Alex Nicholson, Nathan Adamson and Michael Massey.
In Saturday’s other games, Brandon play Willington, while the wooden spoon is up for grabs at Felling, when the second-bottom hosts play the only team below them, Seaham Harbour.
Felling have Paul Leonard back from holiday, while Harbour have to cope without Jack Lacey, although, Andy Boal and Peter Hambleton return.