Whitburn looking good for league and cup double

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Nine down and nine to go, that’s the equation for teams in the inaugural season of the Dukes NEPL First Division cricket, and for Whitburn, things could hardly be going any better as they prepare for the second-half run in.

Whilst they lost a portion of their healthy lead at the top of the table when they were held to a draw at Washington last week, they are still 18 points to the good over the chasing pack, and the fact that they remain the only unbeaten team in the league, is testament to the ability they have in their ranks.

And there is the tantalising prospect of historic league cup success following an amazing performance when they tipped Brandon out of the Banks Salver last Sunday.

That victory took them into a semi-final line-up that has an unfamiliar look about it, with Whitburn at home to Tynemouth and Benwell Hill to face Willington.

Whitburn looked on the way out when they slumped to 15-4, but an unbroken partnership of 238 between Michael Turns and Ross Carty (81no) set up a famous victory, Turns turning potential defeat into victory with a glorious 130 not out from 127 balls.

With Willington in the other half of the draw, and most of the big guns out, there is the tantalising prospect of a first ever all First Division final.

Michael Bittlestone was the only regular missing from the Salver success, and he returns for Saturday’s trip to rock bottom Felling, who have found life extremely tough in their new surroundings.

With a full strength line-up, Whitburn will start as heavy favourites to consolidate their lead, and with the two teams directly below them engaged in heavy duty matches, the chance could be there to widen the gap.

Second-placed Sacriston will have to play well to beat in-form Willington, as their visitors have hit a rich seam in the last couple of weeks.

Their league victory over South Hetton last time out being quickly followed by progress to the Salver semi-final following victory over top flight opposition.

And with a home T20 quarter-final tomorrow night against Sunderland they are in the thick of the action.

Sacriston will hand a debut to new signing Max Bailey, the fast bowler having joined them this week from DCL outfit Horden.

Willington hope to have Steve Alderson back from holiday in time to play in an otherwise unchanged side.

South Hetton have an immediate chance to get over the Willington disappointment when they entertain the team one place and 14 points above them, Brandon.

But they have one or two selection issues to overcome with a stag weekend, striking again.

Gary Burlinson and Tony Murphy are on such a mission, and with Ryan Taylor also out, Andy Hillas, Stephen Massey and Nathan Walton receive the first team call.

In the day’s other two matches, Sean Bradbury is out of the Boldon side due to work commitments, but James Coyne returns for the trip to Seaham Harbour where Shaun McKenna’s back problems mean he misses out once more with Lewis Aiken replacing him.

Washington are unchanged for the visit of Eppleton, who are understood to have signed Stephen Brett from Horden.