Whitburn target a piece of history

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Whitburn make history this weekend when they become the first team from outside the Premier Division to contest the Banks Salver final.

The extension of the Premier League this year, into two divisions, meant entry into the league cup competition was open to all 22 teams

And with Whitburn’s success in seeing off Seaham Harbour, Brandon and top-flight side Tynemouth in the previous rounds, sees them on the brink of what would be one of their most memorable achievements in recent years.

But standing in their way are Benwell Hill, who themselves have never won the competition.

With Sunday’s match being played on their home turf of Denton Bank (1.30pm start), they will go into the game as favourites to break their duck.

Whitburn skipper Andy Turns understands the thrill that Salver success would bring, but his focus is on the league.

He told the Echo: “Everyone’s talking about Sunday’s final, but, for me, the most important thing is to win Saturday’s league game at Seaham Harbour, as that would put us in the right frame of mind for both the cup final and the crucial final two games of the league season.”

Having been handed a “get out of jail free card” by the weather last week, Whitburn remain in with a chance of the title.

That’s something that would have been out of their reach if they’d lost one more wicket after their worst batting display of the summer, left them clinging to the remnants of an innings in disarray on 36-9 against Brandon.

They emerged from that setback in third place, but still just 14 points behind leaders Brandon, so a major points haul at the Harbour would set things up nicely for the final fortnight.

Whitburn only have one absentee – Michael Bittlestone is away, so 15-year-old off-spinner Luke Smith is handed another opportunity after making his first-team league debut last week.

Harbour are becalmed at the foot of the table, but, with relegation not an issue, they will be in relaxed mode.

They must reckon without Dale Shaw and Mark Marwood for this one, with Neville Gustard to make a rare appearance and Lewis Aiken returning.

Brandon started the season as favourites to win the title, and they appear to have moved into pole position at just the right time.

Club chairman Ian Johnson was philosophical about the failure to finish off Whitburn, and was looking ahead to the final countdown:, saying “Unfortunately, for us, they were able to block out for a draw on 36-9, so it was a case of so near yet so far.

“That said, the 16 points we took were enough to get us to the top of the league, so our destiny is now in our own hands.

“There are just three games left and we have got Eppleton at home next.

“They have been a bit of a bogey team for us this season, holding us to a draw in the reverse fixture and knocking us out of a cup semi-final.

“That’s followed by a tough trip to Washington, and then, in the last game of the season, we entertain Felling.

“I think we may have to win all three games, but I also believe there are a few twists and turns still to come.”

Brandon are at full strength for the Eppleton match, but while their visitors have struggled in league terms this season, the memory of their recent cup semi-final win is still fresh in their minds, given the convincing nature of their eight-wicket success.

Their aim will be to spoil the Brandon party, and they have a full squad at their disposal with which to attempt to do that.

Second-top Sacriston, just four points behind the new leaders, have a home game against a South Hetton side that will include the talismanic John Leslie, who missed last week because of a virus.

In Saturday’s other games, unchanged Boldon entertain Felling, and Willington expect to have Stephen Bradwell and Stephen Alderson in the side to play Washington.