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9:00am Saturday 16th July 2011 in Northern Rock ECB North-East Premier League
League leaders Chester-le-Street could be forgiven for having their mind on other things than the championship this weekend as they renew their challenge for national honours.
The Cestrians won the national club knock out cup in 2009, a victory that confirmed their arrival as one of the top club sides in the country, but then they had to sit back and watch as fierce local rivals South North reclaimed the crown from them in 2010.
The competition has now reached the last 16 national stage with Chester having qualified from the competitive northern group after defeating the Bulls by ten runs in the regional final a couple of weeks ago. And they have the boost of a home draw with Liverpool Competition side Northern the visitors to Ropery Lane tomorrow (1pm).
The Cestrians should start as favourites given their pedigree and the relative current standings of the sides in their respective leagues. Both are unbeaten this year, but Chester are once again in irrepressible form and have established a 29 point lead at the top of the NEPL, while Northern, although having yet to lose, have been something of a draw specialist and sit fifth in their rankings.
Their main danger man would appear to be the skipper, James Cole, who tops the league batting rankings in both runs and average terms, but Chester have an array of star performers, which suggests they may be Streets ahead. And all those players are available, with the squad now including the fit again Alan Mustard and Darren Redfearn.
Street continue their league campaign with a home game against Tynemouth today.
Blaydon are realistically the only side who can catch the champions now, and they should have too much power for the ailing South Shields team who have only won once this season, although home advantage may help the Shieldsmen. The visitors include Lee Whitfield in place of Joe Reynolds to bolster their batting strength.
Gateshead Fell need inspiration from somewhere if they are to claw their way off the bottom of the table, and they select Richie Steele and Zac Banks to replace Richie Smith and Tom Pinkney as they travel across the river to Jesmond in search of points.
Hosts Newcastle have had their own problems in recent weeks with two successive defeats following a ten game unbeaten start to the season which raised expectations. And they will have to make do without one of the bright lights in their attack, Prateek Kar, the spinner breaking a finger when colliding with a team mate last week - although even then he held on to the catch. With Mandeep Jass also unavailable Jamie Atkinson and Ross McLaren return to action.
Stockton are missing Chris Oliver and Tom Coulthard, although Chris Parr's return from university provides some succour ahead of their home game against Benwell Hill. The Hill are strengthened by the return of injury victims Phil Nicholson and Jack Clark, while they are also confident Durham's Will Smith will play only his second game of the season for them.
In today's other matches full strength Sunderland play host to the Academy while Hetton Lyons, pleased with last week's debut of Kamran Shah, welcome South North to Lilywhite Terrace, the Bulls including the fit again Jimmy Miller in place of side strain victim Michael Craigs.