THE championship crown looks like heading to Marton for the second time in three years after long-time leaders Hartlepool relinquished their grip with defeat against relegation threatened Northallerton, who gave themselves an unexpected chance of survival.
Marton, pre-season favourites, moved seven points clear of Pool with a revenge win over Bishop Auckland, who beat them in a last over thriller two weeks ago but were overrun at the second time of asking.
A third successive century for Upul Indrasiri in a partnership of 138 with Wally Ghauri, who was unluckily out two runs short of his maiden senior hundred, took the new leaders to 307-3.
Both batsmen faced 114 balls with Indrasiri hitting 17 fours and a six and Ghauri collecting ten boundaries. Lee Hodgson then smashed 40 from 19 balls.
Any hope of Bishops holding out for vital draw points disappeared when they slumped to 94 for 5, and they were all out with 21 balls remaining for163. Indrasiri, and his skipper Mattie Brown, shared six of the wickets.
Bishops dropped back to the foot of the table as Northallerton turned the form book upside down at Park Drive, getting their first win in ten which took them to within a point of third bottom Marske.
Only 12 points separate three teams fighting to survive.
Pool had a ten point advantage but had a nightmare afternoon.
They were bowled out for 106 after Northallerton posted 183-5 of which Anwar Hafeez (82) and Jon Barnes (64 not out) shared a stand of 79.
Barnes, with maiden after maiden, made sure Pool’s free flowing batting fell apart. His 17 overs return of five for 15, with only seven over from which runs were scored, showed him again at his accurate best.
Marske ran into trouble on a Feethams wicket which claimed 17 wickets while only 129 runs were scored. The Seasiders were bowled out in 28 overs for 64 with Liam Coates (5-35) and Doug Mulholland (4-28) exploiting the conditions. Darlington won by three wickets despite a fight back from Josh Carroll (5-33).
With their championship challenge gone, Richmondshire suffered a batting collapse at Billingham where they were bowled out for 88, but there was a better day for Great Ayton’s Chris Batchelor who ended a barren spell of form with a century at Barnard Castle before rain put an end to the match with his team in charge.
Another hundred, his fourth of the summer, from James Lowe gave Middlesbrough their second successive win which proved to be only Stokesley’s fourth defeat in 25.
Lowe made 102 from 123 balls, with 64 in boundaries, sharing in a 150-run stand with Tom Hodgson (74 not out). Unluckiest player of the day was Stokesley’s Jonny Weighell who needed ten from the last over for his maiden senior century – and finished one run short.
Despite being thumped by their closest rivals, Thornaby will be back in the premier division next season. They clinched promotion along with Sedgefield, who have never played at the higher level before and now look likely to go up as champions.