CHAMPIONS Barnard Castle are in second place and having reduced the deficit behind leaders Great Ayton, to 18 points last weekend, they will be keen to keep their recent form going, in their match at home to Marske.

However, they have a few regulars missing for the game, with Karl Turner beginning a two-match suspension and Richard Borrowdale, Phil Merryweather, Robert Dixon and Jack Robinson are all attending a “stag do.”

Skipper James Finch told me: “We are down a few players for the weekend, but it gives opportunities to some players who have been performing in the second team. We are on an excellent run at the moment and even though we are missing players, if I was Marske I wouldn’t want to play against us right now!”

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Marske make three changes from their game against Seaton Carew last Saturday. Jack English, Chris Witherley and Chris Lince, all come in for Tom Urwin, Lewis Myers and Harry Pierson. Skipper Lee Hodgson said: “After last week’s poor performance, we are looking to bounce back with a positive result at Barnard Castle, in another tough game.”

Seaton Carew are showing real determination presently, and hauled themselves out of the bottom two, with a win at Marske last Saturday. Skipper Paul Braithwaite said: “We will look to build on that positive result as we host Middlesbrough, with Matthew Skirving and Jack Turnbull both returning to the team.” Boro skipper James Lowe told me that Sam Gaudie is unavailable, but Paul Johnston comes back into the team.

Guisborough, having dropped into a relegation slot last weekend, are determined to get themselves out of trouble, when they entertain Stokesley at Fountains Garth. Director of Cricket, Chris Nicholls was in upbeat mood ahead of the game: “As a team we need to start converting the draws that we have had this season, in to wins and move the club out of the relegation zone. It will be a tough game against Stokesley, but on our own patch we are confident of getting the right result.”

The Priorymen are strengthened by the return of Stu Mackay and Martin Hood, who both return to the team. Stokesley have Richie Chandler back in their team to bolster the bowling attack following their defeat last week. Secretary Mark Smith said: “We are hoping for a better performance with both bat and ball and hopefully return to winning ways and we are boosted by the availability of James Weighell.”

Hartlepool are only 28 points above the relegation zone and will be up against the league leaders Great Ayton, at Park Drive. They welcome back Dale Metcalfe and Sam Harris who replace Chris Smith and Joe Stewart, for what club official Michael Gough snr said: “Is the toughest of fixtures that we could have at present.” Ayton make one change with Andrew Liddle replacing David Grainge.

Marton are in fifth position in the league, and they welcome winless Norton with Jonathan Spillane and Ben Hutchinson both returning to the team. Danny Kitching is away on holiday and Salim Khan returns back to the second team. Skipper Alex Wardell was in buoyant mood, he said: “We are looking to kick on, in what has been a good season so far. We are probably safe from relegation, but want to make sure we finish strongly and aim for a top four finish if possible.”

Darlington travel the short distance, to play Richmondshire at Hugill Road. Skipper Paul Freary returns in place of the holidaying Jonny Barnes. Alex Metcalfe comes back into the side and Adam Baldwin returns to the second team.