MORPETH Harriers leapfrogged over arch-rivals Gateshead to take a one-point lead at the top of Division One of the Start Fitness North- East Harrier League in the penultimate fixture at Alnwick.
The short trip up the coast suited the Northumbrian club, who were led home by their 23-year-old former North-East cross country champion and Great Britain junior international Lewis Timmins – fourth overall despite giving away five minutes start in the six-and-ahalf- mile handicap event – into second place behind surprise victors Wallsend.
But with Gateshead finishing a unexpected fourth, Morpeth go into the final fixture at Prudhoe on March 23 with a one-point advantage over the Tynesiders, knowing that victory will clinch the title.
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Sunderland, who had won the previous fixture at Wrekenton to give themselves an outside chance of regaining the Sisterson Trophy they had held for ten of the previous 12 seasons blew their hopes of a grandstand finishing sixth and are now an irretrievable nine points behind the leaders.
Morpeth were able to field a strong team, and just behind Timmins came their Northern 10,000m champion Peter Newton in seventh place, also from the fast-pack, and while they have four of their six counters in the first 17 Division One finishers, Gateshead struggled with their first two in the leading 18 to finish 55 points behind their rivals.
It was Wallsend’s best performance of the season, being led home by slow-packer Lee Kernoghan, who took full advantage of his five minutes start to win in 37 mins 29 mins, 24 seconds clear of Lee Agar, of defending champions Heaton, now fourth, a point behind Sunderland.
New club Tyne Bridge Harriers, who were formed last year by a breakaway group from the Wallsend club, were first team overall and maintained their 100 percent record in Division Three, virtually assuring themselves of promotion.
Heaton’s four-year reign as women’s champions looks like coming to an end as they finished fourth behind First Division leaders Tynedale, who could clinch the title in the final fixture on home ground at Prudhoe. Slow pack runner Louise Hays led North Shields Polytechnic to team victory in first place, while Grand Prix leader and defending champion Jane Mooney, of Morpeth, finished third overall despite giving away four minutes start from the fast pack.
Results - Senior Men (6½ mile handicap): 1 L Keroghan (Wallsend, Slow Pack +5 mins) 37.29; 2 L Agar (Heaton, SP) 37.53; 3 L Goffe (Tyne Bridge, SP) 38.05. Fastest times: 1 L Timmins (Morpeth) 33.36; 2 P Newton (Morp) 33.51; 3 M Hood (Sunderland) 35.12. Teams: 1 Wallsend 88; 2 Morpeth 97; 4 Heaton 127; 4 Gateshead 152; 5 South Shields l63; 6 Sunderland 196.Placings after five fixtures: 1 Morpeth 10; 2 Gateshead 11; 3 Sunderland 19; 4 Heaton 21.
Senior Women (4½ mile handicap): 1 L Hays (North Shields Poly, SP +4 mins) 29.00; 2 J Gascoigne-Owens (Alnwick, SP) 29.35; 3 J Mooney (Morp, Slow Pack, scr) 29.43. fastest time: J Mooney 25.43. teams: 1 NSP 33; 2 Sunderland Strollers 37; 3 Tynedale 37; 4 Heaton 70. Placings after five fixtures: 1 Tynedale 9; 2 NSP 15; 3 Heaton 15.