STOCKTON captain Kevin Ward is confident his young side will perform better than they did when they met Benwell Hill earlier in the season.

“Then we struggled, but we are playing pretty well at the moment and the team is improving all the time. A boost to our chances today is the availability of the Durham County player George Harding,” said Ward.

It could be another tough game for the Teessiders, however, since Benwell Hill are fourth-top and have lost just twice.

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Former Durham player Kyle Coetzer, who captains the Hill, thought his team under-performed at Tynemouth last week and he’s looking for a better performance.

He said: “We need a win to keep us within touching distance of the leading sides. We are 67 points adrift of South Northumberland, so winning the league is probably out of the question but I want to end as high as possible.”

South North look as if they will take some stopping in the race for the title even though there are still 10 games to play.

They are the only unbeaten side and should be too strong for South Shields who are second-bottom, 25 points in front of Felling.

The match of the day will be between second-placed Newcastle and Chester le Street at Ropery Lane.

The Cestrians are one place and 10 points behind their opponents and aim to maintain their challenge for honours.

Newcastle haven’t given up hope of overtaking South North but Director of Cricket Doug Hudson acknowledges that following the unexpected defeat by bottom side Felling, they need to put a healthy haul of points on the board, starting today.

Sacriston are 53 points ahead in Division One and favourites to maintain a 12-match unbeaten sequence when they go to Gateshead Fell.

Johnny Bushnell is in Sri Lanka with his school, but Callum Appleby has recovered from a broken finger and is a ready replacement.

The Fell’s chances are enhanced with the news that Graeme Onions is available.

Boldon are chasing Sacriston but their hopes of ending in pole position look forlorn. Nevertheless, they will go out for maximum points at Burnmoor who are back to full strength with the return of Gareth Harte, Ross Hodgson and Paul Craig.

Brandon sit third but are 58 points off the top before they tackle second-bottom Mainsforth on home soil.

Following two recent defeats, third-top Easington need to get back to winning ways as they attempt to overhaul Seaham Park’s 20-point lead in the Durham Cricket League.

The Colliers host Durham City today and are on home soil again tomorrow in the crucial game with Seaham Park.

Tudhoe – relegated from the North East Premier League last season – are making a strong challenge for an immediate return to the top flight.

Chairman Stephen Thexton says that the side is doing very well at home but struggling with their away form. Despite having ground advantage today, Tudhoe could find it difficult against Esh Winning who are capable of beating any side.

Tomorrow, Tudhoe are at Durham City for what could be another testing encounter.

Castle Eden chairman John Spellman says the side is full of confidence following two straight wins and for the double at Horden and at home to Whiteleas, under-15 player Ben Simpson replaces the unavailable Robbie McGlasham.

Horden play local rivals Castle Eden before going to Esh Winning. After ending runners-up last season, the Colliers have disappointed so far with just two wins in 11 attempts but with Lal Kumar now in full swing with the ball, Horden are hoping for a better second half.

Swalwell have a narrow 15-point lead in the Go North East Northumberland and Tyneside Senior League which they should at least maintain at the expense of second-bottom Leadgate who have won only one of 10 games actually played.

“It’s top versus bottom but we’ll not take Leadgate lightly. Every game is there to be won and we’ll need to stay focused,” said Paul Dumigham who reports that Richard Shotton replaces Gary Johnson.