ANY doubts that Darlington couldn't keep their nerve as the championship leaders disappeared on a sun-drenched afternoon when they fired a sharp reminder to Richmondshire, the more popular tip to win the title, that the battle lines are well and truly drawn.

With little to show for their exploits in recent years - they haven't won a major league trophy since 1993 - the Quakers have started the season with five wins out of seven including their latest triumph against Hartlepool, last season's championship runners-up and again in the leading three just nine points from the top before the teams met.

It seems to matter little how moderately their batsmen perform at times as they have the bowling power to deal with most situations.

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Even with only a few more than a hundred runs to play with Jon Barnes and fellow professional, Doug Mulholland, combined to demolish Pool and bring home the points in cavalier style.

Barnes bowled his usual 17 overs, ten of them without conceding a run, to give away just 16 runs overall, and Mulholland added 16 decisive overs to leave their hosts all out for 89.

The deadly duo shared eight wickets with only Neil Coverdale (28) and Chris Harrison (20) able to give Pool a brief lifeline.

Home professional, Kasun Bodhisha (4-35), Marc Symington (3-33) and Anthony Fawcett (2-26) had earlier exploited a bowler-friendly wicket which saw Darlington lose their last four wickets for 11 runs to finish all out for just 118. Martin Lower (40) was the game's top scorer.

Richmondshire stayed in touch with their rivals with victory over the bottom club, Stokesley, whose sixth defeat is just two short of the total number of games lost in their last two seasons since winning promotion.

The hosts battled hard enough with Jonny Weighell (51) top scoring as they posted 152. But James Clarkson brilliantly led the response with an unbeaten 85, including 14 fours from 120 balls, sharing in partnerships of 69 and 72. Alistair Raper (3-39) did most of the damage in Stokesley's innings.

The best movers of the day were Guisborough whose win over Barnard Castle took them from seventh to fourth. Mosharraf Hossain (5-49 from 14 overs) was the catalyst behind the mid-innings collapse of Barney, whose last five wickets fell for just 22 runs after looking reasonably healthy on 93 for five.

They were all out for 115 leaving James Quinn unbeaten on 62. Martin Hood (48) made sure the Priory club didn't falter and they triumphed by five wickets sending their visitors, the season's early league leaders, to their second successive defeat.

Great Ayton's new professional, South African Brad Moses, became an instant success with a century and four wickets on his debut.

His unbeaten 114 against Normanby Hall was faultless, coming from 158 balls and including nine fours and three sixes.

Steve Pennock (40) wasted no time either with 30 in boundaries as he faced just 51 balls as the villagers reached 243-5.

The Hall had Janaka Gunarathne (66) to lead the counter attack, but when Moses (4-23) and Pennock (2-39) got among the wickets they played out the 50 overs on 186-8, still 57 runs behind.

Marton got over their match-rustiness with a much needed win, but newcomers Sedgefield gave them a good run for their money.

The league champions saw their former professional, Mohammed Zahid (3-14 from 17 overs) take a stranglehold on the game after Wally Ghauri had bashed eight fours in 46 opening the batting. But keeper Chris Veasey (45) injected more pace and Marton managed to reach 183.

Sedgefield battled hard with Zahid (45) and Richie Hawthorne (36) sharing a stand of 67 but they fell 21 runs short, bowled out for 162.

Middlesbrough won for the first time with Paul Johnston (69), Adil Ditta (47 not out) and Dan Hodgson (46) taking them clear of Thornaby's excellent total of 201-9 of which Omar Shahid hit a 52-ball unbeaten 68.

At Billingham, with the Synners still upwardly mobile, Craig Symington was just eight runs short of a century when the overs ran out. They hit 239-3 and took 17 points from a tame draw with Marske.