After one of the most thrilling matches in Stockton's NEPL history ended in the disappointment of defeat last week, the Teessiders can put any relegation worries behind them when they take on fellow strugglers Gateshead Fell today.

Stockton hero Jimmy Ward just failed to engineer a superb victory in a game that see-sawed all afternoon. Newcastle rose from 44-6 to declare on 252-9, only to see Stockton take race to 198-4.

Five wickets then fell for 17 runs to leave the Teessiders on 215-9, only for Ward (75) to shepherd his final partner to within four runs of victory before playing on with nine balls of the game remaining.

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The agonising defeat meant Stockton dropped back to second bottom, with just Gateshead Fell below, although they do have the cushion of a 22-point lead over their rivals.

And with home advantage they should stand a good chance of increasing that lead, particularly as Andy Parr and Joel Thwaites return to strengthen their line-up.

At the top of the table, Chester-le-Street again select from a full squad for their Ropery Lane meeting with a Hetton Lyons team who will be missing skipper John Tindale and bowler Gary Adey. Shaun Birbeck will captain in Tindale's absence, but a decision on the final make up of the side has been deferred.

Second-placed Blaydon take on the Academy at Denefield with both sides wondering about the availability of Durham players involved in the win against Sri Lanka A.

That may discount Mark Stoneman from the home team, so Ross Nicholson will play, while the Academy are likely to be be missing Ben Stokes and Ben Raine.

Newcastle have Michael Richardson on the same Durham list, while in the opposite corner Sunderland would love to have the in-form Chris Rushworth performing.

Definitely out of the Tynesiders team is Jamie Atkinson, Sam Malpass deputises, while Sunderland hope to be unchanged.

South North have question marks over the availability of three players for their home match against a Tynemouth team missing the injured Barry Stewart and Ben Debnam, and South Shields are awaiting the results of a fitness test on Phil Bell ahead of their meeting with Benwell Hill, who are expecting Will Smith to play in place of the working Ali Maiden.

Chester-le-Street play their national club championship match tomorrow when they entertain Merseyside outfit Northern, with the winners travelling to Nottingham in next week's quarter-finals to face the West Indian Cavaliers, a side that includes Alex Tudor, Usman Afzaal and Saqlain Mushtaq.