MORPETH should have a big say in the destination of the NTSL title as they play both the contenders in the final two matches of the season, writes CHRIS WEST.
The beginning of the end is at Sacriston today, while a trip to Swalwell beckons next week, and it looks like the Longhirst Hall outfit will have strong sides in the field for both games.
Ben Maxted is well out in front as the Morpeth’s leading league run scorer, and he is back from holiday to take his place in the side. Also playing will be Ben Harmison, with the only absentee being Jonny Foster who is away playing rugby, although he will be available for the Swalwell match.
But Sacriston are top of the heap because they have been in brilliant form, maintaining pressure on Swalwell in a 14-game unbeaten run that culminated in last week’s victory over Ashington that took them to the summit. And they have a full squad to choose from, with Ben Hall back.
Swalwell are likely to prove the final nail in Ashington’s relegation coffin as victory for the title-chasers at Langwell Crescent will confirm the fate of the youthful Colliers team. Greg Williams and Simon Prudhoe are back in the home dressing room, although leading run scorer Jack Jessop is out. Swalwell include Andrew Hughes with Michael Armstrong unavailable.
Percy Main are making a late play for third place and go into their match at Burnopfield on the back of an eight game unbeaten run. Simon Curtis returns from both honeymoon and injury, the two entirely unrelated, and Joy Saini and Ryan Sidney-Wilmott are also back against opponents who are able to include Marcus Peart after his recovery from a foot injury.
Shotley Bridge currently enjoy a ten-point lead over Main and should have enough petrol in the tank to motor past hosts Chopwell, even though Graeme Angus is sidelined by injury. Adam Tams misses out for the hosts.
Elsewhere, already-relegated Newcastle City play their final A1 home game for at least 18 months when they entertain unchanged Annfield Plain, and Tynedale have to reckon without talented youngster Tim Raglan for their home match against Lanchester who have Dan Storey back in action.
Blue Flames went into last week’s weather curtailed programme trailing Bedlington by a single point at the top of the Northumberland League, but they emerged at the end of a soggy day with a one point lead themselves, and now have their championship fate in their own hands.
But they face two tough final games, beginning at home against Blagdon Park, and then ending with a trip to Warkworth.
The Flames head into this afternoon’s clash with Park with a strong line-up as Nick Humble, Steve Pinnington and Bilal Malik all return, but Blagdon will have to make do without skipper Greg Senior who is having a Senior moment – his 40th birthday! Also out is Nigel Clough, with only Tom Truscott so far named as a replacement.
The tenacious Terriers look to have an easier ending than the Blues boys on paper, playing at relegation-dogged Clara Vale, and then entertaining a Corbridge team who have only won once in their last 13 outings. Chris Taylor is out of the Bedlington side with a knee injury, but other than that everyone is available for the trip to the Recreation Ground where the Vale are missing Omar Ahmed.
Bomarsund’s relegation looks certain, but where there are 30 points there is hope and Bomar stick with an unchanged side for the visit of Berwick who have John Simmons back from the One-day International.
Meanwhile, ultra-cautious Alnmouth are keen to secure the three points they have calculated they need to avoid the drop, even though they enjoy a mid-table standing. They include James Ruddock for the trip to Stocksfield where their hosts are unchanged for the first time this year.
Corbridge were missing 8 first teamers last week, but most are back for the home game against Bates Cottages, while the Whitty boys, Matthew and Sean, return for Tillside who take on Warkworth.