Morpeth just miss out on top honours

Morpeth Harriers produced their best-ever finish in the National 12-stage Road Relay Championships when they finished runners-up behind Leeds City.

Morpeth Harriers produced their best-ever finish in the National 12-stage Road Relay Championships when they finished runners-up behind Leeds City.

Chester-le-Street had to be content with third place in defence of their Six-Stage title in Sutton Coldfield.

At a sun-drenched Sutton Park, Northern champions Morpeth saw off everyone except their Yorkshire rivals who were winning the championship for the first time.

Michael Morris got the contest under way for Morpeth and though he gave the Northumbrians a steady start, he handed over in 20th place, over a minute-and-a-half behind Kent's Jermaine Mays, whose time of 25min 53sec was the third fastest overall on the day.

Teenager Jonathon Taylor moved Morpeth up seven places to 13th and the forward move continued on stage three with Chris Sampson handing over to Jonny Young in 10th position - one place behind the eventual winners - as Tipton moved into pole position ahead of Cardiff with Kent slipping back down to third.

Tipton consolidated the lead at the completion of four stages with Cardiff in second place just ahead of Leeds as Young moved Morpeth up to seventh.

Tipton were still leading after stage five with Leeds, the National Cross-Country champions and runners-up behind Morpeth in the North of England Championships at Sunderland 14 days earlier, breathing down their necks in second place, while Midlands' silver medalists Birchfield moved through to third thanks to the fastest long stage of the day of 25:21 by Jean Ndayisenga.

Morpeth slipped back to 10th place (Martin Scaife) but they were back in medal contention by the midway point of the contest thanks to a storming run by European and Commonwealth representative, Nick McCormick.

McCormick moved Morpeth through to second place behind Tipton after recording 13min 39sec and the fastest short lap of the day.

Leeds slipped back to third with Cardiff fourth and Birchfield fifth.

Leeds took the lead for the first time on leg seven thanks to former Durham University student James Walsh, with Tipton slipping back to second just ahead of Cardiff, last year's champions Newham and Essex Beagles, and Morpeth through Neil Wilkinson.

On leg eight, Leeds extended their advantage slightly over Cardiff in second, and third-placed Tipton, with Morpeth slipping further down the field to seventh after team captain David Swinburne's effort.

Ian Hudspith continued his good run of form to move Morpeth though to second place once again on leg nine with the seventh fastest long stage overall but Leeds were still in a commanding position with over a minute advantage.

And despite the efforts of Terry Wall, Mark Hudspith and Mark Brown on the closing three stages, Leeds extended their lead to over two minutes at the finish.

Swinburne, who has been a regular in the Morpeth team in recent years, was happy with his squad's efforts but admitted they were beaten by a better team on the day.

"It would have been nice to have won but we still have to be pleased with finishing second, our best-ever performance in the 12-stage," said Swinburne.

"The writing was on the wall once Leeds moved into the lead but I think all of our team ran very well.

"Nick and Ian were exceptional but the likes of Jonny Young and Jonothon Taylor, who were making their debuts in the event, didn't let the side down in any way.

"They are only young so it augurs well for the future and maybe they'll be in the winning team in a year or two."

As well as Morpeth, Gateshead, Chester-le-Street and North Shields Poly all made the trip to the Midlands venue.

Gateshead, who finished 26th last year, were the pick of the trio this time finishing in 45th position with Alan Buckley and Kieran Flannery their fastest long and short-leg performers.

Chester-le-Street, who had to pull secretary John Russell into the team at the last minute, finished 51st with Darren Purvis and Carl Smith recording their best times, while North Shields, in their debut in the championship, finished in 62nd place.

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