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All set for a dramatic finale
1:29pm Friday 20th September 2013 in Sport
A DRAMATIC final day is in prospect as Richmondshire go in search of the five points needed to retain their Premier title, while the top two in the First Division lock horns with the championship and promotion at stake.
There is every chance there will be Dalesmen delight at Stokesley today, where the reigning champions face their last hurdle, and while they are heavy favourites to claim the necessary points, there is additional incentive attached to what will be a unique occasion.
Just a couple of hundred yards from the SCG, Stokesley Show will be in full swing, and with crowds for the annual event typically exceeding 20,000, there is likely to be a vibrant backdrop to the cricket, with many people likely to take the opportunity to have a look at the champions-elect and their record-breaking skipper Gary Pratt in action.
But Richmond will have more than the bustling atmosphere and five points on their mind as they have the chance to make themselves the most successful team in the league’s history by claiming 13 points or more from the match. That would take them through to a record points aggregate for a season, the previous bests being 428 by Middlesbrough in 1993, when the season consisted of 28 matches, and 426 from Marton in 2009, when the season was the current 26 matches long.
Richmondshire select from a full-strength squad of 12, which includes Lewis Stabler, who is free from Yorkshire commitments now, and they go into the game on the back of six consecutive victories.
In contrast, Stokesley have lost their last four and they make one enforced change, with George Robinson back at university. Will Brown has volunteered to go through the pain barrier again after playing last week with a broken thumb.
Darlington skipper Peter Armstrong knows only a major upset will prevent his team having to settle for the runners-up spot again, but the Quakers have a clear mind ahead of their own game.
“All we can do is win the game against a good Guisborough team, which will give us the highest Darlington points total ever,” he said.
“Stokesley are a dangerous side, but whatever happens we can look at it as another good season, which included the Austin Trophy success.’ The Quakers are unchanged for the Feethams finale, but the same can’t be said for Guisborough, who are missing key players Stuart Lobb, Phil Holdsworth, Stu Mackay and James Lines.
Four second-teamers are handed a last-day opportunity, including Brad Passmore, who will make his Premier debut.
There will certainly be some nervous people at Kingsway. The fixture planners couldn’t have done a better job than pitting the two top teams against each other in the final showdown of a dramatic First Division season.
Marske clinched promotion last week but they still need to complete the apparent formality of getting one extra point to be certain of the championship. If hosts Bishop Auckland beat the Seasiders and leave them pointless, then the title would go to them instead.
But the more pressing issue for Bishops is to win the match, without worrying about how many points their opponents get, as they are just a single point in front of third-placed Seaton Carew, who will be favourites to win their final home game against a relegation-threatened Maltby team.
Bishops are missing Dan Conway and Scott Oldfield but do have Carl McGregor returning to the side, while Marske are able to include John Glendenen, who has recovered from the stomach ailment that laid him low last week. Their only other change is the inclusion of Karl Bramwell for the holidaying Dave McCabe.
Further down the division, two teams are left to battle it out for the honour of being crowned the best second team in the league.
Great Ayton hold a ninepoint advantage over Richmond’s second string, but both face difficult assignments, with the villagers travelling to Blackhall, where their hosts still have relegation worries, and the Dalesmen entertaining Northallerton, who have won their last three.
While all Division Two issues are settled, in Division Three three teams are vying for two promotion spots.
In pole position are Newton Aycliffe, who have a home derby against Bishop Auckland, while secondplaced Saltburn also face a tough game against a Preston team who can beat anyone in the division on their day.
Bedale are waiting in the wings if either of the teams above them slip up, but they must win their match against Blackhall to stand any chance of a last day leapfrog.
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