DARLINGTON take their faltering form to Redcar tomorrow, where they hope to get their title bid back on track following a couple of recent setbacks.
Three weeks ago, the Quakers were looking nailed on to take their first championship for 24 years, but two defeats in the last three games has seen the title race blown wide open and now just 14 points separate the top three teams, with 11 matches remaining.
And Redcar will not provide any easy pickings as, despite their relatively modest position, they have only lost on five occasions,with the majority of their matches being draws. Batsmen will be made to work hard for their runs.
Jonny Barnes is just two away from being the first man to 50 league victims this summer, and his skills have earned him a fabulous average of 6.95. But next on the list is Redcar’s Muhammed Zahid, who has 39 at 13.2.
Darlington have the additional comfort of a batsman in prime nick, with Liam Coates heading the league run-scoring charts with 680 at an average well in excess of 50. His contribution could be vital in a game where the bowlers are expected to dominate.
It could be an altogether different match at Richmond, where batsmen are expected to have the most say, and both the home team, and their visitors Great Ayton, have players at the top of their game. Just behind Coates in the run scoring charts are Ayton’s Chris Batchelor (662 at 82.75) and Nick Hendrie (604 at 75.50).
And with home skipper Gary Pratt (591 at 59.10), it means three of the four batsmen who have passed the 500 runs milestone will be on show.
Between them, the trio have six centuries and nine halfcenturies so far this summer.
The Dalesmen continue at optimum strength in their bid for a third consecutive title.
Stokesley skipper Andrew Weighell is steaming ahead in the all-rounder department, with 427 runs and 34 wickets. He takes his in-form side to Fountains Garth for a local derby with Guisborough, with a full squad at his disposal. That is also the case for the Priorymen who include Ryan Murray after his 95 for the seconds last week.
Kerridge finalists Barnard Castle entertain bottom club Sedgefield who, it is understood, have been hit by a double injury blow to Nisal Randika and Mark Davies.
Barney’s Adam Smith is out with a side strain, and Rob Dixon comes into contention for his place.
There is likely to be a battle royal at Saltburn where the Seasiders entertain a Middlesbrough team who moved above them last week, dropping tomorrow’s hosts into the bottom two.
In the day’s other games, Marske have to reckon without the services of Josh Carroll for the visit of Seaton Carew. And in the mid-table battle at Stokesley Road, hosts Marton will have a new skipper at the helm when they take on Hartlepool.
Chris Veazey has had to step down for work-related reasons, although he will still play, with vice-captain Ben Hutchinson taking over.
Hartlepool wicket keeper James Johnston will play despite bruising a finger last weekend.