DARLINGTON head to the SCG today to take on Stokesley in the biggest game of the season so far fo both teams.
The Quakers cruised to victory last week against Marton, but despite that found that their lead was cut back as Stokesley overpowered Hartlepool to claim a 25-pointer and move to within ten of the table-toppers.
For the first time since their promotion in 2009 Stokesley are in with a realistic chance of title success, and the importance of the game to them is highlighted by the fact that allrounder James Beaumont will be playing despite getting married just 24 hours earlier. He has delayed setting off for his honeymoon until after the game, and his inclusion in the home line-up is a massive boost given his current form.
Beaumont enjoyed an outstanding personal two days in the double-header at Hartlepool last week, bagging a five wicket haul in the league match at Park Drive, and then returning figures of 6-39 in the Kerridge Cup final defeat at the hands of Barnard Castle the following day.
That defeat gives Stokesley an extra incentive to do well as skipper Andrew Weighell recognised: “I don’t know how James has managed to organise that but obviously we’re delighted.
“We’re looking forward to what could be a very tight game. It would be nice to get a good result which would be a real tonic following our cup defeats in the Kerridge and Fifteens against Barnard Castle.”
With Beaumont set to play Stokesley should be unchanged, although whether James Weighell will be fit enough to bowl after a recurrence of back problems will only be known nearer kick-off.
Darlington, meanwhile, have both Dan Hodgson and Sam Hardy back in the side, and that means only Matty Brown of their full strength line-up will be missing.
When the two sides met earlier in the season at Feethams Darlington won easily on a rain affected day in which that match was the only one to beat the weather, and Quakers captain Peter Armstrong is happy enough with his side’s form heading into the game.
He said: “We’re on a roll at the moment having won cup games at Swalwell, Saltburn and Redcar, and beaten Marton with one of our best league performances. “Given that we’ll be disappointed if we don’t win to complete the double over them. They’re the form team at the moment, but we are confident and will go there in positive mood.”
The other team in the title equation, champions Richmondshire, have had some more positive news about Mike Layfield.
He has now had the pot removed from his fractured hand, and will have a clearer idea whether he can return to action sooner than the originally forecast six weeks. The Dalesmen will be unchanged for their home game against a Saltburn side still looking for their first win of the summer.
That lack of success sees the Seasiders locked in the bottom two. A couple of the other teams in and around the relegation zone having made significant moves to bolster their playing strength this week, most notably Marske who have had to concede that they will not see Adam Lyth after his phenomenal form for Yorkshire this season.
As he has not played a single game for the club they are able to release his registration, and, after meeting with Durham officials at the recent county second team game at Windy Hill Lane, Marske have now registered Phil Mustard as his replacement. It is unlikely that he will play that many games given his Durham commitments, but he will make his debut this weekend in the home game against Middlesbrough.
The Seasiders will be at full strength for this one with Karl Branwell and Craig Gratton both back, however Boro go into the game without three key players.
Paul Johnston is working again, Matty Bell is on holiday, and Callum Buckley is required by the Durham Academy.
Another Durham player could also make his first appearance this weekend with Sedgefield in the process of registering Scotland international Callum MacLeod as a substitute whilst Mark Davies is sidelined following his recent shoulder operation.
MacLeod is well known to several NYSD players who got a close up look at him when he scored a faultless century for Durham against the League in a recent representative T20 game. There has been no additional news on the other missing ‘pro’, Sri Lankan Nisal Randika, so the date of his return is unknown.
In other team news Dan Wilkinson has transferred back to Barnard Castle after a short spell with Sunderland, today’s opponents Great Ayton have Chris Batchelor and Stephen Pennock returning, Guisborough’s Graham Murray is back in harness when the Priorymen entertain a Hartlepool team that will be missing Neil Coverdale, and Seaton Carew are able to include Martin Skirving when they travel down the coast to Redcar.