Benwell Hill leapt into second place and title contention with one of their most impressive performances of the season whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum Gateshead Fell gained a much needed victory to give themselves renewed hope of survival.
Chester-le-Street were the feted Denton Bank opposition, and they were made to labour through 65 overs to reach 205 for nine, that total given a rosier glow by an unbroken last wicket stand of 41. Dave Rutherford conceded just 33 runs from his 20 overs and, along with Matthew Rodger, picked up three crucial wickets.
With just 55 overs to get the runs Hill rattled them off with more than four to spare with Sameet Brar’s opening 46 providing the solid base needed and then Zohaib Khan’s run-a-ball unbeaten half century providing the later impetus as he shared a match winning unbroken partnership of 74 with Ali Maiden (38no).
The win proved even more valuable when news came through that leaders Stockton had been held to a draw by Newcastle despite posting a formidable total of 275 for six and declaring after just 53 overs.
The Tynesiders batting held firm after a shaky start, and saw out the game comfortably enough on 197-4, Jacques du Toit making 79 from 83 balls. That result left the Teessiders with 14 points, eight fewer than the Hill who are now 38 adrift with plenty of games to go.
Gateshead Fell’s victory came at Ashbrooke where hosts Sunderland became their first victims of the season after labouring to 206 for nine in 61 overs, Tom Skilbeck making an undefeated ton.
A half century from Michael Cairns then took the Fell within tantalising sight of victory, and David Hill finished the job with an undefeated 67, the winning runs coming up with just four balls of the game remaining.
With South Shields losing a closely fought encounter against Hetton Lyons the picture at the bottom has changed with the Fell now just four points adrift of the Shieldsmen who were missing their two star players, Tom Latham and Gordon Muchall.
Matthew Muchall’s six wickets and Chris Rainbow’s half century were to prove in vain as Lal Kumar (4-42) and Sean Tindale (3-30) dismissed Shields for 156, 17 short of the Lyons total of 173.
In the day’s other top flight games Blaydon brushed aside the Durham Academy by seven wickets after Gary Stewart (5-21) helped bowl the youngsters out for 97, while a Lee Crozier six wicket haul did for Tynemouth who lost their home game against South North by 54 runs.
In the First Division South Hetton emerged as Whitburn’s closest challengers when they hammered Boldon by 143 runs, John Leslie and Murtuza Hussain sharing all ten wickets as Boldon were routed for 88 in only 29 overs. Earlier Gary Burlinson’s 61 had helped put Hetton in the driving seat with a 55 over total of 231 for nine.
Whitburn remained well clear of the chasing pack with their fifth win of an impressive season, beating Eppleton by eight wickets after bowling them out for 111 with Neil Johnson (5-21) providing the cutting edge. Ross Carty (53) and Neil Ayre (40no) then squeezed the life out of the visitors with an opening stand of 96.
Washington turned in the performance of the day, beating the much fancied Brandon by 63 runs after Lee Rushworth struck a wonderful 106 out of 238 for seven.
The home team then got a solid start with an opening partnership of 75, but when Karl Turner fell for 48 it heralded the loss of all ten wickets for 100 runs as Jordan Matthews picked up 4-73.