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Good old days set to return for Darlington

New title favourites Darlington extended their lead as their closest rivals, Richmondshire and Marton, started to feel the pressure and slipped behind, each only able to pick up winning draw points against teams fighting for survival.

With their advantage now increased from five to nine points over the Dalesmen, and 11 over Marton, hopes of bringing back the good old days to Feethams are rising rapidly.

It’s 23 years since the club last won the championship, and more than half a century since its halcyon days, but there are signs that their all-round strength could take them back among the honours as their latest win at Hartlepool was a triumph for their batsmen.

Ben Wicling hit his first century since joining and with fellow newcomer John Watson (48) sharing in an opening partnership of 127, the usual reliance on its trio of wicket takers became less important.

Wicling was unbeaten on 101, including 12 boundaries from 137 balls, and Quakers had seven wickets in hand when they passed Pools’ total of 196 for four.

It did, however, need the usual accuracy of Doug Mulholland (2-64 from 13 overs), Peter Armstrong (2-72 from 15) and Jon Barnes, who conceded just 23 runs from 17, to keep Pool within catching distance.

Richmond were in their usual big hitting mode against Sedgefield as the brilliant Gary Pratt stroked an unbeaten 162, his highest of the season, out of 310 for seven.

He hit 19 fours and two sixes and faced 151 balls for his fifth century which took him to 1,228 league runs. Among three notable partnerships was 91 with Shani Dissanayake, who made 42.

But the visitors, despite losing their first three wickets cheaply, dug in to reach an excellent reply of 204 for seven with a superb 90 from Nisal Randika and 47 from Steve Naylor who shared a stand of 116.

The Dalesmen took 16 points, one more than Marton who got a little closer to victory against Normanby Hall whose last two men were at the wicket for the final six balls of the match.

It was a game in which two Hodgson’s, Lee for Marton with 80 and Dan for Normanby with 63, took the main batting honours, but home skipper Chris Veazey (58no from 46 balls) also shone as they posted 234 for six.

Normanby’s response of 181 for nine included 59 from Henry Blackett before Upul Indrasiri (5-40) got so close to clinching victory. He did, however, have something to celebrate – going top of the league’s bowling chart with 52 victims.

Great Ayton’s title challenge came to an end when they were beaten by Middlesbrough by the narrowest of margins. Just 11 runs separated the teams after Boro made 187 for seven with James Lowe (69) and Ryan Buckley (62) sharing a fourth wicket stand of 94.

Chris Batchelor (53) led the Ayton run chase but Lowe (4-41) and Buckley (4-63) did enough to tip the scales Boro’s way. Ayton went down fighting, out for 176 in the last over.

Guisborough moved above Ayton into fourth place and stay on the fringe of the title race, 26 points adrift of Marton, after their fourth successive win. They defeated Saltburn with a late flurry of wickets from Stu Mackay (3-25) and Stuart Lobb (3-57).

Richie Evans hit his first century for the Priory club – 117 from 121 balls with 13 fours and four sixes – who declared in the 48th over on 272 for seven.

Joe Kennedy (51) and Umesh Karunaratne (50) put the Seasiders in with a chance but a sudden collapse, with the last five wickets falling for 32 runs, including three for four, took them out for 190, beaten by 82 runs.

Stokesley lifted themselves away from the lurking dangers in the bottom half of the table with their second successive victory to put an end to 12 largely unimpressive displays, including five defeats.

They beat Barnard Castle by nine wickets with young Tom Preece making an unbeaten 83 with 14 boundaries, his highest score at senior level. Chris Allinson (52no) shared in a stand of 137 in passing Barney’s 154 for nine.

And Thornaby’s demise as they continue to head for relegation was made even more painful when a former player, Omar Shahid, hit 73 from 27 balls for Redcar against them.

He was making his debut for the Seasiders who made 265 for five with Muhammad Saad batting throughout for an unbeaten 110, his first century. Jonny Spillane made 71 as Thornaby batted out the overs on 161 for nine despite four wickets for the splendid Saad.

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