The Premier Division title looks to be heading south to Teesside for the first time since the NEPL was formed after leaders Stockton defeated second-placed Chester-le-Street to move into a 64 point lead with just nine games to play.
But at the opposite end of the table Gateshead Fell and South Shields are locked in a straight two way battle to avoid becoming the first team to be relegated under the new league structure after both crashed to heavy defeats.
Gateshead found themselves in trouble almost from the off at Jesmond where Newcastle’s opening bowlers Richard Stanyon (3-35) and Callum Harding (2-54) combined to reduce them to 36 for five, and it took a defiant unbeaten 36 from number nine Michael Dicks to lift them to the semi-respectability of 129 all out as Ben Raine (4-29) joined the attack to finish them off.
The run chase then became something of a formality once Raine (42 not out) was joined by Jacques du Toit (57 not out), the pair sharing an unbroken third wicket stand of 90 to secure an eight wicket win inside 22 overs and ensuring the Fell stayed bottom.
But South Shields just can’t shake off their own disappointing form and they ended up on the wrong side of a desperately low scoring match at Denefield where 15 wickets fell while just 123 runs were being scored.
From a position of 27 for one, Shields wilted to 60 all out as nine wickets went down for a paltry 33 runs, Gary Stewart and Danny Evans sharing six cheap wickets.
Blaydon then contrived to lose three wickets with their score on 19 to give themselves an attack of the jitters, but Graeme Bridge settled nerves as he hit five boundaries in an unbeaten 27 which took the home team safely through to a five wicket win.
The two sides remain separated by just ten points at the foot of the table, and they look like having the battle to avoid the drop to themselves with a yawning 70 point gap having now opened up to third bottom Durham Academy.
Up at the summit Jamie Harrison was once again in almost unplayable form for Stockton, his 5-11 from 10 overs helping blast out the Cestrians for 74, and even though the Teessiders lost seven wickets getting the runs they ended the day well clear of the chasing pack with just nine games left to play.
Benwell Hill and South North are now third and fourth after welcome victories, the Hill knocking off 194 to overcome the Academy by six wickets and the Bulls taming the Lyons by 119 runs as Lee Crozier (5-27) revelled in conditions suiting his spin.