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Seven clubs sink into danger zone

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An unprecedented number of clubs have the shadow of relegation hanging over them as the Darlington Building Society North Yorks and South Durham season is set for an explosive last two months.

No less than seven clubs have now sunk into the danger zone, and with two to face the axe it’s becoming more difficult by the week to predict who will finally drop out.

On the plus side Billingham Synthonia, who were rock bottom a couple of weeks ago, have suddenly given themselves a chance of survival after winning their last two games and, as the teams they have beaten have been among those also at risk, they’ve moved dramatically upwards. They’re now fifth from the foot of the table.

Veteran Martin Cull and professional Tariq Aziz were the architects of the latest success which was against a Normanby Hall side robbed of their ‘pro’ who is now back in Sri Lanka for a major new tournament.

Aziz (78) gave the Synners one of their best starts of the season, taking them to 173 for eight before skipper Cull struck seven times in his 17 overs to leave Normanby rocking on 62 for nine.

A last wicket stand of 57 between Henry Blackett (62 not out) and 16-year-old Sam Slater, on his debut, threatened Billingham’s hopes but the task was too great and they finally bowed out for 119 from the penultimate ball of the game – beaten by 54 runs – with Cull (7-24) celebrating one of his best ever returns.

Thornaby, who lost to championship chasing Richmondshire, dropped back into the bottom two alongside Marske, who have three fewer points after failing to cope with an undefeated partnership worth 123 runs between the Guisborough pairing of Graham Murray (77) and Graeme Wrightson (43).

They came together with the Seasiders fancying their own chances having batted well for 193 and then taken five wickets for just 78. But the Priory club’s double act hit eight fours and four sixes in a run-a-minute bonanza.

Of the others in the worry zone Stokesley and Barnard Castle both lost but Sedgefield, who drew with Middlesbrough, showed just the fighting spirit they’re going to need in the last nine games.

With their best batting display since they were promoted they came within 33 runs of Boro’s top rate score of 246 in which Dan Hodgson (79) and James Lowe (45) were the major contributors, sharing in a second wicket stand of 114. But Steve Naylor (71) and new skipper Richard Hawthorne (64) put on 94 in their impressive reply of 213 for seven.

Barnard Castle were skittled out by Marton, who have run into the form which made them champions last season, although it looks as if it has come too late for them to make a challenge to retain the title. Professionals Lee Hodgson (88 and 4-3 in six overs) and Upul Indrasiri (4-34) were the match winners as Barney were bowled out for 86 in reply to 207 for nine.

Stokesley had little to offer against the bowling of Darlington’s tormenting trio of Peter Armstrong (6-32), Doug Mulholland (3-27) and Jon Barnes, who bowled 17 overs in conceding just 28 runs to take the other wicket.

They were all out for 91 as they chased 158 for six which the Quakers compiled thanks to Barnes (51) and Mulholland (50 not out) who shared a 100-run partnership after an early batting slump put them on 45 for five.

The only consolation for Stokesley skipper, Andrew Weighell (30) was that he became the first batsman this season to reach the 500 runs landmark.

The win, the tenth for the league leaders, kept them 28 points clear of their closest rivals Richmond and sets up the match of the season between the two challengers next Saturday for which the Dalesmen will be hosts.

Mind you they’ll need to retain the form they showed in beating Thornaby by five wickets with Shani Dissanayake bowling 17 overs for just 27 runs to keep the home score down to 160-4 before Gary Pratt (61) gave them the perfect start. Richmond showed they were vulnerable when Indika de Seram (54) and Omar Shahid (53 not out) shared a century partnership.

In the battle for third place, Great Ayton defeated Hartlepool by five wickets following half centuries from Brad Moses and David Grainge.