Cheshire close in on the Northern Counties title.
CHESHIRE have claimed top place in the Northern Counties League and now, with just one match remaining, are ideally placed to end the long wait for silverware.
The prospects are encouraging.
They are unbeaten in the league and they have the confidence of having already beaten what appears to have been the two main opposition teams to their title ambitions, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Yorkshire are traditionally the most powerful team in the north. This season Lancashire are the best team in the north in terms of having won the "Big Six" the northern qualifier to reach the English County Championship finals, once again..
In the battle for the Northern League title Lancashire have shared top place with Cheshire for much of the season. But Cheshire have now taken an outright lead after the defeat of Lancashire in a nerve-stretching encounter at Pleasington.
After the morning foursomes Cheshire were trailing by one point and the afternoon singles produced a see-saw battle. Cheshire won the first match before Mark Young (Longridge) and Jon Hurst (Pleasington) both won to put Lancashire in the lead.
Then Dominic Barnes (Caldy) and David Peel (Stockport) both won. Blackburn's Steve McGlynn's win for Lancashire was immediately cancelled as Josh Sims from Caldy won his singles.
The next two games were halved, Barry Barker of Reddish Vale against Southport and Ainsdale's Paul Howard and Mark Geddes of Prenton against Hillside's Richie Blundell. But, James Newton of Prestbury and Ashley Sage from Sandiway then won two of the last three matches for Cheshire to win the singles 7 - 5 and the match by just one point, 9.5 - 8.6.
The battle between Cheshire and Lancashire is not finished. As Cheshire captain David Peel says: "We have not won anything yet." But he adds: "It (the league championship) is in our hands now." Cheshire go to meet Cumbria at the end of this month where a win or even a halved match would give them the Northern League championship for the first time since 2004.
Lancashire must win their last match and hope that Cheshire are beaten and that the title is decided on individual matches won, on "goal difference." Lancashire' s final match is against the powerful Yorkshire team. But Lancashire are at home, at Formby. Peel is in his first season as captain and reflecting on his team's performances so far he says: "I think we made a great improvement in terms of the team spirit. Also we have managed to created a nice bit of momentum. There is just one match to go and so far, so good."
The team has produced many fine individual performances but James Newton has been exceptional.
The 17-year-old from Prestbury, winner of the Cheshire Boys title with a 12-under card and in his debut season in the county senior ranks, won both his morning foursomes against Lancashire and his singles 8 & 7. He was seven-under after 11 holes.
Oliver Carr from Heswall who played in the Boys Homes Internationals has also had a fine season and has become the partner in the foursomes with Mike Bedford from Bramall Park.
Peel refers to the mixtures of experienced players with the "new lads" including Newton and Marcus Mohr from Bromborough.. The experienced players includes Barry Barker of Reddish Value, winner of the county matchplay title three times who turned professional and is now back in the amateur ranks. He has been an established Cheshire player and Peel says his return to the Cheshire team has made a difference.
If Cheshire should lose against Cumbria and Lancashire win against Yorkshire and the title is decided on individual performance then Lancashire do have the superior "goal difference" count to take the championship.
But Peel is not contemplating such a cliffhanging decision. "We are planning to win against Cumbria, to make sure. The title is in our hands now."
Cumbria have won two and lost two league matches. But Peel says: "It will be difficult to win away against Cumbria. We are not taking it lightly. But we are getting into a good momentum. We are on a winning run and we want to keep it going through to the end."
If Cheshire do win the league, it will have wrecked Lancashire's hopes of a spectacular double this season, then Northern Counties League and the England county championship.
But whatever happens in the league Lancashire are in the England finals and with the prospect of being crowned champions of the England counties for the third times in four years.
If the league title does go to Cheshire there could still be a double Lancashire celebration of a different kind. While Lancashire men hope to win the national title at Chipping Sodbury next month Lancashire Ladies are in the ladies national county finals at Thorndon Park, Essex aiming to repeated the county success of 2009.
The Cheshire team at Prestbury