Title race continues apace
TITLE RACE CONTINUES AS STRABANE, BRIGADE SET TO BATTLE IT OUT
It's another busy week ahead in the Long's SuperValu Premier Division with a full programme of matches on Saturday while the North West Warriors are back in T20 action when they head to Comber on Sunday. Strabane currently lead the way in the title race and Tommy Barr's team are in action at the moment as they play Bready in a re-arranged midweek game while second placed Brigade are tangling with Donemana in a senior cup final rehearsal. There is plenty riding on those two contests with priceless title points on offer but both look certain to be closely contested over the three nights.
On Sunday Bobby Rao takes his Warriors side to Belfast for a second T20 meeting in a week with the Northern Knights. The North West team played exceptionally well in their first match at Bready last weekend to see off current T20 champions Leinster Lightning, but they blew a golden opportunity to make it two out of two when a spectacular batting collapse allowed the Belfast side in. If they can recapture the form from that first game the visitors would have a chance again at North Down with the visitors quietly confident of giving a good account of themselves.
It is league action first on the agenda however and here then is a look ahead to Saturday's quartet of matches as the season heads into the second half.
Coleraine v Ardmore
Nothing seems to be falling right for the champions just at the minute and when they have looked like turning the corner, as they did last weekend against Eglinton, the rains intervened. Their form, not just in the league but the cups too, has been distinctly ordinary since the start of the summer and they have been a far cry from the team that steam-rolled their way to a first ever senior title in 2013. Quite what has happened this season is anyone's guess because as skipper Gordon Cooke has said, they haven't become bad players overnight. Still, the Bannsiders' results have been poor and another defeat will surely spell an end to their faint hopes of retaining their trophy. Ardmore have plenty to play for themselves of course- Adrian Murphy's side still only two wins above Fox Lodge and with a relegation play-off for the seventh placed team to negotiate, they won't want that either. The Bleachgreen side has been competitive in the majority of their matches but it is points that win prizes and Ardmore need more of them. Once again the threat will be provided by Curry and Riddles athough Paul Brolly, Paul McDowell, Ciaran Curley and Peter Harrigan as well as the Brollys, Conor and Ryan have all chipped in. Home advantage though sees Coleraine as clear favourites for this.
Bready v Donemana
Two sides whose recent form has seen contrasting fortunes meet at Magheramason in a difficult game to unravel. The hosts started the season on fire however their defeat by Brigade in the semi-final of the senior cup has been the first of three reverses on the bounce since. David Rankin showed all his quality at the Interprovincial T20 day at the weekend and he could give the Donemana bowlers plenty to think about. David Barr, Ernest Kemm and Robert Spence have also been in the runs in recent weeks and have helped Bready to show much more consistency this season. The visitors have really hit their straps in the past month and have another cup decider to look forward to next weekend so they will want to keep their run going. They too have key players with Andy McBrine, Ricky-Lee Dougherty, Stephen Wallace and Kamran Sajid helping Richard Kee turn the corner after an ordinary enough start to the season. Donemana are often a more potent threat at home which is something David Scanlon's side may try to take advantage of however neither result would be much of a surprise in this.
Eglinton v Strabane
Could be a tricky afternoon for the league leaders as they tackle an Eglinton side who took their measure twice last season and who have posted three wins so far this year. Stuart Thompson has easily been the pick of the villagers' line-up during their early season performances and just like his Warriors counterpart Rankin, he looked every inch the International player at Bready on Sunday. It's no one-man show however as Craig Averill and Andy Pierce are quickly becoming a decent opening partnership for them as well while Ross Allen continues to improve for his involvement at this level. Strabane have looked a completely different side in the league than in the cups and depending on the outcome of their ongoing game at Bready in midweek, could be going into this looking for their eighth win in as many games. Matt Bentley is in seriously good form at the minute at the top of the order and the way that he, Kevin Martin and Peter Gillespie put away Fox Lodge last weekend was as emphatic as you could wish to see. With Ryan Patton and Tawanda Mupariwa also turning in some top performances with the ball as well it all represents a big chance for them. Four points from their two matches this week would make the Red Caps serious contenders to claim the title so there's plenty at stake.
Brigade v Fox Lodge
It just doesn't seem to get any easier for a Fox Lodge side that now has seven games to save their Premier Division status. Jason Milligan and Brian Allen have fought valiantly to keep the flag flying and to a lesser extent Iftikhar Hussain and Tabish Khan also, but it is a side totally bereft of confidence at the moment and they look in a lot of trouble after their start. Their schedule of matches will be doing little to lighten the mood either as they follow up last Saturday's mauling at home to Strabane with a trip to another side with designs on the title in Brigade. Going to Beechgrove at any time in the season is a difficult enough ask but going there with morale on the floor makes the job ten times harder. Throw in the fact that the hosts can ill-afford to lose ground behind the leaders and you get a feel for the afternoon that Milligan's men are likely to be facing. The Foxies know the quality that Gareth McKeegan side boasts, including one of their own former stars in Andy Britton, but they just have so much power, especially in attack that it is difficult to see the visitors causing a surprise.
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