The Northern Premier League title race has long seemed destined to go down to a final-day decider between Blackpool and Leyland ... and that is exactly what has happened.
Blackpool take a four-point advantage into Saturday’s showdown, having taken a maximum 30-point haul from two comfortable victories over the weekend.
After captain Paul Danson won both tosses and put Blackpool’s opponents in, they dismissed hosts Lancaster for 82 on Saturday and visitors Barrow for 90 on Sunday to set up two quickfire wins.
Leyland, however, ensured this tightest of title races would go to the wire with a thumping 120-run victory over Penrith.
Josh Boyne was Blackpool’s outstanding bowler at Lune Road, where Lancaster were dismissed in 38 overs.
Opener Faizan Khan was the only home batsman to stick around, making 34 before he fell to Boyne, who claimed 5-34, his third five-wicket haul of season.
Blackpool took 29.2 overs to polish off a six-wicket win at 83-4, professional Daryl Mitchell seeing them home with an unbeaten 26.
Danson’s side then made the most of their game in hand at Stanley Park yesterday, completing a miserable weekend for a fourth-placed Barrow side skittled out for 43 by Kendal the previous afternoon.
At least they managed to double that total but laboured 44.3 overs for their modest 90.
Blackpool’s openers could then muster only eight, but they merely paved the way for Tom Jefferson (45 not out) and Mitchell (40no) to ease the hosts to an eight-wicket win at 93-2 from 26.2 overs.
That means long-time title contenders Fleetwood must settle for third place, though they turned on the derby style with a 103-run victory at St Annes.
Fleetwood chose to bat at Vernon Road and set an imposing target of 217-7.
Dean Bell led the way with 58 at numberthree, the wicketkeeper’s fifth half-century of the century, with Alex Ryder making 40 at seven.
The hosts’ South African professional Ockert Erasmus did his best to keep the contest alive with 3-75 from his 17 overs and then an unbeaten 30 with the bat, coming in number four.
However, only last man Matt Grindley (22) stuck around with him and St Annes were dismissed for 114 in 29.4 overs. That leaves Grindley’s team ninth but they can fall no lower.
An unbeaten century by Gary Knight lit up Lytham’s last home match of the season in the Liverpool Competition but his side still had to settle for a draw with relegated Rainford.
The wicketkeeper’s first ton of the season came in a 114-ball knock which included 10 fours and two sixes but the hosts closed 12 short of their target in an exciting ECB premier league contest.
The St Helens side were put in to bat and were in trouble at 84-6 before Ravi Mistry shared a stand of 57 with William Threlkeld and went on to score 59 as Rainford reached 204 from 59.2 overs.
In a Lytham attack lacking Toby Lester and Anthony Milligan, Thomas Cornall led the way with 3-68.
Lytham lost three quick wickets before Knight shared in stands of 60 with Luke Williams and 53 with Joe Davies but he couldn’t quite get them across the line as Lytham closed at 192-7 from 48 overs, Daniel Houghton taking 3-32 off 13 overs.
Lytham stand ninth but could climb a couple of places with victory in their final game away to another St Helens side, Rainhill.
MOORE AND SMALLEY SE+ PALACE SHIELD RESULTS
Premier division: Fulwood and Broughton (176) beat Longridge (126) by 50 runs, Fylde (170-5, E Bailey 40) lost to Great Eccleston (342-8, M Nadeem 162, A Patel 53, J Thistlethwaite 50, W Thistlethwaite 49, B Anderson 5-97) by 172 runs, Penwortham (142, M Liver 3-40) lost to Garstang (215-6, A Cook 66, J Amer 4-58) by 73 runs, Thornton Cleveleys (146) lost to Croston (179) by 33 runs, Torrisholme (57-2) beat Whittingham and Goosnargh (56) by eight runs, Vernon Carus (138, C Ash 46, J Millward 4-39, D Gilbert 3-21, M Rigby 3-25) beat Freckleton (57, M Timms 4-22, B Llewellin 3-10) by 81 runs
Division one: Garstang 2 (148-8, B Woodruff 30) beat Fulwood and Broughton 2 (147, A Ahmed 49, R Parker 44, B Woodruff 6-34) by two wickets, Kirkham and Wesham (96, D Tucker 46, T Patel 5-15) lost to Hoghton 99-1 (A Banka 53no) by nine wickets, Longridge 2 (134-5) beat BAC/EE Preston 133-6) by five wickets, Rufford (141-4) beat Vernon Carus 2 (140) by six wickets, White Coppice (91) lost to Eccleston (97-4) by six wickets, Withnell Fold (141-8, G Taylor 36, J Davies 4-35), beat Norcross (136-7, C Allan 41no, K Valimulia 3-36, N Fowler 3-37) by two wickets