The Northern Premier League’s leading pack may come to look back on Saturday as a decisive day in the title race as Morecambe opened up an 18-point lead over Blackpool at the top.
The leaders were convincing seven-wicket winners over Fleetwood, while Blackpool had to settle for a losing draw, despite 143 from professional Christi Viljoen on his return after suspension.
Blackpool were held at Stanley Park by a Leyland side who were put in and compiled 264-2 thanks to a second-wicket stand of 196 between Lancashire’s former Blackpool opener Luis Reece and wicketkeeper Richard Frenz, who both hit centuries.
Coming together at 16-1, both hit 11 fours as Reece scored 106 from 130 balls and Frenz 117 from 131 (one six).
The Blackpool attack was boosted by the return of Namibian Viljoen, after a five-week ban for umpire abuse, but missed fellow strike bowler Richard Gleeson.
The prolific Gleeson had been selected for Northamptonshire to face the Australian tourists in a three-day match ....
Pro Viljoen toiled for 19 wicketless overs, conceding 92 runs, then did his utmost to steer the hosts to victory with the bat as they ended 23 short with the last pair at the crease.
Batting number four, Viljoen scored his 143 off 146 balls, with 14 fours and three sixes, but when he was eighth out after a stand of 53 with wicketkeeper Ben Howarth, victory had escaped Blackpool’s grasp.
Viljoen fell lbw to Henry Thompson, who took 4-43 off his eight overs.
Andy Furniss captained the side in the absence of Paul Danson, though Tom Jefferson was the only other player to score more than 20 as Leyland shared the bowling burden between nine players.
Blackpool, who have played a game more than Morecambe, have dropped to third, behind a Darwen side who needed barely 12 overs to polish off a five-wicket win over rock-bottom Preston.
Fleetwood remain fourth but are now 27 points off the pace after choosing to bat at Morecambe but setting a substandard target of 189-6.
With Ian Holland back home in Australia and his prolific compatriot Dave King suffering a rare failure at the top of the order with 11, it was left to Tom Wilson at number three to lead the way with an unbeaten 79 from 101 balls with five fours and three sixes.
Only Dean Bell (37) hung around with him and it took Morecambe just 32 overs to reach their target. Opener Gareth Pedder powered them home with an unbeaten 108 from 91 balls, with included 17 fours and two sixes.
Suraj Randiv made 52 from 59 balls (10 fours) in a century stand for the second wicket.
The fortnight’s break and the return of captain Andy Kellett couldn’t stop the St Annes rot as Barrow won by 84 runs at Vernon Road.
The Cumbrians were put in and scored 210 from exactly 50 overs, thanks largely to the combination of Sam Dutton (72) and Tharanga Paranavitana (51), wicketkeeper Chris D’Leny chipping in with 40.
Matthew Grindley took 3-57 overs but the best figures came from Adam Holt with 4-50 from 12.
Opener Holt was also St Annes’ best with the bat, scoring 34, but like the rest of his team-mates he had no answer to Gary Collins, who finished with 8-45 from 17.4 over as the second-bottom hosts succumbed for 124 in 44.4 overs. Number three Matthew Taaffe stuck around in vain for an unbeaten 22.
Blackpool’s Gleeson took 2-70 for Northants in the drawn tour match against Australia, dismissing both Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, in his 20 overs.
Lytham couldn’t halt their losing run in the Liverpool Competiton at Northern but climbed a place to ninth in the ECB Premier League after an exciting two-wicket defeat.
The visitors chose to bat at Moor Hark nd Will Hale again led the way with 74 in Lytham’s 196 from 52.4 overs.
The opener, who faced 135 balls and hit seven fours, is now just seven short of 1,000 runs in all competitions.
He shared a fourth-wicket stand of 99 with captain Guy Roberts (53), whose fourth half-century of the season included five fours.
However, Dom O’Brien was the only other Lytham player to reach double figures as Thomas Sephton took 4-81 and Jack Woosey 3-34.
Lytham then had the Crosby side in some trouble at 40-3 before Liam Grey (83 off 105 balls, 10 fours, two sixes) and wicketkeeper captain James Cole (36) joined forces in a stand of 102.
Grey’s dismissal to Luke Williams (4-50 off 17) overs, signalled a late scare as 183-4 became 193-8 but Crosby crossed the line in 50.5 overs.
The four-way race for the Palace Shield title continues after new leaders Freckleton’s nine-wicket win at Garstang dropped them from first to fourth. Great Eccleston are up to third, just two points behind Freck.
Premier Division: BAC/EE Preston (220-6) beat Hoghton (160) by 60 runs, Croston (186, J Marsh 50, A Ellison 5-47) beat Fylde (60, S Marsh 7-32) by 126 runs, Garstang (118, Mi Walling 60, A Moreau 4-12, D Gilbert 4-32) lost to Freckleton (119-1, J Holden 73no) by nine wickets, Great Eccleston (192-5, W Thistlethwaite 60, A Patel 59) beat Fulwood and Broughton (189-9, M Smith 102, J Proctor 4-54, M Sayeed 3-41) by five wickets, Longridge (107-1) beat Vernon Carus (103-8) by nine wickets, Thornton Cleveleys (220-6) beat Penwortham (217-5) by four wickets
Division One: Norcross (144, C Parker 61, R Mangineni 7-36) beat Wrea Green (132, I Davies 6-26) by 12 runs, White Coppice (231-8, K Dixon 122, S Patel 5-65) beat Kirkham & Wesham (204-9, S Patel 47, K Dixon 3-33) by 27 runs.
Division Two: South Shore (181-6) beat Great Eccleston 2 (142) by 39 runs.
Thornton Cleveleys (117-7) lost yesterday’s Meyler Cup final by 18 runs to Vernon Carus at BAC/EE Preston.