It’s a vital weekend in the Northern Premier League title race, with fixtures tomorrow and on Bank Holiday Monday – and one match in particular catches the eye.
Third-placed Fleetwood visit leaders Leyland tomorrow for a match they simply must win if the title is to return to Broadwater for the first time since 2012.
Last weekend’s defeat at resurgent St Annes left Fleetwood 23 points behind the leaders and nine adrift of Garstang.
And with Leyland unlikely to slip up against bottom club Barrow on Monday – and just two Saturdays remaining in the season after that – it’s probably now or never if Fleetwood are going to bridge the gap.
It means there couldn’t be a better time for professional Neels Bergh to score his elusive first century of the season.
The influential South African all-rounder is closing in on 700 runs for the campaign in all competitions and has passed 50 four times, with a top score of 74. Bergh told The Gazette he’d love to press on for three figures but he says there are two very good reasons why he hasn’t done so as yet.
“Their names are Rana Singh and Keegan Armstrong,” he said.
“They both come in above me and have both scored around 500 in the league. They are eating up a lot of bowling and I haven’t had many chances.
“But I’m actually enjoying the season more because I have some really good players coming in ahead of me.”
Excellent as they have been, neither opener Singh nor wicketkeeping number three Armstrong would get Bergh’s player of the season vote, however.
He said: “Declan Clerkin has been amazing but my main man would be Alex Ryder. He’s been super and has had three five-fors recently (with a career-best 6-47 against Longridge at the start of this month).”
The form of all these players suggests to Bergh that standards in the Northern League are improving, though not everyone would agree.
Bryan Moore, who captained the highly successful Blackpool side of the 1950s, last featured in these pages in March celebrating what would have been the 100th birthday of the great Blackpool professional Bill Alley.
Bryan confidently predicted that Blackpool would retain the Northern League title this year but told The Gazette: “I’m very concerned about the decline in standards and the decline of Blackpool. I can’t understand what’s happening with the same team as last season.
“Losing the professional (Lahiru Madushanka) didn’t do them much good and having to hire pros every week doesn’t do much for team spirit.
“But some of the young players who I thought would be right up there are not performing and they need quality coaching.
“I’m not taking anything away from the level one and two coaches, but when players get to a certain level they need quality coaching to further their development.”
Bryan fondly remembers the Northern League attracting the cream of the international game as professionals at its clubs.
He added: “Now we have promotion from the Palace Shield and I congratulate those clubs who have shown the commitment to come up and compete, but they wouldn’t have survived in the Northern League as it was.”
For the first time all season Lytham take the field at Church Road tomorrow after a win in the Liverpool Competition.
The all-round heroics of captain Ben Saunders inspired last Saturday's victory at Northern, Lytham's first in 17 attempts in the ECB premier league.
It means Saunders' side suddenly have everything to play for and another victory against fifth-placed Formby tomorrow may well lift them out of the relegation zone.
Northern Premier League: Blackpool v Barrow, Chorley v St Annes, Leyland v Fleetwood, Garstang v Longridge, Netherfield v Fulwood and Broughton, Penrith v Kendal
Liverpool Competition ECB Premier League: Lytham v Formby
Moore and Smalley Palace Shield Premier Division: Fylde v Croston, Lancaster v South Shore, Penwortham v Great Eccleston, Eccleston v Morecambe, Standish v New Longton, Vernon Carus v Preston
Division 1A: Kirkham and Wesham v Norcross, Rufford v Thornton Cleveleys, Tarleton v Mawdesley, Whittle and Clayton-le-Woods v Grimsargh, Withnell Fold v Hoghton.
Berry’s Beds 40-over Cup semi-final: St Annes v Garstang
Northern Premier League: Fleetwood v Penrith, St Annes v Netherfield, Longridge v Blackpool, Barrow v Leyland, Fulwood and Broughton v Garstang, Kendal v Chorley.