Instonians and Waringstown remain inseparable at the top of the Ulster Bank Premier League when neither took a gilt edged opportunity last weekend to lay down a marker for the second half of the season, with both losing.
This weekend sees four games on Saturday, plus two on Sunday. Carrickfergus have opened up a gap now in third place and can consolidate that and also further exacerbate the problems for bottom side CIYMS with a win at Belmont.
Despite only winning one game in the league, CI reached the Arthur J Gallagher Challenge Cup final and whilst ultimately losing, reminded us that they still possess quality players, though the form of Chris Dougherty at the top of the order remains a concern.
CSNI have spent a week basking in the glory of their superb triumph but now return to the bread and butter knowing they are far from immune from the pressure at the bottom, with only one win more than their final opponents.
The fact is not lost on skipper Andrew Cowden as I found out when I caught up with him enjoying some county cricket across in England.
“I’m delighted we won last Friday and in some ways it does usher in a new era after the departures of the likes of Nigel Jones and Allen Coulter but that is history; we must move on with the remainder of the season,” he said.
“As part of the arrangement with Cricket Ireland allowing Graeme McCarter to play in the cup final he sits out both league games this weekend, in the hope that this secures his long term fitness. With the Knights playing on Sunday we are also without Shane Getkate against North Down, so it is up to the rest of the squad to step up.
“There are eight matches left; leaving aside the top two the rest of us are fairly tightly packed. Lisburn are on a roll at the minute with three straight wins and into the final of the T20 so they will be confident, it promises to be a good game,” he added.
“We are still targeting a top four finish in the league. One thing that is making it difficult for us is the fact that there are inter-pro fixtures on three consecutive Sundays. I think that could be planned better and perhaps needs to be looked at in future, we cannot simply afford to sit these out given our backlog.
“Wayne Horwood and John Costain play in both games, Dylan Agnew comes in, as does Paddy Park on Sunday.”
North Down have the opportunity to prove that the win over Waringstown represents a turning point as they take on Instonians and captain Marty Moreland is relishing the prospect: “We know Inst need to win but we are more than capable, we will be at full strength, Ross Ewing continues as wicketkeeper, as does Gavin McKenna who is bowling well.
“I’ve said it before but Pieter Malan is head and shoulders above the other professionals at the moment, the rest of the batting needs to take the pressure off him so he can play his natural game, but he really has been so adaptable.”
In Saturday’s other fixture Waringstown travel to Queensway to face Derriaghy.
Also on Sunday, Lisburn host CIYMS at Wallace Park.