Muckamore and Ballymena face up to battle against the drop

Muckamore and Ballymena are without question now engaged in a two-team survival battle at the bottom of the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League.

The Moylena men have endured the toughest of starts back to life in the top flight, with Saturday’s six-wicket thrashing by Lisburn at Wallace Park an obvious low point.

Neil Gill’s men just haven’t scored enough runs to make them competitive and when they were reduced to 30 for six batting first they were in danger of serious embarrassment.

Richard Keates at least dragged them to semi-respectability with a top score of 39 but he was one of just two batsmen to reach double figures, the other Les Allen with an unbeaten 10.

Richard McConkey, the medium-pacer, claimed three for 19 while Craig Ervine, the returning Carl Williams and professional Darryl Brown took two wickets apiece as Muckamore were dismissed for 96 in just 39.4 overs.

Gary Nicholl, one of Muckamore’s success stories, quickly removed Robert Rankin and James Magowan but David Simpson, the Lisburn captain, struck an unbeaten 51, as the formalities were complete from the first ball of the 26th over.

Ballymena at least made Instonians work harder for their seven-wicket victory at Eaton Park. Steve Lazars struck 84 from just 71 balls, including eight fours and four sixes, as Ballymena reached 173 for seven.

Eric Layard, the in-form opener, struck four fours and a six in a top score of 57 as Instonians reached their target with 20 balls to spare. Ireland all-rounder Andrew White made an important 33 not out as he returns to a more sensible slot in the middle order.

After being written off following consecutive defeats at the start of the season, Instonians are far from out of the title race.

Ballymena meanwhile will be turning their focus to next Saturday’s trip to Moylena for a game that will surely go a long way towards deciding who is relegated to Section One.