It was back to business after two weeks of wash outs, but Stockton struggled to get back into the swing of things with South North showing just why they are in the mix to retain the championship.
Their powerhouse opponents picked up more points than any of their title rivals after an unbeaten partnership between Jimmy Miller (65) and Joe Coyne (48) enabled them to declare on 221 for five after opener John Graham (49) provided a solid start.
And despite a bright opening Stockton didn’t have the firepower to resist Johnny Wightman (4-33) and Paul Coughlin (4-50) who had them all out for just 145.
Only Tom Coulthard (35) and Keaton Jennings (31) showed real resistance.
All the top four sides were victorious with leaders Sunderland maintaining the brilliant form which has kept them in front of Blaydon, Chester-le-Street and the fourth-placed Bulls for many weeks now.
The Wearsiders disposed of Benwell Hill who they bowled out for just 63 with Chris Rushworth (2-19 ) returning from Durham duty to be a major strike force.
His nine overs of accurate pace included two maidens and led the way for Ruel Brathwaite, his county team mate who was making his club debut, to pick up two of the other early wickets.
Benwell lost their first two wickets without a run being scored, and at 16 for five were in desperate trouble before Zohaib Khan (29 not out) featured in an eighth wicket stand worth 37.
All together there were an amazing seven ‘ducks’ in the Benwell innings as Kieran Waterson (4-16) completed the rout in his tenth and Sunderland’s 22nd over. The Ashbrooke favourites went on to win by eight wickets with Ashley Thorpe (29 not out) in control of proceedings.
Second-placed Blaydon picked up a point more than Sunderland and are now right on the Wearsiders heels. Just one point now separates the two sides following a three-wicket win in a high scoring game against rivals Newcastle.
Blaydon were set 215 to win and with useful contributions from their top six batsmen they made it with three wickets to spare. Their top scorers were Paul Freary (45) and debutant Mark Drake (37 not out). For Newcastle, the county pairing of Mike Richardson (84 not out) and Mark Stoneman (49) provided the main thrust of their challenge.
Chester-le-Street, nine points behind the leaders, had a hard fight against Tynemouth when their first seven wickets fell in dramatic style for just 38 runs. But Chris Martin (48 not out) and Graeme Cessford (32) led a recovery for the Cestrians to reach 139.
David Hymers (4-35 from 15 overs) and Andrew Smith (3-30) caused the hosts their early discomfort. But they couldn’t do the same with the bat as they managed just 110 in reply with the versatile Cessford (3-24) and Andrew Bell (3-25) causing them problems. Chester won by 29 runs and breathed a sigh of relief.
Hetton Lyons won for the second time this season when they overcame the challenge of previously unbeaten Durham Academy. Bowlers held the key to their success with Ryan Pringle (4-24 from 17 overs) and Kamran Shah (3-41 ) restricting the Academy to 145.
Pringle (23) played his part with top scorer Jonny Malkin (33 not out) in overcoming the Academy’s challenge as they were beaten for the first time. Hetton won by three wickets despite four wickets for Ryan Buckley and three for James Weighell.
Finally bottom club Gateshead Fell (110 for eight) batted out 58 overs to cling on for a draw against South Shields (217 for seven).