A win for St Annes batting first and a defeat for their closest challenger Netherfield meant that the Vernon Road side's lead at the top of the table was increased to a massive 36 points and it could indicate that the title race is over for the season, albeit with many games remaining. It will require a serious slip-up by St Annes plus some extraordinary cricket from the chasing pack for them to be caught. Wins for Fleetwood and Darwen do, however, mean that St Annes well know that they must not falter.
The leaders batted first at Leyland and made a massive 259-5 with Shane Harwood, 64 with one six and eight fours, and Ian Austin, 62 with nine fours, putting on 110 in quick time. Gareth Evans made 38 and Adrian Darlington 34 before the wickets were shared as Leyland were bowled out for 103 to lose by 156 runs. Nigel Pearson made a top score of 26 not out while Paul Haydock and Aidan Walsh each made 16 and Jon Harvey 14. Harwood had 2-9 from 10 overs, seven of which were maidens, Michael Baer had 2-6, and the returning Dave Taylor wrapped the game up with 3-9, all his wickets coming in one over, the final one, and two of them in two balls.
Netherfield faced a mammoth task at Woodhill Lane as Morecambe posted an impressive 231-5 but the Cumbrians made a valiant effort only to lose by seven runs with 224 all out. Morecambe's runs came from Mark Orchard, 62, Mali Maketa, 56, Mark Woodhead, 42, and 47 from Tommy Clough who went on to take 3-44 including the vital last wicket of Ryan Wilson, leg before wicket for nought after Marc Hadwin's valiant 18 not out from one Pierre de Bruyn over had threatened to take Netherfield to victory. Gareth White top scored for the Cumbrians with 69, Grahame Clarke made 52 and then came Craig Walmsley with 29 as Orchard took 4-61. Morecambe skipper Phil Dennison commented, "It was a tremendous game of cricket with the bat on top throughout. All credit to Netherfield for continuing to go for the runs and at one time I thought they were probably out of it. And then came that onslaught from Marc Hadwin that put the game back within their grasp. But fortunately for us Tommy Clough came to our rescue with the vital last wicket with the first ball of what would probably have been the last over."
Fleetwood made short shrift of a hapless Preston side who totally collapsed to find themselves at 6-6. A minor recovery took them to 21-8 and then, in the context of what had gone before, a miraculous 31 was put on for the last two wickets. Steve Hill, 4-26, and Tom Blundell, 3-5, did the early damage while Dave Fish had 2-12. Preston's top scorer was skipper Glenn Johnstone with 17 and Richard Dixon with 11 was the only other player in double figures. But Rhys Williams saw that Fleetwood did not have it all their own way as he mirrored Hill with 4-26 and with two wickets to Lukman Vahaluwala Fleetwood lost six wickets in reaching 53 with Doug Watson's 19 being the best effort of the day.
Darwen defeated Blackpool by six wickets but at one stage must have thought that they would have had an easier task as Blackpool slipped to 82-7 but then veterans Robin Bracewell, 58 not out, and Martin Pickles, 24 not out, put on 85 runs to take their side to a more comfortable 167-7 as Neil Cordingley took 4-31. Keith Semple was then in fine form for Darwen and was 81 not out when his side won at 169-4. Gareth Cordingley made 16 and John Cordingley was 14 not out at the end.
Chorley posted only 122 against Barrow but it proved enough to win the game by 11 runs as Barrow were dismissed for 111. Michael Critchley top scored with 41 and then came youngster Josh Tolley who made a valiant 14 before taking four catches behind the stumps to set Barrow on the way to defeat. Iain Kermode had 2-30 but Peter Lawson was the bowling star with 6-24 but his 10 not out at the end that augmented a top score of 30 from Ray Mowat plus a second-best of 24 extras could not prevent the Cumbrians slipping to defeat. Only Tod Bamber of the rest made double figures as Tom Smith took 4-17 and Guarav Dhar 4-43.
Ikram Ullah, 116, and Simon Little, 85, put on 206 for Kendal's first wicket and when they were both out a declaration came at 230-2. Leyland Motors were then bowled out for just 105 as Kevin Howarth took 5-35, Chris Miller 2-9 and Kabir Khan 2-17. Andrew Makinson made a top score of 22 for Motors and Alan Richardson made 21.
Scores in brief (home sides in bold):
Chorley 122 (Critchley 41, Lawson 6-24), Barrow 111 (Smith T 4-17, Dhar 4-43)
Chorley 15 points, Barrow 3 points
Blackpool 167-7 (Bracewell 58*, Cordingley N 4-31), Darwen 169-4 (Semple 81*)
Blackpool 2 points, Darwen 12 points
Preston 52 (Hill 4-26), Fleetwood 53-6 (Williams 4-26)
Preston 1 point, Fleetwood 12 points
St Annes 259-5 (Harwood 63, Austin 62), Leyland 103
St Annes 15 points, Leyland 1 point
Kendal 230-2 dec (Ullah 116, Little 85), Leyland Motors 105 (Howarth 5-35)
Kendal 15 points, Leyland Motors 0 points
Morecambe 231-5 (Orchard 62*, Maketa 56, Clough 47, Woodhead 42) , Netherfield 224 (White G 60, Clarke 52, Orchard 4-61, Clough 4-64)
Morecambe 15 points, Netherfield 4 points