Rainhill's stars eclipsed by Northern lights
Northern recover from shaky start to record 111 run win
Northern 220-6 (Andrew Clarke 122, Justin Snow 59; Jack Lowrie 3-46)
Rainhill 109 (Ross Higham 40, Sam Kershaw 20; Tomas Sephton 6-58)
Northern (25pts) beat Rainhill (4 pts) by 111 runs
Rainhill's hopes of a top four finish were dealt a blow after a comprehensive defeat at home to Northern.
Rainhill have now gone five matches without a win and will hope to turn things around in their remaining matches - both away - to second-placed Wallasey and Bootle to secure a place in next season's Lancashire Knockout Cup.
The game started brightly for Rainhill who, to their credit, made their intentions clear early on, bowling aggressively to an attacking field. Having beaten Northern already this season, the home side were determined to give everything in pursuit of a double over the league leaders and were rewarded when Jack Lowrie made an early breakthrough. Lowrie found opener Liam Gray's pads, sending him back to the pavillion having scored just 5. Moments later Liam O'Toole, steaming in from the other end, tempted Benjamin Sloan to drive and found the edge of the bat for Ben Edmundson to take a fine catch at first slip.
Things got even better for Rainhill when Chris Laker edged a delivery from Lowrie to Simon Brown behind the stumps. Lowrie took his third wicket - and Rainhill's fourth - when James Cole was comprehensively bowled for 1. Northern were on 21 for 4 and, with Lowrie and O'Toole demonstrating both their ability and self-belief, Rainhill justifiably felt they had the visitors on the rails.
However, the most striking thing about Northern this season has been the depth of batting ability within the side. Andrew Clarke and Justin Snow came together and immediately set about recovering the situation: Clarke dispatched the first delivery he faced for four and resolutely held out against some consistently accurate bowling from Rainhill's pace duo. That is not to say he didn't play a false shot and, having scored 19, Clarke edged a delivery from Lowrie beyond the reach of the despairing slip fielders. Rainhill were left cursing their luck as the ball rolled away towards the boundary - as well they might, given how Clarke and Snow played once they had established themselves.
The pair looked far more comfortable after playing themselves in, especially when facing the spin of David Atkinson and Peter Kelly. Having checked the decline, their attentions turned to the raw pursuit of runs which soon began to flow freely. Clarke and Snow looked in little danger as they accelerated and found the boundary rope regularly. Rainhill had no answer to the relentless charge, especially from Clarke who dominated proceedings as he cruised towards his century.
The partnership was eventually broken when Peter Kelly ran out Snow, but by that point the partnership had produced 154 runs. Snow's dismissal only brought Johnny Brown to the crease, who had some fun of his own making a quickfire 20. After reaching his deserved century Clarke smashed David Atkinson into the bowling green twice in the same over, but ultimately it was Atkinson who had the last laugh when he trapped Clarke lbw for 122. The dismissal signalled the end of the innings as Northern declared on 220 for 6.
On a surface that was in relatively good order 221 was a far from impossible target. However, Northern spinner Tomas Sephton dismissed opener James Clarke for 1 giving the visitors an early boost. Sam Kershaw and Tyler McGladdery looked reasonably comfortable until, with the score on 32, Ryan Maddock had McGladdery caught behind by Andrew Clarke. Northern's delight at removing McGladdery - the hero of the previous encounter between the sides - for just 8 was tanglible.
Kershaw looked in good form, eager to take the game to Northern, but came unstuck when a Maddock delivery hit the top of his pad. The umpire's finger was up and, while Kershaw made clear his view that the ball was going over the stumps, the ball travelled through to James Cole in the slips. The scorecard records he was given out, not lbw, but caught (bat and pad).
Rainhill struggled after the loss of Kershaw as a succession of batsmen struggled to get to grips with the threat posed by Sephton and Maddock. However, Ross Higham played intelligently and an impressive knock of 40 from 47 balls showed a certain defiance. Throwing caution to the wind at times, he played some magnificant shots including a six over deep midwicket into the adjacent car park.
As long as Higham was in the middle Rainhill had some hope but his electric innings came to an abrupt end when he edged a delivery from Sephton to Cole, who made no mistake. Northern's probing bowling was backed up by impressively disciplined fielding and it was fitting that the game should be brought to its conclusion by arguably the best catch of the match. Jack Lowrie attempted a shot towards deep midwicket that was expertly - and dramatically - pouched by Chris Laker running from square leg.
Umpires: Phil Luxon, Craig Parkinson
Scorers: Andrew Finney
Match ball sponsor: Black Swan Tax Advisers