BOLTON LEAGUE: Lancashire Knockout fight has set up a thrilling climax
BOLTON League chairman Ray Taylor believes the depth of competition in this year’s title race has made it one of the most exciting seasons ever.
Little Lever may have sealed top spot, and a place in next year’s Lancashire Knockout, last weekend with a battling campaign that has seen them win 17 and lose just five of their 25 matches so far.
But none of the other spots in the county competition have been decided going into the final round of matches, with five clubs vying for the remaining three places.
“I think it has been a very close season,” said Taylor.
“Little Lever won it fairly convincingly in the end, as they deserved to.
“But the fight for the Lancashire Knockout places has kept the season interesting.”
The top four in the league qualify for the Lancs KO, but, with a place also going to the Hamer Cup champions, that can extend down to the fifth-placed team if the cup holders finish in the top four.
Cup winners Farnworth are currently in sixth, but will move into the top four if they win their final fixture at home to bottom side Eagley.
That means teams right down to seventh-placed Bradshaw can still qualify.
While Greenmount host Farnworth Social Circle in a straight fight for the third remaining place.
The winner will definitely qualify, but second-placed Greenmount could still make it if they lose and results elsewhere go their way.
Outsiders Bradshaw must win their final match at out-of-form Kearsley and earn a bonus point to have any hope of claiming a knockout place.
The Rigbys men also need Farnworth and Greenmount to win and Westhoughton and Egerton to slip up.
As well as Little Lever, Taylor also reserved a special word of praise for Westhoughton, whose first team have bounced back after finishing bottom last season and their second team claimed their fourth successive title.
“I think the two teams who have really exceeded expectations this season have been Little Lever and Westhoughton,” he said.
“Both had exceptional seasons without making too many changes to their teams from last year.
“They have both had a good mixture of youth and experience in their sides.
“I am particularly pleased for the older players at Little Lever, like Simon Anderton and Anthony Hilton, who have enjoyed their best seasons for many years.
“I don’t include their captain Jon Kerrigan in that, as I believe he is still a youngster in cricketing terms.
“If he does retire, as he has threatened, I think that would be a real shame as he has been one of the league’s most exciting batsmen for many years.
“As for Westhoughton, I think it is great to see a club putting so much effort into their second team and, unless a top amateur steps down into the second team at another club, I can’t see how anyone will stop them winning it for a record fifth time in a row.”
There are also a number of other team prizes still up for grabs.
Westhoughton go into tomorrow's game just ahead of Greenmount in the Crumblehulme Cup – given to the side with the best combined finish in the first and second team leagues.
Greenmount are also in the running for the special competition, for the team with the best record in the final six games, which will go to the winner of their head-to-head with Farnworth Social Circle.
And a victory would also seal the Hulton Trophy - which goes to the league runners-up.