LITTLE Lever’s match at Astley Bridge tomorrow has been labelled as “must-win” by captain Josh Gent as the reigning champions bid to put a difficult start to their campaign behind them.

Consecutive defeats against title challengers Farnworth, Farnworth Social Circle and Greenmount in their opening three league matches put the Victory Road men on the back foot from the off.

And while Gent, who took over as skipper from Bradshaw-bound Jon Kerrigan, admits the chance to win back-to-back titles already looks to be over, the 23-year-old batsman is not prepared to write off the season just yet. Victory over Egerton set up a Hamer Cup quarter-final at home to Bradshaw on Sunday, while two wins in their last three league matches has moved them up to 10th place.

Now Gent hopes to bridge the eight-point gap to Astley Bridge.

“We are still in the Hamer Cup and we have had some better results in the league, so things are looking up,” said Gent, whose side could also be reinstated in the Lancashire Knockout if second-round conquerors Walshaw are found guilty of fielding an ineligible player.

“There is a long way to go in the league, we are only a quarter of the way through the season.

“Realistically, we are not going to retain our title, but I think a top-half finish is still a possibility. If we want to do that, we have to be looking to beat teams like Astley Bridge, so this is a must win game for us.”

After five victories in their last seven matches in all competitions, Little Lever’s upturn in results has given Gent plenty of cause for optimism, but his own form continues to be a concern.

He has had four ducks in nine matches so far and only made it into double figures once, in the opening game of the season. “As captain, you spend a lot more time worrying about your team-mates and how they are getting on than you do your own game,” he said.

“You have that many things going on in your head, it is difficult to concentrate on your own performances – what you are doing wrong and what you can do to improve. That is something I will have to get used to over time and I am sure I will get that right, I just need a bit more experience.”

Further up the league, competition is beginning to hot up. Farnworth’s victory over league leaders Farnworth Social Circle last weekend saw them move to within seven points of top spot and level with Bradshaw and Westhoughton in second place. Simon Booth’s side will be looking to build on that result when they entertain fifth-placed Greenmount, while Social Circle entertain Westhoughton.