HEATON picked the perfect time to produce what captain Ollie Sutcliffe described as their best performance of 2019 as they beat rivals Eagley to take a significant step towards Association promotion.

Sutcliffe starred with a measured 78 in a 168-run home win in a clash between two sides who started Saturday in second and third separated by only a point.

Now, with three rounds of fixtures remaining, Heaton are top of the table by a point from Atherton, who were bowled out for just 39 by Tonge in a heavy defeat.

Eagley are seven points, the haul for a bonus-point win, behind Atherton.

The recent wet weather delayed the start by 40 minutes and led to a 44 overs per side game at Lower Pools, with Heaton amassing 255-6.

Sutcliffe shared 143 inside 19 overs for the third wicket, advancing from 65-2, with professional and fellow 24-year-old Harsha Rajapaksha.

Sutcliffe, who faced 94 balls, played the perfect support role to the Sri Lankan’s 61-ball 81, including four sixes.

Rajapaksha also struck three times with the ball, but the damage had been done by Heaton’s potent new ball duo Irfan Muhammad (2-14 from nine overs) and Darshan Varsani (3-33 from eight) as Eagley crumbled to 87 all out inside 32 overs.

“That was our best team performance of the season. Everyone was really up for it,” said a delighted Sutcliffe.

“A few more wins and hopefully promotion - happy days. But I see no reason why we can’t win the league.

“We have two very winnable games (Darcy Lever and Golborne), and then it could be a great finale against Atherton in the last game of the season.”

Sutcliffe, who lost the toss, continued: “Being so close to each other, both teams knew it was a massive game.

“The pitch moved about a bit early on, and we played and missed at quite a few. After that, we just settled in and saw off the new ball.

“Myself and the pro got set, and runs started flowing.

“In such an important game, it’s especially nice to contribute personally.

“My job, if we do lose an early wicket, is to shore it up for five to 10 overs. The pro’s a naturally more aggressive player than I am.

“At halfway, I said, ‘If we bowl well in the first 10 overs, that’s how we’ll win it’. And we blew them away. Irfan bowled especially quickly.

“When you put on 250, it’s very difficult to come back from when you get behind the rate.

“We were on it from ball one, which is testament to the team. That’s all you can ask for as captain.”

Sutcliffe admitted that two abandoned matches in the last three weeks meant a loss of rhythm, but it clearly did not show as a side who finished sixth last season march towards a first Premiership campaign since 2017.

“We have developed quickly in the last 12 months,” he added.

“There’s been some real standout performers.

“Darshan has taken to that opening bowler’s spot, which is something we’ve probably been lacking over the last couple of years.

“Darshan swings it both ways, while Irfan swings it in at pace. He comes off the long run!”