AFTER dismissing the shackles of a tainted ‘Cinderella’ tag Lowerhouse have never looked back.
The Liverpool Road cabinet has since housed two Lancashire League championship trophies but now, with the club celebrating its 150th anniversary, an elusive double is in sight.
First team coach Paul Stansfield has followed on from last season’s success, guiding Lowerhouse back to the summit where they boast a 20-point gap after embarking on a 10 match unbeaten run.
“We are 20 points clear now which is a nice cushion to have,” beamed Stansfield. “We lost the Haslingden game to the weather but with Church not playing at the weekend we’ve got that gap back. We were the only team in the top six to pick up maximum points. It was a good weekend in that respect.
“We played well against Todmorden and our fielding was back to its best. We’ve got a settled squad of 13/14 players now, everybody knows their job so it’s easy to stick to the gameplan. We know we are hard to beat. We haven’t been beaten in 14 arranged fixtures from the back end of last year now so it’s a great effort.”
And after a 72-run triumph over Bacup, a Worsley Cup semi-final clash with either East Lancs or Enfield awaits on August 4th. However, Stansfield is refusing to get too carried away just yet.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We know we’ve got second place Church on Sunday so we’re concentrating on beating them. It’s a cliché but we’re taking it one game at a time which is something we always do. We can’t afford to look too far ahead.
“We’ve not been in the semi-final of the Worsley Cup many times in the club’s history so that’s an achievement. Looking at Enfield’s and East Lancs’s record in the competition would probably make them favourites. We are not really used to playing in the latter stages of the cup but I’d like to think the pressure will be on the winners of that re-scheduled quarter-final.”
The weekend provides a fantastic opportunity for Lowerhouse to stamp their authority on the hierarchy. The gulf at the top could be further extended with victory over Church while third place Accrington entertain 2010 champions Ramsbottom.
“It’s important to put all your focus on each individual game,” said Stansfield. “Church have a massive weekend ahead of them. They’ve got a 20/20 semi-final tonight, a Worsley Cup semi-final tomorrow and then a league fixture against us on Sunday.”
Stansfield added: “They are one of the most complete sides in the league with plenty of bowling options and a very deep batting line-up. We consider them to be one of the best in the league and one of our biggest rivals.
We always have an interesting, competitive battle with their pro (Saeed Anwar Jnr). But playing to our potential we firmly believe that we can beat anybody in this league which we’ve already proved.”
A hectic schedule now awaits the 14 clubs in the league and Stansfield expects the pyramid to take more shape over that period. “We’re going in to a pretty hectic period now so we’ll know more about our chances when the semi-final arrives. The league will have taken more shape because we’ve got a lot of games coming up. But with the gap we’ve developed we’re certainly expecting to be there or there-abouts for the final push.”
Elsewhere, after a washout at Alexandra Meadows against East Lancs, Burnley skipper Steve Brunt will be rallying his troops for a clash with basement side Rawtenstall at Turf Moor.
Burnley have hit a purple patch on home soil, claiming victories in their three previous fixtures. East Lancs suffered a five-wicket defeat last time out while Enfield and Colne endured respective 138-run and 184-run losses. A Burnley triumph could see them climb in to 10th spot at the expense of rivals Nelson.
Meanwhile, normal service has been resumed in the Houldsworth Solicitors Ribblesdale Cricket League as Read reclaimed second spot.
Skipper Kyle O’Connor praised star batsman Mohammed Jamal after his impressive knock of 84 contributed to victory over Baxenden at Whalley Road. Jon Harvey’s five-wicket haul and four wickets from Andrew Rushton were also pivotal in the 88-run success.
“We completely dominated the game all the way through,” he smiled. “Normal service was resumed. Mohammed Jamal continued his superb form and has already hit the 500-run mark for the season.
“Keeping hold of him was one of the most significant moments of the campaign because he’s come on another level. Egerton CC offered him the chance to be a paid amateur but he turned it down. He’s eager to win something with Read. He’s enthusiastic and loves the place so he’s a great player to have in the side.”
The morale has rocketed again among the Read ranks, though a 22-point gulf still separates them from table-topping Barnoldswick. However, O’Connor isn’t prepared to finish runner-up in successive seasons.
“The aim is to push again now,” he said. “We’ve moved in to second but we’re still waiting for somebody to do us a favour. All being well Clitheroe can be the team to do that because their pro Kashif Saddique has found some form so fingers crossed he can be the man to force Barnoldswick’s first defeat.
“The way we started against Baxenden just lifted our confidence. Everyone had a very positive attitude and we were all pumped up. We need to keep that positivity. We need to keep taking our chances, remain patient and take any opportunity when it arises. We won’t be pushing too hard because that’s when mistakes happen.”
Going in to the weekend fixture at home to Ribblesdale Wanderers, O’Connor added: “If we play like we did at the weekend then I don’t think it will be a problem. They’ve got a good pro (Michael Erlank) who is rated very highly. We need to continue where we left off. They beat us in the Ramsbottom Cup final last year but then we hammered them in the league. We’ll just focus on our own game.”
Elsewhere, defeat to Clitheroe last weekend may have seen darkened clouds descend over the Arbories but Padiham captain John Bushell along with professional Chris Holt are ready to bounce back.
In their quest for fourth spot the fixture list has matched them up with Great Harwood at Blackburn Old Road tomorrow. Padiham have slipped to seventh in the table but only 11 points deny them their target. And those Lancashire Cup qualification places remain the club’s ambition.
“Fourth spot keeps eluding us,” said Holt. We’ve just got to keep plodding along, working hard and try to string a few wins together. Fourth spot is still the target.”