Cricket: Longton retain title belief
LONGTON skipper Stefan Rduch says his players will feed off some wise words from a title winner in the championship run-in.
Longton appeared to have fallen out of contention, but two wins and a draw in their last three matches has inched them up to third – 17 points adrift of leaders Leek.
Knypersley are the front-runners' closest challengers, but ahead of tomorrow's trip to Hem Heath, Rduch insists his side won't give up the ghost.
And he points to last year's title race, when final-day outsiders Wood Lane claimed top spot, as a motivating factor.
"I'm slightly surprised to still be in the title race, but a couple of good performances and a helping hand from the weather has put us in with a chance," said Rduch.
"There is still belief that we can win it, and we'll go out all guns blazing to take maximum points in the final two games.
"Richard Hassall, who joined us from Wood Lane in the winter, keeps pointing out what happened last season when they came from nowhere on the final day to pinch the title.
"He's emphasised the need to keep our minds on the task and reminded us that anything can happen."
All clubs can point to defining moments of the season, and Rduch is no different when it comes to reflecting on where Longton have missed opportunities.
After beating Leek in early July, they then lost back-to-back games against fellow high-fliers Knypersley and Porthill Park to put the brakes on their title push.
"Losing to teams around you is never a healthy situation, but we regrouped after that, put our heads together and managed to return to winning ways," he explained.
"But there have been other times throughout the season that we can look back and say 'if only'.
"We were a couple of wickets away from beating Stone and Checkley, and the weather denied us against Cheadle."
Whatever happens in the final furlong, Rduch believes Longton have made strides forward this summer.
Five new players, including Audley trio Craig Barker, Dave Fairbanks and Richard Holloway, joined the club in the winter with the aim of putting them among the challengers for silverware.
"We are moving in the right direction. The five lads we brought in all have different personalities and you have to bond them into a side," explained Rduch.
"We've won the Twenty20 and reached the quarter-finals of the Talbot Cup, so it has been a pretty productive season.
"There is no pressure on us now in the league. It is up to others to lose it and, although we need results to go our way, we'll keep going to the end."
Hem Heath have been the under-achievers of the season and currently find themselves down in ninth place.
They led the table heading into the final day of last year when they surprisingly lost to Barlaston to gift-wrap the title to long-time leaders Wood Lane.
But despite boasting a talented line-up featuring the likes of Ben McGuire, Craig Spearman and AJ Harris, they have struggled to put in consistent performances on the field.
They have recorded just three wins all season, but have no relegation concerns heading into the final two matches of the campaign.