REPORT BY ROGER SMETHURST: Heywood seconds edged closer to mathematical safety in the top flight of the Second Division after a tense weekend.
On Saturday, the seconds travelled to Littleborough in a must-win game against the side currently lying bottom of the Premier League table.
On paper, Heywood appeared stronger than in recent games and after Ray Baker & Matt Hood had made a steady start in taking the away side to 28-0 few could have then foreseen the batting woes to hit Heywood.
Within the space of 10 overs, five wickets fell with Baker, Tom Blundell, Adam Fawcett and Mikey Grogan all perishing to veteran seamer Brendan Miskella, who finished with creditable figures of 4 – 12 from his 15 overs.
Captain Roger Smethurst joined Ben Thulborn and the pair of them added 33 before Thulborn became the first of five victims for Littleborough captain Chris Dearden.
Heywood’s lower order were unable to cope with the veteran’s subtle variations of pace as the Crimble side were bowled out for 122 with Smethurst left unbeaten on 35 not out.
Heywood took the field in confident mood, knowing that they had bowled the same side out for less than a hundred only two weeks earlier.
Spirits were further bouyed when James Mills struck two early blows and when Rick Purser took a sharp caught and bowled chance Littleborough were in trouble at 21-3.
Littleborough opener O’Brien appeared to have other ideas though and was making the most of being dropped early in his innings as Heywood were forced to shuffle their bowlers to try and secure a breakthrough.
After a spell of dangerous seam bowling, Dominik Fawcett picked up a well-deserved wicket in the last over of his spell and with Purser returning to the attack Heywood eventually got back into the game.
O’Brien was dismissed for an aggressive 39 and after a sharp piece of fielding between Mikey Grogan and Keelan Nugent had accounted for the Littleborough number six the Crimble side were well on top.
The home side’s hopes appeared to rest with their captain Dearden, but he was to be left stranded as Fawcett returned to the attack and with his first 2 balls wrapped the innings up
Littleborough eventually finished on 107 with all the Heywood bowlers putting in excellent performances, Fawcett being possibly the pick with figures of 3 -16 from 8 overs, although Mikey Grogan’s effort in picking up 1-25 from 11 overs was key in keeping the innings in check.
This result gave Heywood a crucial 5 points and although Littleborough picked up a point the gap between the bottom two sides had widened on Saturday night to 26 points with 6 games remaining.
Sunday saw Heywood entertain local rivals Rochdale, who included former Heywood Wood Cup winner Lee Grogan in their line up.
With a number of regulars missing Heywood, called upon the experience of former first team captains Mike Arnold and Mark Wright and the youth of Lancs U13 player Jack Morley.
Having won the toss Heywood elected to bat and as has been the theme of recent weeks soon found themselves in trouble against an experienced seam attack of Mo Munawar, Ian Gilbertson and Grogan.
With wickets falling at regular intervals Heywood were again looking to Wright and Smethurst to get them out of trouble but both fell in consecutive overs to Grogan who finished with 2-12 from 8 overs.
In the meantime Rochdale had introduced their two young spinners into the game, Duffy and Avery, and both bowled with good control in eventually reducing Heywood to 105 all out with only Keelan Nugent offering any resistance in making 27.
Against a strong Rochdale batting line up that included first teamer Andy Dawson, returning from injury, Heywood knew they had to pick up early wickets if they had any chance of victory.
Things couldn’t have started any better when with the first ball of the innings Rick Purser had prolific opener Kabir Hussain caught behind.
This, however, brought Dawson to the crease who took no time in imposing himself on the game, quickly racing to 46 before he surprisingly pulled Dom Fawcett to square leg where Keelan Nugent took a solid catch.
This sparked a Rochdale collapse with Fawcett continuing his form of the previous day in picking up 3-25 and Purser picking up 6-40. At 94-9 the odds appeared stacked in Heywood’s favour, however with Fawcett and Purser finishing their bowling spells Gilbertson and Avery patiently accrued the 12 runs needed for victory, leaving Heywood to take a point from the game which, in truth, was possibly more than they could have hoped for after another woeful batting performance.
With 5 games remaining Heywood need one more victory to mathematically ensure safety in the top division for next season.
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