Civil Service North professional Ewen Thompson will miss the last two weeks of the extended NCU season.
The Kiwi has confirmed he flies home on Monday leaving the Stormont side to play their last four games, including the double-header against defending league champions North Down, without their paid help.
Thompson plays his last games for CSN this weekend, at Derriaghy tomorrow and Instonians on Sunday as they bid to keep pace with North Down, the two teams deadlocked at the top of the table.
By coincidence, North Down’s last two wins were against CSN’s opponents this weekend and skipper Nigel Jones will hope to be as clinical as the Comber side were over the last two weeks.
Like North Down, CSN must go to the batsman’s graveyard which can be Shaw’s Bridge after meeting an under-strength Derriaghy, who were bowled out for just 58 by the champions.
Then, patience could be the watchword on Sunday, North Down taking 38 overs to reach their victory target of 87 last month.
Peter Shields’ side have home comfort this weekend and against two of the bottom four, Carrickfergus and Cliftonville, will be expecting two more comprehensive victories and eight more points.
It is a make or break weekend for Derriaghy who face a triple-header of Match 2s — no points if the games are postponed — without their captain and professional.
Andrew Kenny is on holiday and Kaushik Aphale, comfortably their leading runs scorer, has returned home to India and today they have a must-win game against Carrickfergus, still in the mix for a relegation place.
With Middle Road unplayable, and almost certainly out of action for the rest of the season, today’s game is at Comber, a 32 overs contest starting at 2.30pm.
Victory for the ‘home’ side would probably make them safe but a Derriaghy win would be their fourth of the season and lift them level with Carrick.
Ominously for the Queensway side, their resistance at North Down last week was minimal and, forced to field a team of youngsters, this weekend could be one too far for them.
Derriaghy’s third game this weekend is at home to Bangor who have slipped into the top half by winning three of their last four games.
But before that they had lost at home to Cliftonville so it will be a case of which Bangor team turns up on the day.
Cliftonville’s home game against CIYMS goes ahead at Belmont tomorrow, after Lurgan II agreed to switch their game with CI II to Pollock Park. With the homeless Greenisland side almost down and out at the bottom, it is a must-win game for CIYMS who are at home again on Sunday to Carrickfergus — giving Ryan Eagleson’s side another chance to prove they should be among the elite.
With the proposals on the table for an eight-team first division Premier League from 2010, the two teams who are relegated this year will be out of top flight cricket for at least two years, if the rules are changed at next month’s NCU annual meeting so never has there been so much to play for so late in the season.
Fixtures (all 11.30am) Ulster Bank Premier League TOMORROW: CIYMS v Cliftonville, Derriaghy v Civil Service North, Lisburn v Bangor, North Down v Carrickfergus, Waringstown v Instonians. SUNDAY: CIYMS v Carrickfergus, Derriaghy v Bangor, Instonians v Civil Service North, North Down v Cliftonville.