CHESTER County Officers suffered a depressing result to match their mood when they saw the strip at Northwich's new ground.
They were optimistic when they arrived but first sight of the wicket changed all that when the covers were removed to reveal a saturated strip in the middle of a dry square.
They lost the toss for the third away game running and were inserted. Ian Barlow opened and set his stall out to occupy one end, which he did successfully.
After the departure of Mike Clarke (11) to a loud appeal and Tony Collard (0) chasing a wide one, a dazzling innings of 39 by young Mike Rowlands, who chanced his arm to hit six fours and two sixes before his luck ran out, took the score to 86-3. Alas, Chester's middle order departed at regular intervals trying to raise a challenging total, and when Ian Barlow was out for a battling 37, Chester were left with a total of 140 to defend.
Tight bowling at the start of the Northwich innings by Andy Barlow and Steve Johnson raised hopes but the wicket was easing in the afternoon sun and opener Mark Phillips (51no) frustrated Chester.
Leg spinner Mike Rowlands found the wicket too slow but picked up the useful wicket of O'Sullivan, brilliantly caught by Clarke at long-on.
However, the powerful Tony Shaw came in and having survived a brilliant run-out attempt by Johnson, gradually got the measure of the attack and finished the game in fine style with 68no, including five sixes.
Tomorrow sees the return of influential players Tony Hattersley and John Gilbody for the match against runaway leaders Castrol, while the teams meet again on Sunday in the semi-final of the League KO.
Kingsley again showed their fighting spirit, but it wasn't enough to prevent a last-over defeat at the hands of leaders Castrol.
John Elliott (30) and Neil Rowlands (71) laid a solid foundation for Kingsley before Walters (4-41) returned to halt the onslaught and restrict the home side to a challenging 175-8.
Befitting a side at the top of the table, Castrol approached their task with gusto. Despite losing wickets to the nagging line of Alderman (3-33), the away team were marshalled towards the total by King (46). Burden (3-44) returned to take two wickets in an over to shift the balance back towards Kingsley, but a six off the same bowler's last over relieved the pressure and allowed Castrol to scrape home.
A fantastic tail-end revival helped Saughall to maximum points in a topsy-turvy match at Port Sunlight. The visitors recovered from the dire straits of 63-7 to put on 93 for the last three wickets in the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde batting display.
The first 20 overs were dominated by the hosts as Saughall contrived to throw away their wickets in the blustery conditions. James Huxley (10) edged a cut behind and when Sunlight's quick opening bowler, with the help of a gale-force tail-wind, got one through the defences of Andy Thomas (7), Saughall needed to rebuild.
However, when Ben Salisbury (29) was run out it signalled the start of an mighty collapse in which five wickets tumbled for just seven runs.
Chris Andrews (10) bottom-edged a pull on to his stumps, Richard Tomlinson (4) became the second run-out victim and when Les Perkins (0) and Mike Rowson (0) both top-edged attacking shots, Saughall were facing humiliation at 63-7.
It was left to two young left-handers to begin the recovery with some tremendously mature batting and no shortage of eye-catching strokeplay.
By the time Mark Tunnicliffe (29) and Mike Andrews (32) fell in quick succession, Saughall's fightback was well under way. Pete Tunnicliffe picked up the baton, though, with a flurry of boundaries and, along with Ian Jenkins (4no), helped Saughall to the heady heights of 156 - a total which seemed beyond their wildest dreams at one point.
Early wickets were the order of the day in Port Sunlight's reply and Pete Tunnicliffe (3-45) came up with the goods by capturing three wickets in an opening spell.
Perkins (2 -28) claimed the key wicket of Small, caught at cover by Ben Salisbury for 30, and when Chris Andrews took a fantastic diving catch at backward square leg, Port Sunlight were labouring at 65-5.
The pendulum swung Sunlight's way with a hard-hitting 43 from Ashton, before he mistimed a slower ball from James Huxley straight to the grateful hands of Tomlinson at mid-wicket.
In the following over, Andy Thomas produced a terrific piece of fielding in the deep to claim a run-out as the Sunlight batsman looked to scamper whatever runs they could manage in a tense finale.
At 136-8, the match could have gone either way but James Huxley (3-32) grabbed the remaining wickets within the space of three balls, including a well-judged catch at slip from Perkins which wrapped up the innings.