Despite a stuttering performance Armagh had just about enough to seal a four wicket win against Donaghcloney Mill in the Gardiner Bros NCU League.
The Mall was looking in excellent condition despite a consistently poor week of weather so credit to the ground team for their efforts.
‘Cloney opted to bat first after winning the toss but found themselves in trouble with a wicket offering pace and bounce to the Armagh opening pair of Jarred Barnes and Ben Mackey.
The former struck first when visiting captain Derby was spectacularly caught behind by Armagh wicketkeeper Gareth McCarter off the inside edge.
Not to be outdone, Mackey dismissed Warren with another edge to the keeper.
Barnes was on spectacular form and took a classic fast bowlers wicket when he beat Lyttle with pace and bounce and offered an easy catch for Harry Doyle.
Michael Hoey took a good running catch to dismiss Hanna off Mackey and when Talbot gave McCarter his third catch and Barnes his third wicket the visitors looked in trouble at 45-5.
Armagh somehow seemed to take their foot off the pedal a little and to their credit the Donaghcloney middle-order batting showed a bit more resolve, although McCart did fall to the trap set by the bowling of Alan Whitcroft and gave a catch to Mackey.
Neil Gelston picked up a wicket with his clever off-spin bowling when he removed the younger Lyttle brother.
When Barnes returned to the attack and clean bowled McCart (and breaking the stump in the process) the visitors were 94-8 and struggling.
What followed was a frustrating period for Armagh as Stevenson and Simpson to their credit batted really well and added a great partnership of 54 for the 9th wicket.
Thankfully Doyle broke the stand when he bowled the resilient Stevenson for a well played 39 before last man McClure went without scoring, caught by Hoey off the bowling of Mackey who claimed his third wicket.
Donaghcloney were dismissed for 149, a decent effort after where they had been but still a target that Armagh would be confident of chasing on a decent batting pitch.
Armagh started with a new opening pair of Gelston and Doyle who started in decent fashion however quick wickets of Gelston lbw and Steenson caught behind left Armagh 36-2 as Colin Russell came to the crease.
The Donaghcloney bowling was generally accurate but the pair were content to add steadily and run well between the wickets when the opportunity arose.
The partnership was approaching fifty and drinks were about to be taken when Doyle tried to smash McClure over mid-off but could not clear the fielder and departed for 32.
Jarred Barnes joined Russell and immediately the rate of scoring increased with Barnes being particularly harsh on the spin of McCart, striking 3 sixes in an entertaining cameo before being trapped leg-before wicket to the wily Hanna for 22.
Colin Russell passed his half century with three boundaries and two sixes before retiring with cramp for a well played 52.
This led to a slightly chaotic period as both Michael Hoey and Sam Wilson departed cheaply with Armagh just short of the winning mark which was reached when McCarter knocked the spin of Hanna through a gap to pick the run that was needed as Armagh won by four wickets.
With the result in the other big game coming through that Downpatrick had beaten the other nearest challenger Woodvale, it meant that Armagh’s lead in the Section one table was 12 points with only three games left, meaning Premier League cricket is remarkably within touching distance for the city side.
After the game, experienced Armagh batsman commented that “today was all about keeping the run going and we did that.
“The bowling early on from Jarred Barnes and Ben Mackey was excellent and even though Donaghcloney Mill maybe got more than we should have allowed them we still done pretty well.
“We paced our chase pretty well and got the job done. If we can play well next week at Holywood then that would be hopefully be enough”.
Thanks to William Magwood and Flo McCarter for their sponsorship of Saturdays match ball and as mentioned, Armagh travel to the Seapark Oval this weekend to take on Holywood.
The game starts at noon and if Armagh can win then they will seal the Gardiner Bros NCU Section 1 title and promotion to the Premier League.