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Halstead captain Ed Clark looks for side to learn lessons in East Anglian Premier League play-offs after retaining Two Counties Championship title

Halstead captain Ed Clark is looking to use the disappointment at not wrapping up a second successive Marshall Hatchick Two Counties Championship Division One title with a win as added motivation to ensure they do not let another shot at promotion pass them by ahead of Sunday’s play-off semi-final.

The north Essex outfit went into last Saturday’s final round knowing three bonus points would be sufficient to see the title return to Star Stile.

As it was, they lost for just the third time in 22 matches, with a 36-run defeat, bowled out for 175 in 43 overs replying to visiting East Bergholt’s 211 posted in 47.4 overs, which saw them end the day with nine points.

Despite their win, title rivals Clacton-on-Sea ended six points short meaning it will be Clark’s side fighting for a place back in the Thurlow Nunn East Anglian Premier League (EAPL) via the play-offs once again, having lost to Fakenham in last year’s semi-final. They are due to face the side which finishes bottom of the EAPL table - either Horsford or Wisbech - after Saturday’s final fixtures.

And Clark is looking for his side to learn from the experience of last year’s defeat at the same stage.

He said: “We were glad to get over the line on Saturday. It’s not the way we wanted to wrap things up, but it’s a really nice achievement to go back-to-back.

“Cancellations early in the season meant despite being undefeated we were still not on top spot, so to get up there and stay there was very satisfying, but we know the job is only halfway done.

“Last year’s play-off game (defeat to Norfolk Cricket Alliance winners Fakenham at Star Stile) was a bit of an eye-opener for us. We didn’t execute our plans as well as we wanted and a top quality opposition made us pay on the day.

“Hopefully we can use Saturday’s defeat as a bit of motivation to get back to our best.”

It’s been a good year with the ball for both Clark and all-rounder Josh Wells, with Joe Morris also coming to the fore in later weeks of the season.

“Josh has been brilliant all year, he’s stepped up to opening the bowling with Joe and they’ve really run with it,” said Clark.

“Joe wasn’t quite getting the figures his performances deserved early season, but he’s hit a run of form at the right time.

“We then have Josh King who does what he does each week , which is a great asset to have. Then all the other boys have been chipping in with performances too, so it’s a good attack.”

But like last year, Halstead will go into the knockout match without Kiwi run-machine Max Chu.

The wicket-keeper batsman had another stellar year at Star Stile, scoring 1,147 Division One runs at 88.23, including five 100s, ending with back-to-back centuries in August, but is already back with his New Zealand state side, Otago, for their pre-season programme.

Clark said: “Obviously losing Max is a big hole in the line-up, but it’s just a great opportunity for others to step up.

“There have been innings of real note for different reasons the past two weeks - Craig Spooner scoring a 25-ball 65 against Wivenhoe, Harry Pritchard 75 off 116 against East Bergholt - without Max, so we have confidence in our ability.”

Meanwhile, Hadleigh (346-7) beat Coggeshall Town (135) by 129 runs at Friars Street to end on a sixth straight victory and match last season’s third place.

Kudzai Maunze was the undoubted star of the show with his century (106) with the bat followed by taking 4-25 from eight overs with the ball in hand.