THE race for the Eastern Premiership crown will go down to the wire after pace-setters Aberdeenshire last night blew their quest to grab the glory with a week to spare.
Shire were handed a clear-cut chance to open the champagne by overhauling a modest Grange tally at Raeburn Place in the wake of the shock demise of champions and chief chasers Arbroath at the hands of Watsonians.
But the resolve of the Mannofield men collapsed when it mattered most and after their capitulation in the capital, the honours will be decided next Saturday.
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Having dismissed Grange for 145, Aberdeenshire's target seemed less than lofty, but they slithered to a miserable 115 all out.
On a damp track their pursuit suffered an immediate setback when Chris Venske was clean bowled by Gordon Goudie in the first over. Losing three wickets in quick succession left Shire on 54 for four. Nick Farrar came into the attack and quickly removed Harsha Cooray, who edged to stand-in wicketkeeper Gregor Maiden.
That left Aberdeenshire on a shaky 77 for five, but worse was to come just seven runs later when Maiden played the major role in the run-out of Callum Martin.
Maiden then combined with Farrar again to send Kenny Reid packing, and Farrar's amazing stint wasn't finished. In the 32nd over he found his way past Tyler Buchan's defences. He bagged another brace to finish on five for 26.
Earlier Dons skipper Buchan had demolished the Grange upper order, reducing them to five for three. He struck with the first ball of the contest to get rid of Ryan Flannigan, then trapped former Scotland star and home captain Neil McCallum lbw in his next over.
Farrar was his next victim as Buchan gleefully pouched a smart return catch. Though Grange halted the immediate rot, Cooray snapped up three scalps before Buchan completed his five-for, hitting the stumps of Maiden. Tom Sole emerged as top home scorer on 28.
Paddy Sadler was the early destroyer-in-chief of Arbroath at Lochlands.
The decision by home captain Marc Petrie to bat first after winning the toss backfired in spectacular fashion. Their challenge was effectively snuffed out as they lost Brendan Ford, Hamish Bartlett, and Fraser Burnett to Sadler's lethal opening burst.
Arbroath were unable to recover and were shot out for 69 - leaving the visitors to stroll to an effortless success, losing just one man.
While Sadler laid the foundations for Sonians, it was Stewart Chalmers who stepped up the pressure with a five-scalp haul, no Arbroath player topping 20.
Andy Hislop ruled out a late fightback by hitting 42 not out to guide Watsons through the tape.
It means the spotlight will shine on the Granite City next weekend where it will all be settled. Aberdeenshire take on Falkland at Mannofield and Arbroath square up to Stoneywood-Dyce just up the road at Peoples Park.