Shropshire's hopes of a first Minor Counties title win in 43 years have been badly hit after being punished for fielding an ineligible player.
After playing former Derbyshire all-rounder Scott Elstone in their 70-run win over Cheshire at Nantwich, the county have been deducted 24 points by the Minor Counties Cricket Association.
Elstone, released by Derbyshire on 24 July, played for Shropshire on 31 July.
But he should have been registered by Shropshire 14 days before playing.
That rule, applying to any cricketer previously registered with a first-class county, meant that former Nottinghamshire player Elstone was not eligible to feature in either of the final two rounds of the Championship.
"This is a highly unfortunate situation that no-one could have envisaged," said Shropshire chairman Toby Shaw.
"We always pride ourselves on being as professional as we can be in everything that we do. It was a genuine oversight."
How exactly does it affect the league table?
The punishment drops Shropshire from top spot to third in the Western Division, now 19 points behind new leaders Berkshire and 14 points behind second-placed Cornwall going into this weekend's sixth and final round.
Shropshire, who last won the title in 1973, complete their Western Division season with a three-day match against Wiltshire, starting on Sunday at Devizes, while Berkshire host Dorset at Finchamstead and Cornwall play Devon at Sidmouth.
The Western Division winners are scheduled to meet the Eastern Division champions to decide this year's Minor Counties title over four days at Wormsley (28-31 August).
Lincolnshire and Northumberland share top spot in the Eastern Division.
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