WICKFORD'S hopes of escaping relegation from the Premier Division are fading fast.

Taking on fellow strugglers Ilford at their home Patmore Memorial Ground home, Matt Bate's men slumped to a 144-run defeat and are now 31 points from safety.

Wickford were unlucky to have to take on Ilford on a day when the opposition had Essex man Varun Chopra and former Pakistan Test player Naved Ashraf available.

Although Chopra did not trouble the scorers too much, Ashraf piled on the agony with a superb 169 not out and got good backing from M Dirwan (64).

Young Essex paceman Jahid Ahmed captured a couple of wickets, but Ilford declared on 320-4.

When Wickford replied any thoughts that Chopra's danger had passed were soon dispelled.

The hosts lost Bate cheaply and were struggling at 25-5 before Darren Batch gave an air of respectability to their total with a fine 64.

But there was no stopping Ilford's victory march as Chopra finished with 6-64 with his medium pacers as the ball started to do a bit after tea.

Wickford were bowled out for 156 and collected just two points with Ilford celebrating a haul of 25.

"We put Ilford in with the hope of bowling them out for a total we could chase, but it was always going to be hard on a hot afternoon when they made such a massive score," said Bate.

"It's going to be tough for us to escape now, but there's still four matches left and we certainly won't give in until it becomes mathematically impossible to escape."

Wickford's cause certainly was not helped by fellow strugglers Colchester & East Essex, who they still have to play away, picking up 20 points for a victory over Saffron Walden.

Wickford are at Gidea Park and Romford next week and have 106 points with Colchester on 127 and Ilford 136.