THEY had made history by reaching the fourth round of this season’s FA Carlsberg Vase, but a Jekyll and Hyde performance saw Ashington CFC’s adventure come to a shuddering halt against Long Buckby at the Station Road ground on Saturday.
In what was undoubtedly a game of two halves, the Wansbeck side will look back on the opening 45 minutes and rue missed chances – even though they were deservedly two goals ahead with top marksman Stephen Young grabbing both.
Ashington played some excellent football in an opening period which they clearly did not want to end – and should have had the game sewn up.
But at 2-0, the next goal was always going to be crucial.
And after it had all started to go wrong from the first whistle of the second half as the Colliers pressed the self destruct button against the Hereward Teamwear United Counties League premier division outfit, the visiting supporters also had to endure what was a woeful second half showing from their side.
Within the first ten minutes, the Bucks had drawn level before striker Daniel Nelson scored what proved to be the clincher with a little less than 20 minutes remaining.
And Ashington’s woes were further compounded four minutes later when their diminutive winger Jonny Godsmark was red carded.
The Bucks had failed to win in their previous four outings and they looked to be heading for the exit door as Ashington took a stranglehold on proceedings.
Not only were Gary Middleton’s men out of the traps from the off but Long Buckby struggled to get out of their own half with the Colliers clearly running the show.
And after doing all the probing, it came as no surprise when Ashington took the lead in the 26th minute.
Young had a shot deflected and then Phill Bell tried to place his effort which was hacked off the line.
But from their sixth corner, Andrew Johnson’s kick from the right to the far post found Bell who headed back across for Young to fire into the roof of the net from eight yards.
Iain Nickalls had an effort cleared from the danger zone then Johnson had a shot deflected wide before Young took his season’s tally to 27 with Ashington’s second in the 32nd minute.
Once again the score stemmed from a right wing corner by Johnson whose deep cross found Young lurking at the far post.
Young powered a header goalwards with the assistant referee flagging to indicate that the ball had crossed the line despite the efforts of a home defender to clear.
Johnson had two further opportunities but steered his shots wide of the mark, then right on the stroke of half-time Daniel Nelson fired over when well placed with Long Buckby’s only chance of the half.
The second period saw a remarkable transformation with the home side reducing the leeway in the first minute – via the penalty spot.
Greg Ling made progress down the left to cross and after a ricochet, the loose ball was contested inside the area between Karl Dryden and Daniel Holman.
Holman went to ground and referee Antony Coggins pointed to the spot with home skipper Richard Bunting stepping up to sent the keeper the wrong way.
Incredibly the Bucks drew level in the 53rd minute.
The Ashington defence stood off Craig Kelly without making a challenge and the full back consequently waltzed to the by-line and pulled the ball back for Brad Harris who touched home from close range.
Ashington had lost all the fluency and momentum from the first period, yet on the hour a pivotal moment arrived when Young laid the ball back for Johnson whose low shot from the edge of the area was saved with his legs by keeper Tom Stephanon.
It proved to be a crucial save and Long Buckby certainly prospered as they stormed into a 3-2 lead in the 72nd minute.
Again the ball came in from the left to Nelson who had all the time in the world to rifle home from 20 yards leaving Dryden rooted to the spot.
Four minutes later, things went from bad to worse for Middleton’s side when Godsmark and Bunting went to contest a loose ball 20 yards inside the Buckby half.
The match official then took Godsmark to one side before brandishing the red card.
The home side had turned the game completely on its head, dominating the play and Ashington’s only opportunity to level came two minutes from the end of normal time.
Substitute Scott Blandford, who had replaced Mark O’Dea, fired inches over and so the projected dream of a trip to play on the hallowed turf at Wembley in the final of the Vase evaporated for another season in the Northamptonshire air.
Ashington: Dryden, Taylor, Lough, Shaw, Atkin, Nickalls, Godsmark, O’Dea (Blandford 76 mins), Young, Bell, Johnson. Subs not used: Bainbridge, Colvin, Walmsley.