ASHINGTON CFC manager Gary Middleton lauded maximum praise on his squad following their thrilling FA Cup replay win over Shildon via a penalty shoot-out on Tuesday night.
The sides had been locked 2-2 after extra time before Ashington advanced into the second qualifying round of the FA Cup.
The Colliers will now meet Blue Square Bet side Vauxhall Motors on Saturday, October 1, at Woodhorn Lane.
A delighted Middleton said: “We looked at how we were going to play against Shildon because we were compact-minded on Saturday in the first game at Dean Street and didn’t want to get done by Shildon’s free flowing moves.
“Our preparations did not go without a hitch as we had to reckon without Craig Scott, who was working, and Matty Grieve who was ill, and we had to decide whether to continue with our three at the back system or change it to 4-4-2.
“We opted for the latter, which in fairness has served us well in past home matches against Shildon.
“They (Shildon) can open you up any time as they play three players narrow in the middle of the park, but I thought our four slid over to counteract that brilliantly.
“We started superbly and I thought Darren Lough and Chris Fawcett linked up well – as well as Andrew Johnson, who was red hot for first 20 minutes causing them problems which resulted in him winning us the first penalty.
“Although Shildon created a couple of chances, I was quite happy and thought we were worth our one-nil half-time lead.
“We came out after the break and it was a good move which led to our second penalty.”
And Middleton heaped praise on recent signing Jamie Clarke.
“He has been a great addition,” he said, “he was under pressure for both penalties but tucked them away magnificently.”
Middleton believed his side were unfortunate in conceding both goals as the Railwaymen recovered from a two-goal deficit to force extra time with two second half strikes.
He added: “I never felt the game was over even at two-nil, but I thought it was a foul on Andy Dugdale for the first goal and the second saw Dean Deagle’s clearance rebound off our back four to let Wayne Gredziak set up Chris Hughes.
“We were forced to make substitutions through injuries and when Gareth Bainbridge hit the post with five minutes of normal time remaining, we thought ‘is it going to be our night?’.”
However, Middleton believed his side dug deeper.
“In extra time I thought we got stronger,” he said.
“Then after Gareth Bainbridge had sustained his unfortunate injury we were left to play the final 20 minutes with ten men.
“We had our backs against the wall but I thought we defended superbly and counter attacked brilliantly, and I cannot single anyone out because they all played their part.
“The character was something which came to flourish – it showed in the changing room afterwards just what this victory meant to the players.”