What a game, what rearguard action and in the end, what a result.
Ashington woke from their slumbers following inept performances – and subsequent defeats – in the FA Vase by Newcastle Benfield and Northumberland Senior Cup at Blyth to upset all the odds on Saturday when a first-half goal by Tony Stephenson – his seventh of the season – gave them victory over title-chasing Dunston at the UTS Stadium.
By no means a classic, it was nevertheless breathtaking, compelling and totally competitive in a game which was littered with cards as referee Dean Hulme brandished seven yellows – four to Ashington – while the Blyth-based official also red-carded Colliers joint strikers Tony Stephenson and Glen Taylor in separate incidents.
The Wansbeck outfit defended magnificently particularly in the second period and once again were indebted to their keeper Conor Grant who capped off a brilliant display with a double save in the closing stages.
Ashington, already shorn in numbers, suffered a pre-match blow when defender James Taylor pulled out during the warm-up which saw Phil Airey slot in at full back with Lance McGlen moving over into the centre of defence.
Inside the first 85 seconds, Dunston’s prolific striker Andrew Bulford - who recently scored his 200th goal for the club - escaped the shackles of Richard Flynn but his centre went across the danger zone. Flynn made an important interception from Bulford then newcomer Dan Smith dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area and Gary Ormston lashed over from a similar distance.
Ashington’s first sniff came in the 12th minute whenBen Christensen was the provider of an excellent cross from the left but with Kyle Oliver lurking, a home defender intercepted. Midway through, Stephen Harrison and Smith combined to set up a chance for Bulford who headed wide then Grant pushed away an in-swinging cross by Dale Burrell.
However, Ashington took the lead in the 33rd minute with a well-worked goal following a terrific advantage decision by Mr Hulme. Oliver slipped the ball through the middle for Stephenson who poked home inside the corner minute when Ben from 18 yards. The home side could have been on terms 25 seconds after the interval when Harrison crossed from the right but Ormston placed his header wide. Bulford turned and fired over following a throw in then at the other end, Johnson had a shot charged down after his free kick had been blocked.
However in the 63rd minute, the game – which had been played at an unrelenting pace – boiled over when Stephenson saw red for a tackle on Daniel Halliday near to the dugouts. Dunston threw ex-Collier Lee McAndrew into the fray for his first piece of action following a hernia operation and he was quickly in the action going to ground inside the area but penalty shouts were turned down. McAndrew then provided the corner which saw a header by Smith clutched by Grant but the keeper really highlighted his performance five minutes from time with outstanding saves in quick succession from Smith and sub Jonny Wightman.
McAndrew cut inside but blazed hastily over and an effort from Smith hit the post and rolled along the line before being cleared. Then in the third minute of time added on, the Colliers had an opportunity to add a second on the break.
Andy Ferrell found Johnson down the left but his cross aimed for Glen Taylor was blocked and spun to home keeper Liam Connell. Three minutes later, tempers flared again following a tackle by Michael Dixon on sub Kyle Downey and seconds later, Glen Taylor was given his marching orders after making a remark to the referee.
On Saturday Ashington are without a game but on Tuesday, December 9 host Durham City at Woodhorn Lane (7.30pm) .
Ashington: Grant, McGlen, Christensen, Ferrell, Flynn, Airey, Oliver (Downey 75 minutes), Shaw, Stephenson, G Taylor, Johnson. Subs not used: Davison, Egen, Walton, Barnard (gk). Referee: Dean Hulme (Blyth)