Colliers pay the penalty for missing opportunities

Tony Stephenson scored from the penalty spot to give Ashington a 2-0 lead but they let it slip away to Celtic Nation. Picture by Ian Appleby
Tony Stephenson scored from the penalty spot to give Ashington a 2-0 lead but they let it slip away to Celtic Nation. Picture by Ian Appleby
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They came close – and in many respects it was a case of two points dropped rather than one gained.

But after the final whistle had sounded on Saturday, Ashington were still searching for a first ever win at the Gillford Park Stadium against Celtic Nation.

With quarter of an hour remaining and being two goals ahead courtesy of Andy Ferrell and Tony Stephenson, the Colliers must have thought they were well set to break their duck – until they had their pre-bonfire flame extinguished.

The home side grew in confidence after Jonathan Allan had reduced the arrears. Then in a tense, nail-jangling finale, Tyler Bowman levelled from a hotly-disputed penalty, awarded in the second minute of time added on.

It was indeed a bitter pill to swallow for Gary Middleton’s side – but the point nevertheless extended their unbeaten run to three matches.

Ashington called the tune in a first period where both sides contributed. After Glen Taylor had snatched at an early opportunity to fire wide, the visiting striker drove in a cross from the right which keeper Andrew Casson saved with his legs.

At the other end, Conor Grant tipped around from Allan and Ian Cummersky then after the tricky Dean Douglas had crossed, Allan directed a header wide of the mark. Kyle Downey, Andrew Johnson and Glen Taylor combined in Ashington’s next raid which ended with the latter not fully connecting and a grateful Casson collecting before Tony Stephenson missed out on the best opening of the half. A move inspired by Ferrell and Lance McGlen included Glen Taylor who pulled the ball back but Stephenson struck the ball over from 12 yards.

However, two minutes before the break, the Colliers broke through with a terrific five-man move which stemmed from a goal kick by Grant. Glen Taylor and Johnson linked on the right and when Johnson cut the ball back, Stephenson neatly sold a dummy with the ball running into the path of Ferrell who buried a left-footer from 14 yards just inside the near post. On the half-time whistle, Johnson was only inches away from adding a second and early in the second period, he found Glen Taylor whose shot was directed straight at Casson. Grant had to be alert midway through the period to hold onto a clever back flick by Douglas following a free-kick but the home side – who had four players yellow carded inside a 15 minutes spell – fell further behind in the 73rd minute.

Stephenson hounded the back four and, after pinching the ball off Brett Swift, was then upended by the substitute just outside the junction of the six yards box with Stephenson making no mistake from the penalty, as he sent Casson the wrong way.

Ashington had surely put the game to bed until Nation awoke from their slumbers and threw everything at the Colliers . Within four minutes they had reduced the deficit when a corner on the left by Lee Hoolickin was glanced inside the upright by Allan. Ashington responded and had chances to give themselves a cushion.

Glen Taylor, Johnson and Stephenson were at the hub of a flowing move which looked highly promising until sub Lewis Davison was pipped at the vital second by a home defender; Downey unleashed a drive just over; a Taylor centre went across the face of the goal then the same player had a left footer blocked.

Hallowe’en had been less than 24 hours earlier – and those missed opportunities came back to haunt the Colliers in more ways than one as they paid a huge penalty in time added on. Richard Flynn had made a vital interception to turn behind a cross by Dean Armstrong but when the resultant corner came into the box, the ball bounced up and referee Shane Sugden pointed to the spot for handball against Davison. Bowman stepped forward and sent Grant the wrong way to level the scores.

Seconds later, Downey thought he had done the trick – which would have been a treat for the visiting contingent – with a crisply-struck drive but it was just too high.

On Saturday, Ashington lock horns with neighbours Whitley Bay at Woodhorn Lane before the Colliers travel to Teesside on Tuesday, to take on Thornaby in the second round of the Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup.

Ashington: Grant, McGlen, Christensen, Ferrell, Flynn, J Taylor, Shaw (Davison 15 mins), Downey, Stephenson (Airey 80 mins), G Taylor, Johnson. Sub not used: Barnard (gk). Referee: Shane Sugden (Consett)