ONE man does not make a team, but goalkeeper Neal Atkinson had a major say twice over as ten-man Sunderland RCA secured an FA Cup replay after snatching a dramatic last gasp equaliser against Ashington on Saturday.
With literally seconds remaining from five minutes of time added on, goalkeeper Atkinson left his position to come up for a corner and when his opposite number Karl Dryden only helped on Gary Shields’ flag kick, the ball dropped to Atkinson who stabbed home.
Ironically, only three minutes earlier, the keeper had saved his side with a brilliant block to deny a goalbound volley from Phill Bell.
But Ashington should have put this match to bed long before the dramatic finale, or at the very least seen it out.
They played two thirds of the contest against ten men after RCA skipper Brian Close was given dismissed for a second yellow.
Yet in a contest where chances were scarce throughout, the Colliers still did enough to have edged a place in the next round.
A timid start dragged on for the opening 45 minutes with both defences on top.
But like buses, as soon as one chance came it was immediately followed by another.
A full half hour before as much as a sniff at goal, it was RCA who created the first opening with Mark Hudson firing wide after a cross from the right by John Butler.
Seconds later came Ashington’s riposte when Marc Walton – who came through a late fitness test – turned inside and drove a shot from distance which rippled the side netting.
Then referee Kevin Mulraine became the centre of attention.
The Carlisle-based official cautioned Close for a foul on Paul Antony and three minutes later had no hesitation in brandishing another yellow followed by a red after Close had fouled Gareth Williams after the ball had gone.
A header by Andrew Dugdale – another who had come through a test – drifted wide then James Taylor lashed over before, on the stroke of half-time, skipper Liam Atkin and Bell combined down the right to set up Walton whose chip went wide of the far post and beyond the incoming Antony.
Four minutes after the turnaround, Taylor headed down a cross by Tommy English to Bell whose shot was blocked.
In the 69th minute Bell harried Atkinson into a clearance which fell invitingly to Walton whose instinctive effort from 22 yards clipped the bar and went over.
Dryden was called into action to tip over a header from Dale Jardine before the Colliers broke the deadlock through substitute Gareth Bainbridge.
Williams played the ball from the back to Walton who in turn found Bainbridge down the left and the sub advanced before driving a left footed effort across Atkinson and into the net.
Three minutes later, Colliers claims for a penalty when Bell slipped the ball across into the area and Walton went to ground were turned down.
But just as Ashington looked like they had secured their place in the enxt round, up stepped Atkinson to force the replay, which was due to be played on Tuesday evening.
Ashington: Dryden, Williams, Scott, Antony, Atkin, Dugdale, Taylor (Storey 70 minutes), English (Bainbridge 67 minutes), Walton, Bell, Cave. Subs not used: Grieve, Young.
n A video of the game can be seen at www.northernleaguefootball.co.uk/
On Saturday Ashington begin their Ebac Northern League campaign with a home match against Billingham Synthonia (3pm) then make the short journey down the coast on Tuesday to face arch rivals Whitley Bay at Hillheads (7.30pm).