Middleton sets fresh challenge

ASHINGTON CFC manager Gary Middleton has set his outfit a challenge for next season – to emulate and better the campaign which has just ended.

It was a campaign where the Colliers turned back the clock to replicate their highest finish for 30 years as they ended fifth in the STL Northern League’s first division.

And the manager is now looking to build on his swuad while retaining some of those who have brought the black and whites success.

“I am looking to bring in two or three fresh faces whilst also hoping to secure the signatures of the existing squad in time for next season,” he said.

“We need to keep improving and the goals as far as we are concerned will be to emulate West Auckland and Dunston, which we know is achievable.

“It will be difficult to match what we as a club have achieved this year, but that will be the challenge to the players, even though it is a tough ask.

“Our consistency let us down a little bit and success is difficult because it is usually judged by silverware.

“Nevertheless, we had an extremely successful campaign with more lucrative clubs finishing below us.

“We started with the disappointment of losing Liam Atkin to Blyth Spartans and it was September before we got our first win.

“When we got Liam back, it kick started us – Liam was like the stop gap which we were missing – someone with a cool head.

“Striker Jamie Clarke scored on his debut and went on to score 11 goals in ten games, which also made a big difference.

“We went on a great FA Cup run with games against Vauxhall Motors home and away and also had a great win at Woodhorn Lane against Guiseley, with Clarke having a major input.

“However, the downside of our season had to be the horrific injuries suffered to Gareth Bainbridge, Darren Lough, Stephen Young and more latterly Phill Bell.

“We had to rebuild then lost Clarke to Whitby.

“We replaced him with Bell – whom we didn’t want to lose in the summer anyway – and when he came back, he made a major contribution.

“Our FA Cup run continued before we went out to Grimsby.

“That presented a fantastic opportunity for the club and the players against a side not so long ago in the Football League, but we did go out to a very good side and the victory over us actually kick started their season.

“However, probably our worst performance of the season came at Shortwood when victory would have taken us through to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase and a home tie against Herne Bay.

“Players who had performed all season let us down and it was a bitterly disappointing exit.

“We had to lift ourselves with games in hand.

“We beat Spennymoor 4-1 at home in what ranked as one of our best displays of the season, then in the later stages we comfortably beat Dunston 2-0 and West Auckland 3-1 – the two Vase finalists.

“Along the way it has been a tremendous achievement by players and staff.

“We have a strong group of players at the club and the signings have been inspirational.

“Craig Scott is one of the best defenders in the league. I’ve already mentioned Atkin and Clarke, the latter who went on to help keep Whitby in the Evostik League but there are others like Bell, Jonny Godsmark who was out for ten weeks with a hamstring injury; Marc Walton one of the top four strikers in the Northern League and Tommy English who has the best left foot in our league.

“I can honestly say that this is the best group of players we have worked with in six years of management with regard to character and quality and the whole squad and the management deserve lots and lots of praise.”