WEST Auckland racked up their eighth win in a row in the top flight of the STL Northern League and became the first club to complete a season’s double over Ashington CFC when they won an exciting tussle by the odd goal in three at a chilly Woodhorn Lane ground on Saturday.
There were a couple of turning points in the contest, most noteably in the first period when Phill Bell saw a penalty saved before Mattie Moffat was more accurate from the spot which put the visitors ahead.
Tthen after the break Andrew Johnson had had a shot cleared off the line and West’s Steven Brown added a second only three minutes later.
Johnson did reduce the deficit shortly afterwards but it was not to be Ashington’s day as Bell hit the woodwork twice as the Colliers went in pursuit of an equaliser.
Since West Auckland appointed Peter Dixon and Paul Foster as their management team last term, they’ve never looked back.
The duo masterminded the club’s escape from relegation after taking over in mid December 2009 when the club had only five points from 23 games.
Following Saturday’s latest win they are fourth – and top of the form guide – which is based on the foundations of the pair moulding together a good side.
The game got the go-ahead following overnight frost and it was the visitors who dominated the opening quarter of an hour.
Indeed they could have had their noses in front as early as the first minute.
Only 42 seconds had elapsed when Moffat slipped the ball out wide to Jonathan Gibson, who crossed but Daniel Hindmarsh miscued his shot which was cleared by Liam Atkin.
Similarly in the ninth minute, following good approach work by Matthew Tymon, it was Moffat again whose clipped effort was steered away off the line by the retrieving Darren Lough.
Hindmarsh fired a yard over before Ashington threatened for the first time when a long ball by Iain Nickalls found Bell who tried to chip the ball over keeper Billy Hanson but failed to get enough height on it and Hanson collected.
Minutes later, Brown fed Moffat whose right foot shot was saved by the legs of Steven Mundy, who was making his first appearance of the season in goal for the Colliers in place of the unavailable Karl Dryden.
Midway through the period and with only their second sniff at goal, Ashington failed to grasp hold of a golden opportunity to take the lead as Bell missed from the penalty spot.
The tall striker had won the award when he was checked just inside the area by Mark Stephenson following a clever turn, but after spotting the ball, Bell’s weak right foot effort was pushed aside by Hanson.
Ten minutes later, Tymon advanced into the area before he was brought down by Mundy with referee Kevin Raine again pointing to the spot.
On this occasion Moffat stepped forward and as Mundy chose to move to his left, Moffat went the other way and struck his effort just inside the post.
Two minutes later, Bell sent Jonny Godsmark away down the right but his cross went too far in front of Stephen Young and the chance went begging.
Ashington showed more endeavour from the start of the second period and an equaliser seemed a mere formality 20 minutes into the half.
That was when Bell got to the by-line and picked out Johnson with his cross, but the midfielder was left stunned as his shot was cleared off the line by Neil Pattinson.
A couple of minutes later, West added a second just to rub salt into sore wounds.
A scramble occurred in the Ashington box and when the ball fell to Brown, he made no mistake, drilling a low shot wide of Mundy and into the middle of the goal.
Moffat then played in substitute Adam Nichols who fired inches over the bar before in the 70th minute, Johnson netted his 12th goal of the season to throw his side a lifeline.
Substitute Chris Scott was the architect, supplying a peach of a delivery from an inswinging corner on the left and Johnson did the rest with a firm header into the roof of the net.
It was game on as the Colliers went in search of an equaliser, and three minutes later a slick move down the right involving Young, Godsmark and Bell saw the latter take the ball in his stride and clip a right footer goalwards only for it to smack against the base of the post.
Lough lashed woefully wide following a Scott free kick, then in the 85th minute and after a cross by Johnson, Bell’s effort struck the inside of the upright and bounced straight into Hanson’s hands.
The pressure continued and two minutes later Johnson and substitute Johnny Wightman linked to set up Bell, but his first touch let him down and Hanson smothered.
Play switched immediately to the other end with Moffat hitting the bar and a follow up by substitute Chris Lunn was blocked by Mundy.
Then in the third and final minute of stoppage time, a move from left to right ended frustratingly for the home side as substitute Scott Blandford fired straight into Hanson’s midriff.
Ashington: Mundy, Taylor (Blandford 63 mins), Lough, Shaw, Atkin, Nickalls, Godsmark, O’Dea (Scott 56 mins), Young (Wightman 73 mins), Bell, Johnson. Subs not used: Mullen, Walmsley.
On Saturday Ashington are away to defending champions Spennymoor (3pm) then the Colliers prepare to do battle with near neighbours Bedlington Terriers on Tuesday, February 8, in the local derby at Woodhorn Lane where kick-off is 7.30pm.