GIVEN that FA Vase holders Dunston went into Saturday’s contest protecting a 13-match unbeaten run, Ashington were more than happy to extend their recent sequence of draws to four from what was an enthralling clash at Woodhorn Lane.
Yet again, Gary Middleton’s side took the lead through substitute Gareth Bainbridge only to be pegged back when Steven Preen claimed a 72nd minute equaliser.
Sam Hodgson came straight into the side having been signed from neighbours Blyth Spartans with Jordan Mellish making his full debut at centre half, slotting in for injured skipper Liam Atkin, while Andrew Dugdale shrugged off a hamstring strain to take his place in the staring 11.
It was an even contest throughout the opening 45 minutes as after a cagey start the game flowed from end to end.
Ashington started well with Josh Gray and Mellish both having shots blocked following a free kick by Paul Antony – making his return to the side following a one match ban.
Then a low cross from the left by Gray just eluded the incoming Bainbridge, who had replaced the injured Marc Walton early in the game.
It was a full quarter of an hour before home stopper Karl Dryden was called into action, easily gathering a low effort from Stephen Goddard.
At the other end, a ball played in by Hodgson was snuffed out at the near post with Gray lurking.
On the half hour, the visitors came close to breaking the deadlock through Chris Swailes.
He met a free kick played into the area by Daniel Smith and his header clipped the bar before going over.
Then five minutes before the break following a clearance from Dunston keeper Liam Connell, Darren Lough fouled Andrew Bulford 22 yards out and the Ashington defender was relieved to see referee Matthew Dicicco brandish a yellow card.
Early in the second period, a cross by James Taylor just missed the far post then a header by Bulford got a deflection to go behind for a corner.
However, it was the Colliers who got their noses in front in the 57th minute – courtesy of Bainbridge.
The home side broke at lightening speed with Andrew Johnson finding Dugdale on the left with a terrific pass. Dugdale cut inside then delivered a cross-shot which was side footed home on the volley from eight yards by Bainbridge.
Bulford went on a run which saw him beat a couple of challenges but his shot was held by Dryden before subs Lee McAndrew and Steven Preen combined to play a major part in Dunston’s equaliser.
Bulford found McAndrew down the right and from his driven ball in, Preen, who had only been on the field five minutes, got the faintest of touches off his forehead to glance inside the far post.
The score certainly sparked off a thrilling final 20 minutes with the visitors immediately having the upper hand before the Colliers bounced back.
Four minutes from time, Bulford swivelled on a ball played into the box but his shot was saved at the second attempt by Dryden, then as the game entered time added on, Bainbridge went past the advanced Connell but the keeper recovered well to divert an effort from the substitute for a corner.
There were plenty of positives to come out of the contest for the Colliers with many excellent performances.
Midfielder Hodgson showed some nice touches, particularly in the first half; the back four all performed well; Bainbridge ran himself into the ground whilst 17-year-old Marc Heaman from the reserves – introduced for the final quarter hour – was not overawed by the opposition and produced a couple of darting runs which excited the crowd.
Although four points from a possible 15 is not exactly what the doctor ordered, there was enough from a whole-hearted performance for manager Middleton to be upbeat about.
The only downside were injuries to Walton and Dugdale.
Ashington: Dryden, Taylor, Lough, Antony, Mellish, Grieve, Hodgson (Heaman 78 mins), Dugdale (Bolton 67 mins), Walton (Bainbridge 9 mins), Johnson, Gray. Subs not used: Clarke, Turnbull.
On Saturday, Ashington travel to face Newcastle Benfield (3pm) then the Colliers take on Billingham Town at Woodhorn Lane on Wednesday, January 16, (7.30pm).