Ashington lose to Billingham
Billingham Town 2Ashington 1What a difference a week can make, writes Brian Bennett.
Seven days ago, Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner was wearing a broad smile after his side had put back to back wins together.
At the weekend, Skinner was ashen-faced after watching his outfit - defeated 2-0 against Seaham Red Star in midweek – go down for a second time inside five days after a 2-1 reverse against Billingham Town, who were promoted into the first division of the Ebac Northern League at the end of last season.
As at Seaham, the Colliers can have no complaints about the result on Teeside and the only reason why they were still in the game right until the final whistle was due to an outstanding display from goalkeeper Dan Staples.
The stopper made no fewer than half a dozen saves inside the opening quarter hour but it was his breathtaking stop from Craig Hutchinson which was the most memorable.
Hutchinson thought he had netted but Staples somehow managed to push the ball onto the bar to deny him. Staples’ first piece of action came at the double after a mere 90 seconds as Billingham – with a strong wind on their backs – attacked down the left. After the ‘keeper had fisted the ball out from Luke Hogan, he then finger tipped around from Matthew Robinson. Ashington did have their moments and in the sixth minute, Damien Stevens cleverly lost his marker on the right but when he crossed to Dylan Williamson, James Frazer made a superb tackle inside the area.
However, the Colliers were under the cosh and after Staples had thwarted Hutchinson, skipper Curtis Coppen saved a certain opener with a first class tackle on the striker. On the half hour, Billingham threatened again with a one-two between Hutchinson and Kallum Hannah appearing to unlock the door until Stephen Gibson came from nowhere to produce a splendid block.
It looked to be only a matter of time before the home side would break the deadlock with Elliott Beddon having an opportunity but being snuffed out; Hannah slicing over on the stretch and even in the final minute, Staples forced to parry from Beddon.
But two minutes into the second period, Hannah found a way through for the Blues. He turned Gavin Caines on the edge of the box then placed a superb left foot effort wide of Staples and inside the bottom corner. Scott Lowery had a header clutched by home ‘keeper Bradley Young before the Colliers equalised just past the hour mark. Ben Sampson swung over a delightful inviting cross which saw Frazer glance wide of Young and into his own net from six yards.
However, Billingham restored their lead two minutes later, when Hutchinson latched onto a through ball down the middle and drove home. Midway through, Staples kept out a third from Hannah and minutes later following another cross from the right by Sampson an effort from Thomas Kalthoeber hit the bar and the ball was cleared off the line. Ashington were coming more into the game - Skinner made a triple substitution - and one of the replacements, Callum Johnston was not far away with a free kick from 25 yards.
With time running out, Coppen nodded wide from a Kyle Downey corner on the right then the Billingham defence cleared in the nick of time as Johnston looked to find Stevens. But the game finished as it had begun – with Staples – the undoubted man of the match - protecting his goal with yet another stop from Hutchinson who was clean through with only the ‘keeper to beat.