FOR Whitley Bay it could be a case of a unique double lying on the horizons; for Ashington CFC, they are grateful a semi-final in the Northumberland Senior Cup still looms as their chances of even going close to matching last season’s top six league placing is diminishing by the week.
And whilst the Seahorses can dream of a possible third successive trip to Wembley, as well as aiming for a top two finish, a return to their early season form is the immediate aim for the Colliers.
Ian Chandler’s side, who had Saturday’s FA Carlsberg Vase showdown at Dunston to look forward to, arrived at Woodhorn Lane hoping to avenge defeat in the County Cup earlier in the season.
And they could so easily have had the game well and truly sewn up inside the opening quarter hour.
Craig McFarlane wasted a trio of chances before eventually giving his side the lead in the 13th minute.
With Ashington’s regular keeper Karl Dryden unavailable, Steven Mundy donned the number one jersey and the stopper’s first piece of action – in front of a bumper crowd exceeding 500 – should have been to pick the ball out of the net after a mere 35 seconds.
Ex-Collier Chris Fawcett had sped down the left flank and crossed but McFarlane blazed his effort over the bar.
Incredibly Whitley turned the screw even further with McFarlane and Fawcett both firing off target inside the next five minutes.
Ashington’s only respite came as James Taylor played a one-two with Scott Blandford and Steven Shaw was also involved in the move which led to Johnny Wightman being blocked out.
Then Stephen Young provided a cross from the right which saw James Harmison – playing his first senior game for five months following injury – look on as his goalbound effort was brilliantly blocked by Callum Anderson.
Back came Whitley and after Fawcett had been denied by Mundy and McFarlane had again skied over, the Seahorses got a deserved breakthrough in the 13th minute.
Lee Mason crossed the ball into the danger area for McFarlane, who on this occasion steadied himself to poke the ball into the net from six yards.
Phill Bell had a header held by Kyle Hayes and both Blandford and Andrew Johnson speculated with drives from 25 yards, whilst at the other end, a header from former Ashington striker Glen Taylor was deflected for a corner then another probing cross by Fawcett was glanced on by Taylor with Paul Robinson driving over.
The home side’s play lacked that vital spark, but Whitley’s, Lee ‘Sparky’ Kerr, ignited the start of the second half with a goal inside 21 seconds.
Chandler had made a double change, bringing Paul Chow and Kerr on for Taylor and Mason, and it was an inspired substitution as the move paid immediate dividends.
The ball was chipped forward where Chow headed on and Kerr did the rest with a low angled drive from 16 yards across Mundy and just inside the far corner of the net.
Fawcett and Kerr went close, substitute Gary Ormston blazed over after work by Chow and Kerr, then David Pounder waltzed through and saw his left footer from the edge of the area deflected for a corner.
Whilst Ashington were struggling to find any fluency in their game, the Bay – who always looked as if they could step up another gear – thought they had added a third with 20 minutes remaining.
Kerr and McFarlane were both involved in the approach work and when the latter found Chow, the striker turned on a sixpence but was thwarted by Mundy.
However, in the 83rd minute, Robinson put the seal on the victory for the coast club.
The midfield dynamo looked up and struck a right footer from 22 yards, which took a deflection off a defender before curling just inside Mundy’s left hand post.
After that, Johnson was through but saw his effort pushed out by Hayes.
Ashington: Mundy, J Taylor (Rees 17 mins), Lough, Shaw, Atkin, Harmison, Johnson, Blandford, Young, Bell (Bainbridge 85 mins), Wightman (Mullen 75 mins). Sub not used: Richardson.
Whitley Bay: Hayes, McFarlane, Anderson, Timmons, Smith, Pounder, Fawcett, Robson (Ormston 66 mins), Mason (Kerr 46 mins), G Taylor (Chow 46 mins), Robinson. Subs not used: Rowe, Gibson.
Ashington are away to Ryton on Friday night (7.30pm) then host Newcastle Benfield at Woodhorn Lane on Tuesday, March 8 (7.30pm kick-off).