ASHINGTON extended their unbeaten run to seven matches when they shared the spoils with first division league newcomers Newton Aycliffe on Saturday – but the Colliers were disappointed at not picking up a maximum haul on their first visit to Moore Lane.
Certainly the Wansbeck side had chance after chance in the latter stages but were denied by Aycliffe’s defending as well as the woodwork. The pitch looked in immaculate condition – but it was evident right from the kick-off that it was not only going to be heavy but would also cut up.
It came as no surprise that Gary Middleton’s side – in a seam of good form and particularly upbeat with terrific victories in their last two matches against Newport Pagnell and Spennymoor Town respectively – began in buoyant fashion. They took the game to the home side – who at the start of play were lying fifth in the league table in their debut season in the top flight of the STL – and following good work by Marc Walton, Andrew Johnson struck a left foot shot over the bar. Aycliffe retaliated immediately and a dangerous looking cross from the left by Paul Broom led to a great challenge by Gareth Rees on Danny Mellanby.
Still it was Ashington who called the tune and they carved out their next opportunity in the tenth minute. Walton fed Johnson down the right flank and when he pulled the ball back, Dan Taylor turned a defender but stroked the ball agonisingly inches past the upright. Johnson then played a one-two with Mark O’Dea and saw his shot blocked before the Colliers finally and deservedly got their noses in front in the 17th minute. Walton was again the provider spotting O’Dea in acres of space just inside the penalty area and as the midfielder tried to place his effort wide of ‘keeper Scott Pocklington, the ball deflected off Darren Craddock to loop in the air and bounce into the unguarded net.
Three minutes later, O’Dea ought to have doubled the lead. Johnson supplied a deep cross from the right where O’Dea, ghosting in at the far post, headed wide of Pocklington but narrowly the wrong side of the post. Walton had a shot snuffed out then Dan Taylor cut inside only to fire weakly at Pocklington before at the other end, another cross from the left was smartly intercepted by Craig Scott.
Aycliffe had slowly began to come into the game and in the 37th minute, they levelled following a long clearance from Pocklington. Rees challenged Dale Jardine and the ball ran loose to Mellanby who side stepped Karl Dryden and slotted in. All of a sudden the home side were in the ascendancy and after Nathan Wilson’s 20 yarder had scraped the bar, a cross shot from Broom flashed narrowly wide of the far post. Having dominated the opening half hour, incredibly the half time whistle came as a relief to the visitors as Aycliffe threatened to add a quickfire second.
The second half saw a thrilling end to end contest. Johnson and newcomer Michael Tait combined to set up Damen Mullen whose shot lacked power and was easily taken by Pocklington. Then on the hour following a Mullen corner on the left, the ball fell to Matty Grieve whose goalbound piledriver was brilliantly pushed over by the home ‘keeper. Walton sliced wide and Johnson had a shot blocked before the former headed another Mullen flag kick past the post.
Ashington were on top but Newton Aycliffe looked dangerous on the break. Manager Gary Middleton introduced Paul Buzzeo and immediately, the substitute had a run through the middle and played the ball through to Taylor whose initial shot was blocked and the on-loan striker hit the side netting from the rebound.
When play switched, Broom had a great opening but fired over first time then with Broom unmarked on the right, Wilson elected to try his luck and was foiled by Dryden. However Ashington bombarded the Ayclifffe goal in the final stages. Taylor set up Walton whose effort was cleared off the line by Broom then substitute Gareth Bainbridge’s goalbound shot was blocked.
In the first minute of time added on, Johnson let fly with a left footer which hit the bar and went over.
In midweek, Ashington turned in an outstanding display against champions Spennymoor and were rewarded with a 4-1 victory. For the Moors, who took the lead on the half hour, it was their heaviest defeat in six years. Steven Richardson headed them in front from a Keith Graydon corner but five minutes later, Dan Taylor pulled the ball back for Mark O’Dea who levelled after clipping the ball home from inside the area.
Right on the stroke of half time, Marc Walton’s low cross found Dan Taylor who fired the ball into the far corner across keeper Craig Turns and 33 seconds into the second period, Taylor – put through by Tommy English – applied a cool finish to make it 3-1.
Just before the midway point, substitute Phill Bell was sent tumbling in the area by Michael Laws and Bell made no mistake from the resultant spot kick, sending Turns the wrong way. Ashington had already knocked Spennymoor out of the FA Carlsberg Vase in early December – but this was a night to remember also as they outclassed the champions at Woodhorn Lane.
On Saturday (February 4), Ashington are at home to Billingham Synthonia (3pm kick-off) – where they will meet another Northern League side who are through to the last 16 of the Vase.
Ashington: Dryden, Grieve, Scott, O’Dea, Atin, Rees (Buzzeo 73 mins), Tait (Dugdale 85 mins), Mullen (Bainbridge 82 mins), Walton, D Taylor, Johnson. Subs not used: Deagle, English.