ASHINGTON’S Wembley dream is over – at least for this season.
The Colliers had made history by reaching the last 16 of the FA Vase for the first time in their history, but they not only turned in their worst performance of the season against Shortwood from the uhlsport Hellenic Premier League, they made a round trip of more than 600 miles to do it.
The expectations were high and moreover with the incentive of a home tie in the quarter-finals.
But the Colliers failed to deliver big style and consequently went out with a whimper.
And while they have good memories from their exploits from earlier in the campaign, sadly on Saturday they simply failed turn up and ultimately paid a heavy price.
Two goals in a three-minute spell from John Cant and Kevin Slack during the opening stages knocked Gary Middleton’s side off track.
And when Tim Haddock added a third ten minutes into the second half, the game was effectively over.
Little had materialised from the kick-off amongst the early sparring, but then Shortwood took a stranglehold on proceedings with the two goals in quick succession.
Both were defensively poor from an Ashington side who were initially breached by the most basic of free kicks in the ninth minute.
Jake Parrott clipped the ball to the far post where it was headed back across by Anton Axton for Cant to steer inside the upright.
If that goal was a wake up call for the Colliers, the second was gut wrenching.
A through ball saw Ashington harbour hopes of an offside decision which never came as Slack escaped Liam Atkin and after advancing, the striker’s left foot toe poke beat keeper Karl Dryden, struck the inside of the near post and cannoned off the other before nestling into the back of the net.
A superb 60 yards pass from the back by skipper Atkin then released Andy Dugdale in the inside left channel and he won a corner.
And from Damen Mullen’s deep cross, Gareth Rees headed well over.
That represented Ashington’s first real chance – after an earlier run of promise from Andrew Johnson had fizzled out.
But it was Dryden who kept his side in the hunt on the half hour, twice parrying from consecutive strikes from Slack.
The Colliers, looking surprisingly lethargic and leggy on an albeit sticky surface, still struggled to make inroads and even when Johnson won the ball from James Coates, the full back recovered to stop him in his tracks as the Ashington man shaped to go inside.
A ball over the top saw home keeper Tom King just beat Phill Bell to intercept, then after the stopper had punched out from Johnson, the midfielder was off target from the rebound.
The final action of the half saw Mullen head straight at King after a Paul Buzzeo cross from the right.
But despite enjoying more possession, it had been a performance so far by an out of sorts Ashington side.
After the turn around, and although lacking their usual fluency, the visitors started the second period with good work from Mark O’Dea, but his cross to the near post was collected by King.
O’Dea then had a rasping shot deflected wide and then headed over before the home side effectively wrapped the game up with a galling third.
Parrott’s free kick from the left to the far post looked to be drifting out of play until Haddock appeared from nowhere to steer a free header across Dryden and into the far corner.
Bell and O’Dea had chances before substitute Gareth Bainbridge shaved the post in the 88th minute, and two minutes later Shortwood replacement Chris Mortlock did likewise – but by then it was all academic.
The embers still flicker over Ashington’s exit from the competition at Long Buckby last year – now albeit after breaking new ground by reaching the last 16 this time round – the Colliers are sadly forced to reflect and contemplate on a woeful showing in deepest Gloucestershire.
Ashington: Dryden, Buzzeo, Scott, Taylor (Tait 57 mins), Atkin, Rees, Johnson, Dugdale (Bainbridge 50 mins), Bell, O’Dea, Mullen. Subs not used: Hogg, Grieve, Lough.
On Saturday Ashington are at home to Stokesley with a 3pm kick-off.