ASHINGTON CFC manager Gary Middleton is calling on his side’s supporters to be the 12th man as the Colliers meet arch rivals Bedlington Terriers in a high noon STL Northern League first division derby showdown at Woodhorn Lane on Bank Holiday Monday.
Middleton – greatly heartened by a record-breaking 1,242 attendance against a Newcastle United XI in a pre-season game, followed by a crowd of 238 for Ashington’s first home game of the season against Newton Aycliffe last midweek – has been quick to acknowledge the depth and quality of the side built during the close season by his counterparts, Tony Lowery and Keith Perry at Bedlington.
The Colliers boss has labelled the Terriers squad to being similar to the Welfare Park outfit which won five consecutive Northern League championships from the 1997-98 to 2001-02 seasons, as well as being losing finalists to Tiverton Town in the 1999 FA Carlsberg Vase at Wembley Stadium.
And he knows his side will face a stern test of character.
Honours finished even last term in the derby clashes, with both sides winning on their opponents ground.
Middleton believes the home crowd at Ashington can play their part and have an impact on the outcome.
“Bedlington have really strengthened during the summer and should be one of those teams up in the top four of the league, challenging for the title,” he said.
“I believe their squad is as strong as I have seen since the days where they continuously won the league and got to the Vase final.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but one which we will be up for, and a local derby always brings the best out of my players, so one we will be looking forward too.”
Hoping for bumper support, Middleton added: “We want the locals to turn up and to be our 12th man on Monday – and to hopefully give us that little bit edge.”
As for his team selection, the Colliers boss added: “There are a few aches and pains at the moment in the squad, which is normal for this stage of the season, but we will hopefully get through this busy week first before we concentrate on Monday.”
Bedlington joint manager Lowery said: “We are looking forward to it – it will be a tight affair and the match can go either way.
“We will prepare for it just as any other and will be looking to get a performance out of the players, whilst for the supporters, it’s a lovely game to win.”
For the Terriers, doubts surround Mark Convery and John Brackstone, who are both rated at having 50-50 chances, whilst one or two players are short on fitness after returning from holiday breaks and others have niggles.
Meanwhile Lowery believes that the STL Northern League is becoming a more difficult proposition and that no club will run away with the league.
He said: “We’re trying to improve, and every other club including Ashington are trying to do the same.
“The division is getting stronger every year with more and more good players coming into the league, which is making it more competitive every year.
“And whereas you maybe had a few easy games in the past, those days are gone.
“We have signed some good quality players, the signs were good pre-season and so far we’re happy.
“I think the important thing is not to dwell on a defeat.
“Spennymoor are the benchmark whilst Whitley Bay are a smashing outfit – but I could go on and on.
“Teams will cut each other’s throats and I believe no one club will run away with the league because there are a lot of sides in the mix.”