Newcastle Benfield 1-1 Ashington
Ashington FC manager Steve Bowey hailed Conor Grant as being ‘one of the best goalkeepers in the league’ after the stopper had clinched his sides ‘man of the match’ award inside the opening 20 minutes of their clash against Newcastle Benfield at Sam Smiths Park on Saturday, writes Brian Bennett.
The game eventually finished all square at 1-1 – the Colliers playing out the final 25 minutes with ten men after Zak Atkinson had been sent off for two yellow cards.
But it was Grant who took the plaudits as he continually defied the home outfit with a plethora of top drawer saves during a one sided first period and afterwards Bowey said: “Conor has had an absolutely outstanding game. He is one of the best goalkeepers in the league and certainly earned his crust today.
“He made four or five world class saves and the lads have got to thank him - but that wasn’t all because his handling was impeccable and he came and caught every cross which came into the box. You look at goalkeepers and their performances - and that was up there as being one of the best I’ve seen for a long, long time.”
Grant’s action-packed afternoon began in the second minute when he held a drive from ex Collier Dale Pearson who had cut inside from the right touchline. Then in the fourth move, an intricate move by Benfield ended with Paul Brayson beating a defender but looking on as his effort was fisted away by Grant.
The custodian then thwarted Dennis Knight on two occasions as well as full back Rhys Evans and on the quarter hour Joshua Scott’s dangerous cross was cleared by Liam Armstrong. From the first whistle, Ashington had struggled to get out of their own half and the game was almost at the half way point when the Wansbeck side put together their first meaningful attack with ‘keeper Andrew Grainger plucking a cross from Jay Hornsby out of the air.
Kyle Downey went close with a free kick but it was a brief respite as Grant parried out a shot from Knight and although David Robinson headed in, the goal was disallowed for offside.
Eight minutes from the break, a move involving Pearson and Evans saw the latter pull the ball back where Brayson uncharacteristically scuffed his shot wide from 12 yards. Still the pressure from Benfield was incessant and after Pearson had volleyed over, home skipper Mark Turnbull must have thought he had broken the deadlock with a header which was cleared away by Lewis King with the home side appealing for a goal, suggesting that the ball had crossed the line.
Ironically despite being forced to man the pumps for almost the duration of the first period, Ashington could have sneaked the opener in the final minute with Sam Norris clipping the ball narrowly wide of Grainger’s left hand upright. In total contrast – and apart from a Knight/Brayson move which saw the former stroke wide - it was the Colliers who called the tune after the interval with Atkinson firing over and an effort from Jack Butler whistling wide.
Midway through, an error from Grainger gifted the visitors the lead. The experienced ‘keeper called then completely missed a cross from the right by Shaun Henderson - which allowed substitute Gerard Richardson the opportunity to poke the ball into an empty net. Three minutes later, the Colliers went down to ten men in bizarre circumstances.
As Grainger threw the ball out, Atkinson forced a stoppage in play by handling and having already been booked in the first half, was shown a second yellow card followed with a red by referee Helen Conley.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Benfield drew level. Dean Holmes had only been on the field a matter of minutes when he delivered a tantalising cross from the left which was headed in by Brayson. But it was Ashington who came close to finding a winner when in the 86th minute, a free kick by King from 25 yards rattled the bar with Grainger rooted to the spot.
*On Saturday, Ashington are at home to Seaham Red Star (3pm).