By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner admitted that it has been a festive period with a difference – and that he will ‘proceed with caution’ before the Colliers kick off 2022 with a clash against Penrith at The dwmedia Stadium on Saturday (January 8).

When the teams run out onto the pitch, it will be the first piece of action for both sides for at least three weeks. Ashington’s last game was in mid December – the quarter final of the Techflow Marine Northumberland Senior Cup when they lost out to Newcastle United under 23’s after a penalty shoot out whilst four days later Penrith went down 2-0 in their Ebac Northern League first division match at Sunderland RCA.

However, the period of inactivity over Christmas was allocated when the season’s fixtures were released by the ENL and is a ‘first’ for Skinner who said: “I’ve been involved in senior football for 12 years and this is the first occasion I can ever remember not having a competitive match over the festive period. Obviously with Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on a Saturday, it meant no match on those days and the only time I can recall going three weeks without a game is due to inclement weather.”

He continued: “It’s an unusual situation not only for management but players because they are unfamiliar with it and we’ll not really know what effect it will have had on them until we play Penrith. Only then can we see if rest and recovery has done the squad the world of good or if it has led to them losing match sharpness – so we’ll proceed with caution.”

He went on: “We have trained and have tried to keep intensity levels high. However, our schedule has been further impacted with the bank holidays, as we have lost our usual training slots and we have had to safeguard the pitch at Woodhorn Lane which has been saturated.”

Ashington begin 2022 in seventh place in the league table with 38 points and Skinner added: “Personally I have used the little break to have a look at statistics and in the second half of the campaign we still have to play the teams who are above us. We’ll be looking to be on the front foot and trying to win as many games as we can and see where it takes us. Certainly there were lots of things which pleased me in the first half and we’ll be looking to finish the season strongly.”

Dean Briggs made his return in the match against Newcastle United under 23’s and Skinner said: “I’m delighted to have Dean back in squad – although it’ll take him a little while to get back up to speed. The break has naturally prolonged the period where he has been inactive so it will take time to get up to full speed. I’m disappointed that his career opportunity didn’t work out for him – but Dubai’s loss is Ashington’s gain.” Adam Johnson and Jordan Lashley should be available to return to the Ashington squad for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off against the Cumbrians but Max Emmerson and Tom Bramley remain sidelined.