By Brian Bennett
Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner was left pulling his hair out after his side threw away an early two goal lead at Billingham Town on Saturday and came within a whisker of losing the contest at Bedford Terrace.
Skinner said afterwards: “I thought I had seen it all in football. However, I’m not sure I can believe the game which I’ve just witnessed in terms of a team (Ashington) who started really brightly, played quickly, were on the front foot and tried to go out and find a little bit of confidence to play the way we had played earlier in the season. We came out and did that and Jamie (Hanson) scores a brilliant first goal following a great move up the side, a great ball in and he did really well to finish it. We’ve worked a little bit with Jamie making those runs and have talked to him about that run across the front post. Then it was almost a carbon copy for the second goal really only this time the goalkeeper (Jack Norton) has made a fantastic save from Hanson and Luke Salmon has done what he does really well – following things in and has managed to prod the ball home. At 2-0 you think ‘this could be good’ and what we needed in terms of a win going into a cup game against Guisborough on Tuesday night – then we slowed the play down, stopped playing quickly, wanted too many touches on the ball, dwelled on the ball in really bad positions and conceded a really poor goal. We didn’t deal with the ball over the top and the player has wriggled free. We tell people to open their shoulders in the middle so they can see the player and the cross coming in but they’ve closed their body off and watched the ball and left Terry Stephenson with a free header in the six yards box.”
He continued: “We then think ‘let’s steady this’ but how do you legislate for someone back heeling the ball in the box when you are defending and you can’t see what’s behind you? They pinched the ball and score – that said Luke Salmon it was with the error but then he’s probably saved us a point at the end. Luke has gone from following in and scoring to costing us an equalising goal by back heeling the ball in the box and then by hook or by crook with last ditch defending has managed to get the ball off the line literally in the last few seconds. To be fair our ‘keeper Adam (McHugh) has made a great save in stoppage time at the end of the first half for us to go in level. Then we come out second half where we still wanted to be positive and recreate that first 20 minutes but we conceded. I thought it was a foul (on Ben Harmison) if I’m honest but they’ve scored and then we’ve had a sin bin in amongst all that. In the first half Jamie Hanson hit the post then in the second half we’ve hit the post again, the crossbar twice and all of a sudden I’m wondering ‘is it meant not to be?’ In the last three of the 90 minutes plus the added time, we could have won it after getting into some fantastic positions but our delivery today – whether it be in open play or set play – was really poor – then Billingham have had two great chances to win it.” He went on: “I’ve probably seen Ashington’s season in one game today – for the first 20 minutes the Ashington who have done really, really well this campaign and who have played some fantastic free flowing football and have scored some really good goals but then I saw the achilles heel Ashington who like to make things interesting and concede poor goals defensively as a team. We are great when we are going forward and scoring goals but for 25 minutes until half time when we haven’t got the ball, questionable in terms of how hard we work to make it difficult for the opposition. That Ashington carried on a little bit after the break then during the last ten minutes or so, you see the front foot Ashington who appeared to be stronger again and who looked as if they had the legs on them (Billingham). Certainly in the closing stages we looked fitter and were moving the ball and causing them problems. Having said that, we nearly got caught – but it’s a point which stops the run of four consecutive defeats.”