By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner announced that new striker Scott Heslop is ‘registered and available for selection’ as the Colliers make the short journey to face Newcastle Benfield at Sam Smith’s Park tomorrow evening (February 24).

Proven goal scorer Heslop has joined the Wansbeck outfit from West Auckland – although he was not involved for the County Durham side when the two teams met at Woodhorn Lane last weekend which resulted in a convincing 4-0 home win.

The 28 year old, who has also played higher up the footballing pyramid for Dunston UTS and Consett, trained for the first time with his new team mates on Tuesday night and is delighted to have put pen to paper: “Things didn’t work out for me at West Auckland and when Ashington’s assistant manager Andy Coyles spoke to me, he was singing the praises of the club – about how well it is run – so I snapped his hands off. I thought it was the right move for me and my target is to hopefully help the lads and the club to get promoted.”

Gateshead-born Heslop – a software engineer – was a member of the successful Dunston UTS side in the 2018-19 season when after winning the Ebac Northern League’s first division, they took the next step up. And under Coyles’s management at Consett, the forward who is based in Low Fell, also chipped in with goals – including the first for the Steelmen in their 2-1 play-off win against Histon last season which saw them promoted from the ENL: “Last year I netted ten for Dunston in the league above and then about nine for Consett,” added Heslop.

A patient Skinner has finally got the player under his wing: “It’s a bit of a long story really,” said the boss, “I knew Scott when he was a youngster at the Newcastle Academy as I was his coach. It’s a one of those situations where you follow the progress of players who you have coached in that sort of environment. I tried to sign him when he left Dunston UTS but at the time, he chose Consett over us mainly because I think they were still in the FA Vase and were pushing to be league champions so I didn’t hold that against him. However I always said he would be someone who I’d be interested in bringing to Ashington – because he’s a goal scorer.”

He continued:  “During this season, we had a little run of games where we found goals hard to come by; albeit winning matches but only by the odd goal. Then we had a situation where Dan Maguire pulled up in a couple of games with injury; Dean Briggs picked up a knock; AJ (Adam Johnson) was unavailable through working commitments -and all of a sudden we looked a little bit short. I did say recently if I could bring one or two faces in, just to freshen the group up towards the end of the season, I would. We brought Lewis Green in and I just thought that Scott hadn’t played much for West Auckland so I got our secretary Gav Perry to put in an enquiry to see if he would be available and we got some positive vibes back that he might be.”

He went on: “It took a little bit of time to sort out but we got permission to speak to Scott. So the fact that I knew him; had tried to sign him before; the fact that he had played for Andy (Coyles) second half of least season at Consett – and I can remember him scoring against us in the away game up there – all pointed in the right direction. Scott was hungry to play so we managed to get things done and he will add additional firepower to the squad – I’ve no doubt about that. AJ (Adam Johnson) is available again after having work commitments; Dan Maguire came back into the side last Saturday; Ben Harmison scored four goals in a week and we have Lee Mason – so it’s a nice problem to have. We’ve gone from being a little bit thin on the ground to maybes having some riches in terms of centre forwards but that’s what we want because we are at the business end of the season and we need to keep winning games.”

He added: “Newton Aycliffe are going off like a steam train at the top of the division with nine straight wins – and we have got them to play twice next month – and I just need everybody in my dressing room to stay focussed. By adding two pieces of quality in Lewis Green and Scott Heslop, it’ll keep people on their toes. I’ve got players who will be sat on the bench desperate for an opportunity and not only that; we’ll have a little bit of depth in the squad now. We’ll have a couple of people who maybes aren’t in the squad who’ll be itching to get back in (the squad) – and that’s the way it should be.”

Tomorrow’s match at Newcastle Benfield has a 7.30pm kick-off.