By Brian Bennett
Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner could not hide his disappointment on Saturday night after his side had gone down by a 4-1 score line against Newton Aycliffe – the leaders of the Ebac Northern League’s first division.
Victory for Skinner’s outfit would have seen them leapfrog over their County Durham opponents on goal difference – but the Newtonians came out on top to go six points clear although the Colliers have two games in hand.
Ashington were forced to make a reshuffle before kick off when Andrew Cartwright pulled out through injury. Craig Spooner reverted to full back and Dean Briggs slotted into the midfield.
Both sides finished the first half with ten men. Ashington skipper Ben Harmison saw red after quarter of an hour and Oscar Eckley-Aldsworth followed shortly before the break.
Skinner said afterwards: “Obviously my initial reaction is one of disappointment. I was disappointed with all four goals which we conceded but if we look at it logically, what I did say before the game regardless of the result was that nothing would be won today and all we have lost is three points. People will be looking at it (the result) and thinking in terms of the final league table – but I can stand here now and say that if we win every game between now and the end of the season, nobody can finish above us – so it’s still all to play for.”
Reflecting on the match from kick-off, Skinner said: “I thought we started the game quite well and moved the ball quite well but then we have conceded a really poor goal where they (Aycliffe) worked a little three versus two in the wide area and the cross came in too early and it’s a free header at the back post so that was really, really disappointing. The second goal is totally avoidable after we gave the ball away which allows them to break and he (Liam Adamson) finishes it. We are 2-0 down and have ten men and you think ‘it’s going to take a big effort’ – but we’ve done it before this season ironically against Aycliffe in the FA Cup where we came back to win it 3-2 – albeit when we had 11 players on the park. Then we score after a good little quick movement where Dan Maguire has taken on his shot early to make it 2-1. We dominated for the final few minutes and didn’t want the half to end because we were right on top and had another couple of half chances to come in level.”
He continued: “Then half time becomes a little bit chaotic. Aycliffe have just gone down to ten men and haven’t had time to really re-adjust and from our point of view, we’re not sure how they are going to set up – so all we could do was to focus on ourselves. We talked about how we could cause them some problems – and being really brave going man for man almost out of possession and we would see how the game developed. We started really brightly and certainly dominated the ball although they had a couple of minutes early on where they tried to slow things down. We had lots of the ball and probed but never really threatened the goal enough and I think the big moment was where Dan Maguire has wriggled free and his cross-cum-shot has rolled along the line and hit Dean Briggs’s heel – and I don’t know how the ball hasn’t gone in. If we had scored then to level at 2-2, I think we would have go on to win it.”
He went on: “As the game draws on you are looking and thinking ‘we are going to have to start taking one or two risks to see if we can nick a point.’ Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Would I change anything? I probably wouldn’t make four subs all in one go like I did. If you think we’ve only got ten players on the pitch, I’ve changed 40% of the team so that was a big change to expect the subs to get straight up to game speed and be able to play and I probably should have split it into two twos. That said, after we made the changes, we did lose our way a little bit. I don’t know whether it was how we were trying to play but I was also disappointed with one or two players in how we ended the game. Towards the end – bearing in mind we were only a goal away from being in the game – we were certainly very poor in the two goals which we conceded late on. People might look at it and think it was because we were pushing forward to try and get an equaliser but that doesn’t wash with me – those two goals were massively avoidable and with the second half being ten versus ten, Aycliffe have beat us 2-0 and that’s not acceptable.”
On Saturday (March 11), Ashington are at home to Guisborough Town (3pm). Skinner will await a fitness report from Andrew Cartwright whilst Darren Lough and Scott Heslop are still likely to be sidelined.