SKINNER: “THE GOALS WE CONCEDED WERE VERY DISAPPOINTING”

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner saw his side go out of the Techflow Marine Northumberland Senior Cup on Wednesday night after they went down 3-1 against Heaton Stannington at Grounsell Park.

With a home tie beckoning for the winners of the clash, a quickfire start from the hosts – where they scored twice in the opening quarter hour – proved pivotal. Then after dominating the play, the Colliers conceded a third in the dying embers of the contest.

Skinner said: “I thought the three goals we conceded were very disappointing. Probably for about 70 minutes of the game we controlled it but the final third let us down. Obviously I’m disappointed but there are also mixed feelings to be fair. There were some things which I was really, really disappointed with whilst there were others which I was quite pleased with.”

Talking about the negative side, Skinner said: “I was disappointed with the way we started the game. We knew when we came here that they (Heaton Stannington) would come flying out at us; we knew that their threat was the two players with pace who they like to leave high (up the pitch) and play quickly into them. But after five minutes, we conceded a poor goal which was avoidable. We know the lad who has gone down the left is right footed so we know he wants to come inside – yet we’ve allowed him to do that and it opens the goal up and fair play to him (Konner Lamb), he finished it really well. Then the second goal is a mistake. Andrew Cartwright gave the ball away in a bad area – we got punished for it – and that puts us 2-0 down.”

However, the boss was pleased with the response from his side: “From that moment on for the rest of the half we actually came to life a little bit. We moved the ball and kept it better and caused them all sorts of problems – and we penned them in for probably the last 25 minutes of the half. We got the penalty which I didn’t think there was any doubt about and it was a fantastic finish from Damen Mullen from the spot – and if anybody wants to know how to take a penalty, I’ll send him the video!”

He continued: “We got in at half time and really gave the players a clear emphasis on what we expected from them in the second half in terms of how we wanted them to play and again I thought we dominated the ball. I think they (Heaton Stannington) only got into our half two or three times but to their credit, they battled and scrapped and made it difficult for us whilst we got into some fantastic areas but were too sloppy in the final third.”

The home side added a third goal in the closing minutes and Skinner said: “Again I was really disappointed because if anybody was going to score it should have been us. When they (Heaton Stannington) got a free kick, we know the lad Cassidy has got a decent delivery. Our ‘keeper Kyle Hayes, has made a fantastic save to be fair but they were first to react to it (scoring from the rebound), which probably sums up our night. We are out of a competition now where we would have had a home semi final tie but we wish Heaton Stannington all the best.”

He concluded: “We will train tonight (Thursday) as we prepare for our away clash in the league against Crook Town on Saturday but Andrew Cartwright and Yannick Aziakonou are both rated doubtful.”

COYLES: “IT’S ALL TO PLAY FOR”

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC’s assistant manager Andy Coyles licked his lips in anticipation ahead of tonight’s quarter final tie of the Techflow Marine Northumberland Senior Cup against Heaton Stannington at Grounsell Park and said: “It’s all to play for!”

The two sides met twice in a little over five weeks earlier in the season in their Ebac Northern League games with The Stan winning 1-0 at Woodhorn Lane with a breakaway goal netted by Konner Lamb after ‘keeper Greg Purvis had saved a penalty from Ben Harmison.

However, Harmison had the final say when they met again at Heaton Stannington with Ashington’s skipper scoring a late equaliser to cancel out an opener from Daniel Stephenson.

On Saturday, Sunderland West End versus Horden CW in the ENL second division, was the only game to go ahead with the rest of the programme wiped out due to frozen pitches. Ashington were scheduled to be at home to Redcar Athletic whilst Heaton Stannington were due to host Newcastle Benfield.

Consequently the first division table remained unchanged with Ashington sitting fourth from top with The Stan six points behind in sixth place.

Speaking ahead of the cup tie, Coyles said: “It’s a quarter final so it’s all to play for. From our point of view, the clash is just as important as in the league and it’s about who manages the game well and makes the right decisions.”

He continued: “We’ll have a full squad to choose from and will have five or six lads back who weren’t available for that second game against Heaton Stannington in November.”

The winners of tonight’s tie will be at home to North Shields or Blyth Spartans in the semi final.

Kick-off is 7.30pm

MASON: “I KNEW I WAS ON PENALTY TAKING DUTIES!”

By Brian Bennett | Photo: Rachel McDonald

Ashington FC’s Lee Mason took his goalscoring exploits to a round dozen for the season on Saturday when his 42nd minute strike clinched a 1-0 victory over Seaham Red Star.

The 31 year old striker stepped forward to take over the role of penalty taker – and successfully netted – after the Colliers had missed spot kicks in their last two matches against Whitley Bay and Penrith.

Newcastle-born Mason said afterwards: “I was always going to take a penalty if we got one awarded today and I was happy with the finish.”

After securing back to back wins (against Penrith and Seaham) Blyth-based Mason – who works for Northumberland County Council – hopes this will be the start of another unbeaten run: “Any sort of win in this league is good because they’re massively tough to come by,” he said, “With two wins on the bounce, we are getting back on track but we need to go on a long run again.”

COYLES: “IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW YOU WIN”

By Brian Bennett | Photo: Ian Brodie

Ashington FC’s assistant manager Andy Coyles was delighted after the Colliers had strung back to back victories together with the slender 1-0 verdict against Seaham Red Star on Saturday.

Lee Mason’s emphatically struck penalty just prior to half time was enough to make it maximum points from two games for the Wansbeck side following on from the 2-1 win over Penrith the previous week.

On a windswept day near the coast, the game was competitive. It contained little in the way of goalmouth action – but Coyles was nevertheless pleased on several fronts: “That’s two wins in two games after a bad run of form,” he said afterwards, “It doesn’t matter how you do it – three points is all that matters. It was ugly at times today and we knew conditions were difficult especially in the first half but in the second period we just managed the game well. Did we play well by our standards? No – but game management wise, I thought we were excellent; our decision making was good and we played in the right areas at the right times.”

He continued: “I thought our lads were resilient in that first half. It was a really strong wind which they were kicking against and as a result, anything which we attempted going forward just kept coming back no matter how we played. We broke the play up when we needed to and our objective was to come in at half time with a clean sheet which we achieved.”

Mason tucked home from the spot after Dan Maguire had been fouled in the box – a decision which was disputed by the home outfit: “It was fantastic to go ahead,” added Coyles, “I thought there were two key moments in the opening half. The first came on 24 minutes when Ben Harmison made a one-on-one tackle at the back and his timing was excellent – if he didn’t get it right it would have either been a penalty or the Seaham lad would have been through on goal. The second incident was the link up play which led to the penalty and we got our just rewards for our hard work.”

He continued: “I think it was our first half display rather than our second which won us the game and it’s about momentum now. All the top teams have to play each other and points will be dropped from now until the end of the season and our aim has to be to keep things going and continue to put points on the board.”

Several players came in for warm praise from the assistant boss: “I thought there were a couple of stand out performances,” he said, “When Karl Ross came on as a substitute, I thought he was fantastic. He was running around and gave us an extra ounce of energy; Ben Harmison defended really well at the back and made some last ditch tackles; Ben Sampson was very good in the middle of the park and I think he has had two and a half very solid games because when he came on against Whitley Bay, I thought he did very well. However, someone else who deserves a mention is Damen Mullen. He was a huge miss in those four games where we only managed to collect a draw and since he came back it’s no coincidence that we’ve started picking up the points and collectively our performances have been a lot better with him in there as the midfield general.”

He added: “We’ve got a tough week with three games in seven days so again although it’s all about getting the points it’s also about managing the players and getting the best out of them. Whether our supporters realised it or not, during that recent spell of four games where we weren’t able to pick up as many points as we would have liked, we had a lot of injuries but now those players are all back and fighting fit. We have got a healthy squad – there is competition for places – and that can only be good.”

JOHNSON: “IT WAS NICE TO GET BACK ON THE GOALS TRAIL”

By Brian Bennett | Photo: Ian Brodie

Adam Johnson scored the winner for Ashington on Saturday against Penrith – and afterwards said that it was nice to get back on the score sheet.

Although the Colliers dominated proceedings throughout against the Cumbrians and led with a Robbie Dale goal shortly before half time, they were stunned when Luke Hunter hammered home a 73rd minute equaliser.

But minutes later, Johnson – who had only been on the pitch for five minutes as a substitute – put his side back in front and the Wansbeck outfit not only went on to wrap up three welcome points but complete a season’s double: “I’ve been frustrated a little bit,” said Johnson, “I had a conversation with the manager (Ian Skinner) which was about confidence and taking too many touches, so it was nice to get back on the goals trail today. Once one goal goes in, you start to feel a bit more confident and hopefully I can now kick on.”

The 26 year old reckons his strike may have caught Penrith ‘keeper Aaran Taylor unawares: “When I hit it, the ball went through a few legs and I don’t think the ‘keeper saw it until late and luckily it went into the bottom corner,” he said, “After that, I could have added another but the ‘keeper – who had a blinder – made a brilliant save to be fair.”

Johnson added that one of his targets is to make a telling contribution for his home town team: “I’d like to have a more consistent role and hopefully that will happen now that I’ve got a goal under my belt today,” he said, “I’d also love to contribute more – anything to get us further up the league and gets some more wins behind us. Before the game we spoke about how it didn’t matter how we got things done – we just had to get a win today especially after a few defeats – and we achieved that.”

Manager Ian Skinner said: “AJ (Adam Johnson) has been chomping at the bit really. He’s been in and out of the side and we’ve had a little chat to him about one or two things. We told him to play on his instinct because he’s better when he does that. For the goal, AJ took his chance early and the ball has gone through bodies and caught the ‘keeper by surprise. I’m pleased for Adam because he’s a great character and a likeable lad who always works hard and is honest in everything he does. He’s played through the middle and out wide and he just gets on and does a job for us.”

SKINNER ON PENRITH STOPPER AARAN TAYLOR

“THAT PERFORMANCE IS UP THERE AS BEING AS GOOD A GOALKEEPING DISPLAY THAT I’VE EVER SEEN”

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner hailed a crème dela crème goalkeeping performance on Saturday as his outfit hit the victory trail for the first time in five matches with a narrow 2-1 verdict over Penrith.

Colliers sub Adam Johnson struck the winner after Luke Hunter had cancelled out an opener from the home sides Robbie Dale.

However, the Woodhorn Lane boss was not lauding one of his own stoppers but Aaran Taylor – the custodian for the Cumbrians!

Skinner commented afterwards: “All I will say is I that I hope the Penrith lads bought their ‘keeper a drink or two either at the bar or at a stop off on the trip back across to Cumbria. That performance from Aaran Taylor is up there with as good a goalkeeping display that I’ve ever seen – certainly I can’t think of too many better ones since watching the game as a kid through to coaching for the last 20 years. The save he made from Lee Mason’s header in the first half – where he’s going the wrong way and throws an arm out and tips the ball onto the bar – was unbelievable but that was just one of many. We were probably in double figures for the number of chances we created and I’m not just talking about saves which Aaran made – I’m talking about him making saves which were top drawer.”

SKINNER: “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT WE WON”

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner – delighted with his outfit after the 2-1 victory over Penrith at Woodhorn Lane on Saturday – said that the most important aspect was the result.

The Woodhorn Lane boss commented: “The most important thing is that we won and put three points on the board. We are in the results business and I think I’ve said it many times that yes I want us to play really, really well and to win games of football – but it we can’t play really well, I just want us to win. Today we felt as if whatever it looked like or however it happened, we just needed to win – and credit to the players because after the defeat against Whitley Bay on Boxing Day, we had a chat about one or two things and where we could improve. The players have trained really well and have been fantastic with their attitude and application. The numbers (at training) have been 20 plus at every session which was pleasing and they have taken it out onto the pitch.”

Skinner was happy from the kick off: “I thought we started brightly,” he said, “We wanted to take the game to Penrith and show our intent from the off. We wanted to see if we could control the game and maybes get into a position where we could force home our authority and we did all of that other than putting the ball into the net. We’ve missed some gilt edged chances and their ‘keeper (Aaran Taylor) has made some unbelievable saves. We‘ve also missed a penalty – but we’ll not dwell on that – and then we have scored a goal right on half time which is a nice time because some of the frustrations that we may have had (had we come in level), diminished somewhat.”

He continued: “At the interval, we talked about making sure we started the second period in exactly the same way as we had begun the first half but 19 seconds in, we had a corner against us and you’re thinking ‘please no’. We created a number of chances; their ‘keeper has made two or three brilliant saves and whether it was tiredness as the pitch was heavy, we just seemed to get a little bit deeper and gave them (Penrith) a ten minutes spell where we invited them to come onto us a little bit. They started to push forward a little and Ashington being Ashington we conceded a poor goal which made it 1-1 and you’re then looking around and wondering what reactions we are going to get. But again credit to the players. We could have ended up with a draw or even worse a defeat but credit to them (the players) because we got on the front foot again and I also utilised the five substitutes to make sure we got some fresh legs on.”

He went on: “It wasn’t pretty today but we challenged the players and I mentioned recently about getting back to working hard – and I don’t think anybody can say that they (the players) haven’t worked hard today – and we were just pleased to get back onto the winning track.”

Skinner added that they will take things a week at a time: “We will train twice this week and start to prepare to play Seaham Red Star away next Saturday – and that’s all we will be doing,” he said, “We talked about a narrow focus of one week at a time because there has been too much interference about games in hand and if we do this with these games in hand we’ll get this and if we don’t do this we’ll end up with that.”

Skinner said that he will again have a virtually full squad to choose from for the coming weekend.

SKINNER LAYS DOWN CHALLENGE TO HIS PLAYING SQUAD

IAN SKINNER: “LET’S SEE IF WE CAN GO ON ANOTHER POSITIVE RUN – WHICH WE ARE MORE THAN CAPABLE OF DOING”

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner has challenged his squad to replicate the vast majority of the first half of the season as the second segment gets under way on Saturday (January 7) with the Colliers at home to Penrith (3pm).

Skinner – whilst having his Festive celebrations dampened following the 2-1 defeat on Boxing Day against Whitley Bay at Woodhorn Lane – said that on reflection, the club can’t be anything other than pleased with the first half: “Obviously the current run of four games without a win slightly dampens where we are and probably takes a little bit of the shine off but what we can’t do is to forget or lose sight of where we have come from,” he said, “I’ve been reflecting a little bit now that we are at the half way point and it’s the first little bump in the road that we’ve hit in a while. We finished last season on a massive high by winning the Ebac Northern League first division cup and then for the first competitive game of the new campaign, contested the Cleator Cup final against North Shields and got a positive result with a 3-2 victory. So in two games, we were successful in collecting two pieces of silverware – and for ten years prior, this club hadn’t won anything.”

He continued: “We started the season really, really well, winning seven and drawing two of our first nine league games and then went on that amazing run in the Emirates FA Cup where we beat teams from two and three divisions above us but since that defeat in the fourth qualifying round at King’s Lynn, it’s interesting. Since that day we haven’t quite been the same if I’m honest, winning five, losing four and drawing two matches. And if you look at King’s Lynn, they’ve suffered a little bit the same. So they had a good result against us then beat Doncaster before they lost to Stevenage – and since then they’ve stuttered a little bit in the league and are trying to find their feet in terms of getting back on track. I said it at the time that the FA Cup is a fantastic competition when you’re in it but it’s ruthless and the minute you go out, it’s a massive comedown and you’re forgotten about. We’ve rode our luck a little bit since we got knocked out so after leading 2-0 against West Allotment Celtic, certainly scoring in the last minute to get the winner was pleasing (after they had come back to level at 2-2) and we followed that with a fantastic result against Bishop Auckland (5-0). I think what we have just got to remember is yes the last four games have been disappointing but where we actually are as a club considering where we have been previously. Yes we should be further ahead in terms of points to where we are but that said we’ve only lost four league games so far. We are half way through and if we were to only lose four more in the second half of the season, we’ll be in with a decent shout (at the top end of the table).”

He went on: “We have got to get back to the standards we set earlier in the season and that will come from working hard but in terms of overall reflection, I think we can’t be anything other than pleased with the progress which the club is making. Probably not as pleased as I would have been three or four weeks ago when I would have used the word ‘delighted.’ But we have got to keep putting things into context. This football club hadn’t won silverware and hadn’t progressed as far in the FA Cup for many years and hasn’t been challenging in and around the top two and three in the league for a long time either. We’ve sat down as a group and had a little look at where we now are at the half way stage. There have been one or two things spoken about in terms of needing to improve whilst not forgetting all the hard work we have done and whilst our last four results is starting to become a slight concern, it’s not a crisis. It’s maybes about refocusing and realigning our goals to what we want to achieve come the end of the season and kicking on in the second half and taking things week by week and game by game. Let’s not get too carried away and let us stick together. We all need to row in the same direction and see if we can go on another positive run which we are more than capable of doing. There’s no doubt in my mind that this group of players I’ve got are good enough to go on another long unbeaten run – that’s the challenge to them – and if we can do that, we’ll see where it takes us.”

Also looming up in the near future, is Ashington’s away tie against Heaton Stannington in the quarter final of the Techflow Marine Northumberland Senior Cup on Wednesday January 18 with the winners at home to North Shields or Blyth Spartans.

Skinner has had his players in for training since the reverse against Whitley Bay and for Saturday’s game against Penrith hopes to be able to choose from virtually a full squad of between 20-22 players.

Meanwhile Ashington Football Club were saddened to hear of the passing of Barry Hindson. Barry covered games on the radio for BBC Newcastle featuring teams in our region and was a stalwart of the non-league scene. The club send their condolences to Barry’s family and friends at this sad time.

SKINNER: “WE NEED TO GET BACK TO BASICS”

By Brian Bennett | Photo: Ian Brodie

Ashington FC manager Ian Skinner said after the 2-1 Boxing Day defeat by Whitley Bay that his side need to get back to basics.

In front of a crowd of 771 on a bitterly cold day in Wansbeck, Skinner saw his outfit look lively early on. They took the lead through Lee Mason and skipper Ben Harmison had a chance to double the lead but blazed over a 39th minute penalty.

The Seahorses stung the Colliers immediately after the interval and after drawing level through Lewis Orrell, Luke Porritt netted what proved to be the winner.

Skinner said afterwards: “Obviously I’m disappointed with the result and some of the things in our play that happened during the game although there were other aspects which pleased me. We had a couple of chances in the first half through Lee Mason where the Whitley Bay ‘keeper (Dan Lister) has made a great save then Mason put us ahead and I keep saying if we get one chance to drop to anybody in the club it should be to him. Lee is a good finisher and he showed it with that goal. We looked dangerous a little bit in the first half – we were getting in between the lines and getting runners in behind their back three. Then we had a penalty and an opportunity to go 2-0 and on another day, Ben Harmison would score from the spot but he didn’t today – and it was a key moment in the game because if we had come in at half time holding a 2-0 lead it’s slightly different. We went into the dressing room at the break and there were a fair few things which we weren’t particularly pleased about.”

Whitley fashioned an equaliser inside the first minute after the resumption: “We started the second half dreadfully,” added Skinner, “We gave the ball away and conceded a really poor goal which eventually was a scramble in the six yards box and he (Lewis Orrell) poked it home and it seems to be a bit of a pattern for us at the moment that when we concede one, we ship another one quickly. We conceded three in six minutes at West Auckland and two in seven minutes today but just before their second goal we’ve had a good move with a ball into the box and Lee Mason has put it just wide.”

Shortly after, home stopper Kyle Hayes was caught out by a cross from Bailey Geliher which saw Porritt give the coast side a 2-1 lead: “You can’t legislate for individual errors which is what happened for Whitley’s second,” said the boss, “In the first instance, it was poor defending then the lad (Geliher) was stretching and he’s looked to smash the ball across to try and keep it in play. The wind has caught it; Kyle (Hayes) has misjudged it and went to try to tip it over the bar and missed it and it’s come off the front of the crossbar to Porritt at the back post who has bundled it in. After that they (Whitley Bay) were happy for us to have the ball a little bit and look to play on the counter attack and for the last 15 minutes we moved the ball but didn’t really create anything of real note. We had a couple of half chances; played balls across the box and flashed shots from the edge of the box.”

The defeat was Ashington’s third in four matches and Skinner continued: “All in all we’re naturally disappointed to lose at the half way point in our league programme. We started off the season fantastically well but we are having to adapt a bit to how we played earlier in the season. I keep mentioning pitches and again we are having to adjust. Teams are now aware of how we want to try and play and although the objective for us is to try and win every game, we are not going to do that and I think our players need to realise that they need to work a little bit harder (to win matches). In addition to the players, I think everybody connected to the club just needs to realise where it has come from. It was never going to be easy and I said at the start of the season that it would still be tough and not to get carried away. We have got a very talented group of players but to coin a favourite phrase of mine ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ We just need to get back to basics to find our winning ways and get back to working hard; being a little bit more disciplined; doing the simple things well – and if it takes a scruffy 1-0 win then so be it but the sooner we can get that win the better. Nobody is pressing the panic button but we certainly need to realise that we need to be better – first and foremost ourselves and then we need to get back to winning football matches starting at home to Penrith on January 7.”

He went on: “I wouldn’t have argued if it had finished a draw today but it wasn’t to be so congratulations to Whitley Bay manager Nicky Gray and his team who came here and won – they are having a good season themselves. On reflection you could say we probably deserved a draw – but we didn’t get one and sometimes in football you get what you deserve.”

Skinner added: “There were pleasing things – we have got goalkeeper Kyle Hayes back who has come in and played well today. Obviously he’ll be disappointed with the second goal but he made a very good save low down to his right in the first half and he’s made a decent save in the second period so it’s good to have him back to compete for the number one spot with Karl Dryden. We also managed to get some minutes into Dean Briggs who had been out for ten weeks and who certainly looked bright and lively in the first half. He played a couple of balls through but faded massively in the second half which you would expect due to fitness.”

Ashington’s next game is not until Saturday week (January 7) and Skinner said: “The schedule is all over the shop because of bank holidays and training facilities not being available. We’ll probably train again this week and then twice next week ahead of the Penrith game when I’m hoping that I should have almost a full compliment of players to pick from.”

COLLIERS LOOKING FOR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS

By Brian Bennett

Ashington FC will be looking for two Christmas presents to be delivered on Boxing Day when they take on Whitley Bay at Woodhorn Lane.

Following the recent cold snap, the first is the weather forecast which looks favourable to allow the tussle between these two local sides to go ahead.

Having banked up four consecutive postponements, the Colliers will be eager to return to action for the first time in over three weeks against a rejuvenated Seahorses outfit under manager Nicky Gray.

Consequently the contest between the Colliers, who lie in third place in the Ebac Northern League’s first division and second from top Whitley who are a point ahead, promises to be a top of the table Christmas cracker in every sense – and provided the game gets the green light, will represent the half way point in the league schedule for both clubs.

But whilst the weather remains key, the other present which the Woodhorn Lane side will be hoping for is another bumper crowd.

The Wansbeck side have already set a new attendance record this season when 1,424 came through the turnstiles in early October to watch Ian Skinner’s side beat higher status opponents Stocksbridge Park Steels 3-0 in a third qualifying round replay of the Emirates FA Cup whilst in the previous round, over 700 witnessed the 2-1 win over Bradford Park Avenue and four other home gates have attracted over 600.

Ashington chairman Brian Shotton said: “We are hoping that the game will go ahead – and if it does, then it will be over five weeks since our last home game which is far from ideal from a cash flow perspective. I know the weather has impacted on games being called off but you are also hoping to keep the interest bubbling amongst your supporters.”

He continued: “I’m hoping fans from both clubs will come out in force for the match and if they do, it could see us break through the 1,000 barrier for the second time this season for a home match. Boxing Day is a traditional footballing day in the calendar and it’s a big game between two of the best supported sides in the league – two teams who are chasing at the top of the league – so we need all the support we can get.”

The weather has resulted in cancellations for Ashington against Whickham, Redcar Athletic, Heaton Stannington and Carlisle City – the latter where the whole programme in the ENL was postponed on Saturday due to frozen pitches – but the break has allowed a number of players to recover from injuries.

For the clash, Kieran Graham will be the referee with Connor Kitson and Michael Moore as his assistants. The kick-off is 1pm.