Sam Smith's Park
By Brian Bennett
It was akin to a story which could have been associated in the fictitious ‘Roy of the Rovers’ comic strip series as Newcastle Benfield came back against all the odds to claim a second FA competition victory this season over Ashington.
Five weeks ago, the Colliers were 2-1 up against the Lions in their FA Cup clash at Woodhorn Lane before eventually losing the tie 4-3.
On Saturday the Wansbeck side led 2-0 and were cruising just after the hour mark before they inexplicably capitulated.
Despite being reduced to nine men when two of their players were sin binned for ten minute periods for separate incidents, Benfield’s talismanic striker Paul Brayson reduced the deficit - and the home side seized the initiative. The Sam Smiths Park outfit then equalised through Sam Walton before completing the turnaround when Lewis Scorgie netted what proved to be the winner.
Consequently Ashington - and their supporters - were left numb with manager Ian Skinner saying afterwards that he was “speechless” following the events which unfolded.
It may have been a five goal thriller - but it was also the proverbial game of two halves as Ashington had a strong wind on their backs in the first half and the hosts had the same after the break.
Yet it had all been positive from the visitors who dominated the opening half from the first whistle.
Inside the first minute, Tom Bramley, Paul Robinson and Jordan Summerly linked but the latter delivered a weak cross which was cut out.
Shortly afterwards, Ashington forced a corner on the left and from Danny Anderson’s delivery, Ben Harmison guided a header narrowly over.
Benfield’s only threat had stemmed from a misplaced header by Summerly which gave Brayson possession but the striker scuffed his shot and ‘keeper Karl Dryden gathered with ease.
Back came the Colliers with Robinson having a shot collected by Andrew Grainger at the second attempt then the ‘keeper fisting out an effort from Dean Briggs.
Again on the break, former Collier Jake Turnbull cut inside from the left and saw his fierce shot held by Dryden.
Within seconds, play switched to the other end and a swift one-two between Ben Sampson and Briggs released the former into the area but he was blocked out by Grainger.
On the half hour, Bramley headed over but two minutes later, Benfield’s Brayson missed a golden opportunity to put his side ahead after the home side had been awarded a penalty for a harsh handball offence.
Brayson stepped forward but blasted the spot kick high over the bar.
Five minutes later, Ashington swept into the lead through Robinson.
Karl Ross picked up a loose pass in midfield and found Ryan McGorrigan who in turn passed to Robinson who slotted the ball wide of Grainger.
Benfield had a spell before the break where Cameron Gascoigne had a shot blocked by Bramley before a rasping effort from Aiden Haley struck the top of the crossbar and went over.
The home side began the second half on the front foot. Haley found Gascoigne whose attempt at the near post was scrambled away by Dryden.
The start of what was to be a frenetic and eventful period right through to the final whistle, began in the 53rd minute when Ritchie Slaughter was sent to the sin bin for dissent and within a minute, the Lions surrounded referee Ryan Kendall after he had pointed to the spot for a second time in the contest – on this occasion to award the Colliers a penalty for a foul on Briggs.
McGorrigan made no mistake sending Grainger the wrong way.
Two minutes later, home skipper Mark Turnbull joined Slaughter in the sin bin again for dissent before two key turning points arrived on the hour.
The first came when Harmison played the ball into Briggs who went around Grainger but saw his shot cleared off the line by Scorgie then a cross by Robinson just eluded McGorrigan.
Still down to nine men, Benfield found a way back into the contest in the 61st minute when Brayson was left unattended inside the area and drove a sweet half volley wide of Dryden and into the back of the net.
Summerly, Briggs and Anderson joined forces in a nice move but it ended with Anderson hitting his shot straight at Grainger.
Back to a full compliment of players, Benfield left Ashington – who had lost their shape - shell shocked as they scored twice in five minutes to edge in front.
The equaliser came in the 72nd minute when Brayson pulled the ball back from the right. It was touched forward by a home player to Sam Walton who from almost on the line slotted in.
The all important winner arrived after Dryden had pushed over a 25 yarder by Slaughter.
Gascoigne’s corner drifted over Dryden and when the ball was played back in, Scorgie headed into the roof of the net.
McGorrigan then squared the ball for Briggs whose shot was grasped by Grainger and at the other end, substitute Jake Thompson broke free down the right but was denied by Dryden.
In the closing stages, Ashington pushed Harmison up front and he almost forced a leveller but his effort was deflected behind for a corner.
In the 90th minute, Haley was sent to the sin bin – but ten-man Benfield saw the game through without any late scares.
Ashington: Dryden, Sampson, Summerly, Anderson (Slater 80 minutes), Bramley, Harmison, Ross, Luke (Aziakonou 80 minutes), McGorrigan, Briggs, Robinson (Salmon 80 minutes)
Subs not used: Little, McHugh (gk)