By Brian Bennett
Ashington’s levels of performance which has been so unpredictable over the past few weeks continued on Saturday when they had the game in the palm of their hands against basement side Billingham Town but contrived to press the self destruct button and ended up sharing the spoils.
The Colliers held an early 2-0 lead on Teesside but five minutes into the second found themselves trailing 3-2. Substitute Jordan Lashley equalised and in the closing stages whilst Ashington could have won the contest, equally they could have lost it as well.
Ian Skinner’s side made an electrifying start with two well crafted goals in the opening ten minutes. The first arrived in the sixth minute when Ben Sampson played the ball into the danger zone for Jamie Hanson who steered a right footer past ‘keeper Jack Norton from six yards.
The second was almost a carbon copy of the first. Again the build up came down the right only on this occasion Max Cowburn whipped over a cross and after Hanson’s shot had been blocked by Norton, Luke Salmon hammered home the rebound.
It could have been three in the 19th minute when Sampson and Lewis Suddick combined but when the latter put the ball into the area, Hanson’s header was fractionally wide of the far post.
However, midway through the period, Billingham halved the deficit. Oliver Cann chipped the ball into the middle from near the by line for the unmarked Terry Stephenson to head home.
A significant turning point came in the next minute. Karl Ross found Cowburn and when he centred, Hanson – on the stretch – saw his effort come back into play after hitting the base of the post.
Five minutes later, the scores were level. Salmon’s back-heel in the area was punished to the full as Daniel Boyle fired wide of Adam McHugh and inside the upright.
And in the second minute of stoppage time, Andrew Nelson spurned a marvellous opportunity to put the hosts ahead after wriggling free of the visitors defence to be clean through but McHugh came to Ashington’s rescue clutching the full back’s left footer.
Billingham started the second half the brighter of the two outfits and in the 50th minute, they got their noses in front after a free-kick from the right was knocked over to the far side of the area. When it was played back into the centre, Cann fired home.
Ashington appealed for a foul on Ben Harmison, and were reduced to ten men when Curtis Coppen was sin binned for ten minutes but on the hour mark, Cowburn raided down the flank and his cross found Suddick whose effort went wide of Norton only to smack against the woodwork.
McHugh was called into the action on 65 minutes pushing out a shot from substitute Ashley Lavan before the Colliers had a string of opportunities to draw level.
A free-kick by Suddick was narrowly missed at the back post by the inrushing Sampson then following another Suddick restart, Ross lifted the ball over.
Ashington introduced Tom Bramley pushing Harmison up front and ten minutes from time the visiting skipper failed to get a proper connection onto a long searching cross from the right by Liam Doyle.
Jordan Lashley – whose four goals after coming on as a sub changed the outcome of the result at Redcar – replaced the injured Hanson and came up trumps in the 83rd minute.
Coppen’s long ball forward was played into Lashley’s path by Harmison and the substitute made no mistake with an emphatic left footed finish from 14 yards wide of Norton.
It was game-on for the closing stages. Lashley was clean through with only Norton to beat but got no height on his attempted chip over the advanced Norton who was grateful to pouch.
A ball played in by Suddick hit the bar and was cleared to safety then the midfielder was just off target with a free kick from 20 yards.
At the other end, Cameron Painter’s shot in the third minute of five which was added on, was shifted from inside the six yards box by Coppen and with virtually the last kick of the game, Salmon got back to prevent a Billingham winner as he made make a brilliant goal-line clearance.