By Brian Bennett
Mason Hardy came off the bench to fire Ashington to their first league victory of the season against Stocksbridge Park Steels at the Eco Power Stadium on Saturday.
Charlie Exley had opened the scoring for the Colliers early in the contest but ten minutes later, Luke Rawson equalised from the penalty spot. Just before the hour mark, Hardy struck what proved to be the decisive goal which saw the Wansbeck side return home with all three points.
Whilst the super sub took the plaudits, Ashington will look back on an opening quarter hour where they could have cruised into a commanding lead.
They got the opener in the eighth minute when Kyle Errington found Oli Thompson down the right. The newcomer swung the ball across to the far post where it was met perfectly by Exley who squeezed a firm header between ‘keeper Henry Hampshaw and the post.
Two minutes later a delightful ball over the top of the home defence by Craig Spooner put Wilson Kneeshaw clean through down the middle with only Hampshaw to beat but the striker was thwarted by the stopper who blocked his effort.
Then Exley’s pass put Kneeshaw in the clear down the left but on this occasion, the forward clipped his shot around Hampshaw but wide of the far post.
Ashington – and Kneeshaw – were to rue those golden opportunities as the home side levelled in the 17th minute – from the spot.
Ify Ofoegbu raided down the left and when he advanced into the area, was sent sprawling by a tackle from Nathan Buddle with Rawson sending ‘keeper Karl Dryden the wrong way from the resultant penalty.
Three minutes later, Thompson was denied what would have been a superlative goal on his debut.
After picking the ball up from just outside his own penalty area, he made a surging run deep into the Stocksbridge half, cut across from left to right then unleashed a stinging effort which was fisted away to safety by Hampshaw.
The incident deservedly drew warm applause from the crowd in appreciation for both the run by Thompson and the save by Hampshaw.
Stocksbridge got stronger as the half wore on and on the half hour, Ofoegbu took the ball past the advancing Dryden but shot across the face of the goal then the stopper repelled a drive from Jack Tinker.
The sun came out for the start of the second period – and the visiting rearguard had to withstand a bit of heat from the home side.
In the 49th minute, Watson was through on the left and placed his shot wide of Dryden only to see the ball strike the inside of the post then the striker went past the ‘keeper on the right hand side of the box but lifted his shot over the bar from a tight angle.
Ashington had been sloppy from the resumption but in the 58th minute – and against the run of play – they regained the lead with an excellent strike by Hardy.
Spooner provided the assist for the youngster who nonchalantly clipped the ball with the outside of his left foot wide of the advancing Hampshaw and just inside the post.
Ben Sampson had a stinging goalbound effort deflected for a corner then at the other end, Watson saw a low drive pushed away by Dryden.
In the closing stages Dryden held a shot on the turn by Rawson and twice in stoppage time, raids down the left by the home side were halted by superb tackles from Kyle Errington and Hardy.