By Brian Bennett
Frustration was the name of the game as Ashington kicked off their new season with a 2-2 draw at Penrith.
Trips to the Atkinson Builders Stadium are always tough encounters – and Saturday’s encounter proved to be no different.
The frustration element came about as the Colliers should have made the perfect start and should have pressed on in the second half after holding a 2-1 lead at the break.
Instead – and in the end – they were pleased to hear the final whistle and hold out for a point after somehow surviving a massive slice of luck as the Bonny Blues hit the woodwork three times and forced visiting keeper Adam McHugh into making an outstanding save.
To counter that, Ashington will argue that striker Ryan McGorrigan rattled the post and substitute Luke Salmon came so close to scoring what would have been a sensational decider.
But on a day when the new campaign was cautiously greeted with a mixture of excitement yet apprehension after two truncated seasons due to COVID, maybe the overall winner was the return of supporters and lovers to the non league game.
On a sultry afternoon in Cumbria, Ashington got into the groove right from the off and dominated the opening quarter hour. They should have gone ahead as early as the third minute too when Ben Sampson slotted a pass through for Dean Briggs whose shot was blocked by keeper Luke Miller.
The rebound broke to debutant Jordan Summerly who looked a certain scorer until Miller intervened again.
Summerly – who was impressive throughout – was again involved as the Colliers carved out another clear opening.
Paul Robinson played the ball out wide and when Summerly crossed, Robinson had an ‘air’ shot and when the ball was picked up by Briggs, the midfielder drove wide.
Yet for all their superiority, Ashington were caught on the break with Adam Main firing into the side netting.
And in the 19th minute, an error proved costly.
Max Emmerson lost possession inside his own penalty area and when Bryde Dean-Norman pulled the ball back, Luke brown drilled home a low right footer from 16 yards.
Five minutes later, Ashington had the perfect opportunity to draw level when they were awarded a penalty.
Bobby Taylor’s corner into the box saw Briggs upended by Main and referee Sam Parnaby – who had an excellent match – had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Briggs stepped up but saw his kick turned aside by Miller who also kept out Taylor from the follow up.
Ashington had played some neat football but their equaliser which arrived sixty seconds later was route one material.
Tom Bramley’s ball over top saw McGorrigan capitalise on hesitation in the Penrith defence to poke the ball over Miller and just inside the upright.
Taylor squandered another opening before the visitors went into the lead with a peach of a goal five minutes from the break.
Following a corner on the left, Yannick Aziakonou – another debutant – swung over a delicious cross from the right to the far post for Karl Ross to steer a header into the roof of the net.
The Cumbrians made their intentions crystal clear at the start of the second half with a right footer by Matthew Story from 20 yards being brilliantly tipped over by McHugh.
Three minutes later a superb last ditch tackle by Bramley on Connor Shields – with no room for error – foiled the striker but on 52 minutes, Robinson and Summerly combined again and when the latter put the ball through for McGorrigan, the number nine’s shot was superbly pushed away by Miller.
Barely two minutes later, Penrith levelled when Brown got his second stabbing home following a throw in on the right.
Twice in quick succession, the home side rattled the woodwork. Brown came close to his hat-trick when he hit the base direct from a corner then Shields smacked the ball against the post after Bramley had lost possession.
In the 77th minute, McGorrigan wriggled through two defenders but after clipping the ball wide of Miller, his effort clipped the post and was cleared.
With the clock running down, both sides went close. On 85 minutes substitute Luke Hunter’s header thudded against the bar then in the final minute of the 90, an audacious chip from all of 35 yards by Salmon drifted over the advanced Miller – but also cleared the bar by a matter of inches.
Ashington: McHugh, Sampson, Summerly, Emmerson, Bramley, Aziakonou, Taylor (Anderson 68 minutes), Ross, McGorrigan, Briggs, Robinson (Salmon 80 minutes). Subs not used: Tait, Cowburn, Dryden (gk)