Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 Ashington 2 – Emirates FA Cup third round qualifying:

It must have been a frustrating day for Ashington – their players, coaching staff and the fans (who turned up in force to support their team).

Pitched against a team at the next step up,  they dominated much of the play.  But they failed to convert their superiority into goals.  It was still an impressive result and keeps their great FA Cup run going.  They’re in the hat for the fourth round qualifying on Monday and host the replay on Tuesday.  They certainly have nothing to fear for round two of the cup tie.

From the off they played the better football.  After only six minutes Ben Sampson had a shot palmed over the bar by Steel keeper Harrison Davison-Hale.  The home club closed Ashington players down quickly and got plenty of men back when the Colliers attacked.

No. 9 Dan Maguire was constantly crowded out, with usually two, sometimes three players round him as he got the ball.  In the 33rd minute, a Dean Briggs shot was blocked by a defender, with a follow-up cross flying across the goalmouth.

It took until the closing 10 minutes of the half for Stocksbridge to put Ashington under any sustained pressure:  Tomas Poole with a dipping shot sent out for a corner; an attempted clearance from the corner bouncing off the top of the bar and another shot by Poole into the side netting.

At the start of the second half, Ashington continued to control the game and create the chances:  Sampson with a shot charged down by a defender, Briggs putting an effort a yard wide of the goal, Maguire attacking the goal only to be stopped with a great sliding tackle by Stocksbridge No. 5 Mitch Langton.

And then, out of the blue in the 63rd minute, Stocksbridge snatched the lead.  A ball from the left to the far post found captain Ross Goodwin who placed a powerful header into the net.  It could have knocked the stuffing out of the Colliers.  Instead they replied and levelled within seconds – Lee Mason meeting a cross from the left with a thumping shot into the Stocksbridge net.

And from then on in, the game stepped up several gears and turned into a classic cup-tie.  Stocksbridge came close to re-taking the lead two minutes after the equaliser.  A cross was hit low and hard from the right and No. 9 Luke Rawson was within inches of connecting with it with only Colliers keeper Karl Dryden to beat.

Then, with less than 20 minutes to go, Ashington were ahead.  Briggs chipped a free kick into the Stocksbridge area where defender Ben Harmison stuck out a foot to prod the ball past Davision-Hale.  But the tie was far from over, as shown by the frantic pacing in the technical area by the Ashington coaching staff.

Harmison’s goal prompted the home team to play their best football of the match:  Rawson with a turn and first time shot, with Dryden producing a fine save to his right and then Alex O’Connor hitting a superb long-range shot that skimmed off the right hand post.

Ashington replied in kind.  Maguire flicked the ball on with a header to Mason who spotted Davison-Hale off his line.  The Colliers No. 7 lobbed it over the keeper only for the ball to bounce off the bar.

And there was still time for a sting in the tale.  In the 85th minute Stocksbridge found an equaliser.  Ashington failed to clear a corner and Langton forced the ball home to make it 2-2.

So, it’s back to Woodhorn Lane on Tuesday.  A couple of hundred tickets have already been sold.  Good fun (and stressful) this cup mullarkey.

PS – there was a crowd of 429 at the game, at least half of whom came from Northumberland and they got behind their team from start to finish, producing a great atmosphere.

Mike Snowdon