Match report by Ian Cusack
It truly was the nightmare before Christmas for Benfield, when the ghost of seasons past, in the shape of former player boss Steve Bowey, came back to haunt the Lions at Sam Smith’s Park with his new club Ashington, before making good his escape with a smash and grab raid that yielded all three points for the Colliers. The final 3-0 scoreline tells of an emphatic win and no amount of subsequent rewriting of the narrative surrounding the game can hide the facts, but it has to be said the two goals by Damien Stevens that bookended a third by Kyle Downey were approximately 75% of the entire efforts on goal of the visitors during this game.
After 19 minutes, Bowey surged down the right, evaded a challenge from James Novak and set up Damien Stevens for a straightforward finish to give The Colliers the lead.
The goal was greeted in stunned silence, as it was not only the first Ashington shot of the evening, but the first time they’d enjoyed any real possession outside of their own penalty area. Indeed, the opening exchanges had been characterised by a dazzling array of frenetic short passing and almost telepathic interplay between the Benfield attacking trio of Dylan McEvoy, Luke Carr and Jake Orrell, ably assisted by Paul Brayson of course. Desperate defending by the Ashington rearguard, superbly marshalled by the indomitable Conor Grant in goal, kept the marauding home side at arm’s length. Shots were at a premium, but when McEvoy launched a curling thunderbolt on the quarter of an hour, it seemed as if the deadlock would be broken, only for Grant to produce a stupendous fingertip save to turn the ball round the post. From the ensuing corner, Lewis Scorgie headed wastefully wide and Benfield were soon to rue such misses when Stevens opened the scoring.
Benfield continued to press and Scorgie again headed wide when it seemed easier to score, less than 10 minutes later when rising to meet a beautifully flighted McEvoy ball to the back post. As a coach, Bowey has always led by example, amid the muck and bullets of a midfield skirmish, but he is also an astute practitioner of mind games; getting inside Lewis Scorgie’s head by means of incessant chatter that caused the home centre half to simmer with rage and then attempt to referee the game, by pointing out Scorgie’s anger to the officials. Nothing illegal, but very effective in throwing the home team off the scent. At least the attacking players kept their mind on the job and McEvoy himself was inches from restoring parity when he flashed a powerful effort across the face of goal on 36 minutes. Two minutes later, Mark Turnbull played in Jake Orrell with a delightful ball, but Grant was quickly off his line to smother. Rather like their first goal, Ashington’s second came out of nowhere when they’d been right under the cosh. Kyle Downey
was allowed to advance and hit a shot from the edge of the box, taking a wicked deflection and just evading the desperate efforts of Andrew Grainger and giving the visitors a wholly undeserved 2-0 lead at the break.
Following the resumption, it appeared as if The Lions would not allow themselves to be beaten, as they tore into their opponents with renewed vigour and controlled determination. However, Ashington were as steely in their determination not to be beaten and repelled everything Benfield threw at them, with that man Grant utterly faultless in his handling and decision making throughout the second period, having learned to be more circumspect after Brayson went round the on-rushing keeper early on, only to have his shot hacked clear from almost on the line. Sadly for home fans, the longer the game went on, the more desperate and despairing were Benfield’s efforts. It was just one of those nights and, to put the tin hat on proceedings, an unmarked Stevens collected a loose ball and fired home to give the score a slightly surreal, lopsided feel to it.
Benfield will play much worse and win; Ashington probably won’t.
Man of the Match: Dylan McEvoy
I thought we were not at our best however we still had more of the ball with only our final ball and decision making in the final third letting us down. We were punished twice for our own mistakes and conceded the third late on when we had pushed everyone forward.