While keeper Conor Grant was the best player on the park by a country mile, his Ashington colleagues must still be smirking in disbelief at how the Colliers, managed by former Benfield boss Steve Bowey, managed to steal a point from an encounter that could have seen them on the end of a thrashing in double figures. As it was, a calamitous error by Benfield’s normally brilliant keeper Andrew Grainger almost gifted the points to the South East Northumberland outfit. Thankfully, Paul Brayson’s second goal in as many games rescued a draw for the shell-shocked Lions.
The home side were unchanged from Wednesday’s impressive home win against Bishop Auckland and began on the front foot, with the aid of a blustery wind to their backs. As early as the third minute Grant distinguished himself, with an instinctive parry from Brayson, when the lethal marksman was slipped in by Dennis Knight, who had another excellent game; other than his utter inability to open his account for Benfield alas. He almost had that elusive first goal on 6 minutes, only for the strong wrists of Grant to parry a stinging drive, which saw the ball recycled to Rhys Evans who thunderbolt was tipped over the bar by Grant. Knight was back in the action on 8 minutes, robbing left back Jay Hornsby and cracking in a low effort that Grant smothered. As the waves of unending attacking and relentless pressure continued, Ashington had a let off when David Robinson nodded in the loose ball after another Grant save from Knight, only to be flagged offside.
Ashington number 9 Atkinson was lucky not to walk on 32 minutes, having scythed down James Martin with a cynical hack. The striker saw yellow as did Martin, who reacted badly to the foul. On 35 minutes, Rhys Evans galloped down the right and sent in a tremendous low cross for Brayson, who planted an effort inches wide of the far post. Twice before half time, Benfield were denied by the officials in controversial circumstances. The assistant who had been so keen to flag Robinson off when he put the ball in the net, managed to miss both a clear hand ball in the area, when an Ashington defender’s outstretched arm palmed the ball down for Dale Pearson to lash an effort fractionally too high, before Mark Turnbull’s header on the stroke of the interval was adjudged not to have crossed the line, despite the clearing defender resting against the goal net when blocking the ball. Astonishingly, we reached the interval with a blank scoresheet.
Immediately from the resumption, Grant made his best save of the game, instinctively grabbing a Josh Scott effort that deflected from a defender. Moments later, Brayson fed Knight who shot inches past the far post. On the hour, Knight was felled in the area, but the stonewall penalty was not given and, for the first time, Benfield began to show signs of doubt as an element of belief crept into the Colliers’ game. Scarcely credibly, Ashington took the lead on 66 minutes when Andrew Grainger somehow dived over a routine low cross, allowing substitute Richardson to tap into an unguarded net. It may have been unbelievable, but it could have been the winner, were it not for the foolishness of Atkinson. When Grainger sought to build a quick attack by throwing the ball to James Martin, Atkinson raised his arm to block the ball. Luckily the assistant managed to see this transgression and the Ashington striker left the pitch after collecting a needless booking to top up his one in the first half.
Dean Holmes came on for Dennis and effectively saved the day. Running purposefully down the left, he put in two crosses that caused alarm bells in the Ashington rearguard. The second of these was beautifully nodded home from close range by Paul Brayson, causing certain elements of the crowd to recall David Ginola providing balls of comparable quality for Sir Les Ferdinand in the halcyon era of Newcastle United.
Despite having the extra man, Benfield could not find a way through for the winner. Indeed, Ashington came closest with a free kick that glanced off the top of the bar, before Brayson’s acrobatic overhead kick drifted past the post in injury time. A great game. A great performance. An unfortunate result.
Match footage by Luke Vinton to be uploaded
Match report Ian Cusack
photos callum Boyle