WHEN the Evo-Stik League published the results from last night’s games many people thought there’d been an error. ‘That can’t be right,’ they wondered. ‘Ashton couldn’t have won 10-1!’
But no, it was no mistake. ASHTON UNITED had, in fact, romped to a 10-1 victory away to the Evo-Stik Premier’s bottom club, Skelmersdale United.
There were mitigating factors. Skem admitted in December that financial problems had forced key players to leave, long-serving manager Tommy Lawson was sacked in January with the team bottom on just 16 points and current boss Alan Rogers is having to make do with a youthful side.
But still, 10-1?! It was Ashton’s biggest win in the 6 years that vice-chairman Steve Hobson has been at the club. And it wasn’t far off the biggest in their 139-year history. That was a 13-1 trouncing of Marple in the Lancashire Combination League way back in 1919.
Hobson was among around 20 Ashton supporters who witnessed last night’s memorable victory at the wonderfully-named Stormy Corner, or as the sponsors want us to call it, the Uretek Stadium.
“It was incredible, no-one expected that kind of result,” he told Beyond the Big Two. “Skelmersdale had a young side which tried to play some football.
“They started quite well, to be honest, but they got caught playing passing football across their own box. Our lads pressed forward and whenever Skem made a mistake, they got punished. We were 3-0 up after 19 minutes and the game was gone then. It was just a matter of how many we were going to score thereafter.”
It was 5-0 by half-time and 7-0 on 58 minutes, before joint-manager Jody Banim came off the bench to score twice. Skem managed to get themselves on the scoresheet with 8 minutes left but Matt Chadwick completed the scoring on 88 minutes to finish with 4 goals, bagging a brace in each half.
“I have to say, I admire all our players because they paid Skelmersdale the respect of keeping at it right to the very end,” said Hobson. “They were professional and went about their business in a workmanlike manner.
— Jez (@ashtonsnapper) March 22, 2017
“They weren’t just taking the mickey out of Skem, which I’ve seen happen in games before. You get 5 in front and start strolling around, messing about with the ball, but our lads kept going right to the death. So did Skem, in fairness. They were 9-0 down when they scored, and it was a good goal through them working hard. It was men against boys so you’ve just got to feel sorry for them really.
“The directors at our club aren’t the sort that all sit in the directors’ box in the stand, we were all stood behind the goal with the fans. And another thing I liked is that they were respectful to Skem. There was no laughing and joking, telling the keeper he’s useless and all that kind of stuff. They understood that they’re a young side who were doing their best.
“They were having a bit of craic and banter with the keeper and their supporters, it was generally a good atmosphere. And that’s what it’s like in non-league, we’re all a family. I was almost apologetic when I spoke to their chairman after the game because they’re doing their best, they just weren’t good enough.”
Those sentiments seemed to be appreciated by Skem. After the game they tweeted this below, so credit to the hosts for being gracious in defeat – and an emphatic one at that. They even recorded all the goals and put clips of them on their website, which you can see by clicking here (and scrolling to the bottom of the page).
Congratulations to @AshtonUnitedFC, hard to begrudge you a victory tonight, safe journey home and good luck for the remainder of the season
— Skem United FC (@Skemutdofficial) March 21, 2017
Like Skem, Ashton have been in a state of flux this term. Joint-managers Steve Halford and Paul Phillips led the Robins to the Evo-Stik Premier play-offs in each of their 3 seasons in charge before being lured to Stalybridge Celtic last September.
Ashton were still unbeaten this season yet gradually slipped down the table as Banim and Will Haining, the club’s new joint-managers, saw several key players follow their former bosses to Bower Fold. They have now rebuilt the side and steadied the ship, and Hobson felt the Skem victory was just reward for the patience and loyalty of the Robins’ faithful.
“The best game for me was when we beat FC United with the last kick in the play-offs (2014),” he said. “We didn’t go up, we were beaten in the final by Fylde with the last kick of the season (on penalties), but it was a great run. I’d never experienced anything like that semi-final before, but for the scoreline, I’ve not seen a game like last night.
“It was freezing, it’s a Tuesday night and you’re playing bottom of the league, so the turn-out from our fans was unbelievable. They really ‘get’ Ashton United. They’re a cracking bunch. When things weren’t going well for us in the early part of the season, there was no moaning, no criticism and no pulling the management apart on social media.
“It’s a loyal fanbase, but a knowledgable fanbase as well. They understand that the managers we brought in have had a difficult job this season, and that they’ve done a marvelous job with the resources that they’ve had at their disposal.
“The supporters just get it, and it’s fantastic to be part of that. They feel a part of the team – the management do, the board do. We’re all pulling in the same direction, and that’s why, as a little club punching above our weight in this league, we do so well.”
Despite reaching the play-offs for the last 3 years, Ashton’s attendances have fallen slightly. Their average gate for this season (170) is the 2nd-lowest in the division – and better than only 5 sides in the Evo-Stik North. That dictates the budget Banim and Haining have to work with, yet they’ve slowly managed to steer the Robins back up the table. After winning 3 of their last 4, they’re back up to 13th in the table, just 8 points off the top 5.
Although Ashton only played 10th-placed Matlock last Saturday, winning 1-0 at Hurst Cross, the reverse fixture is this weekend. And if they remain as clinical as they were last night, then who’s to say they can’t make the play-offs for a 4th straight season.