Ashton Town 1 Robins 2


The Robins kicked off the new season with a side which was unrecognisable from the one which were unluckily relegated in May, with no less than ten new faces in the fourteen man squad. Playing in blue and cheered on by a loyal band of around twenty supporters, Harwood kicked up the hill in the 1st half in overcast conditions. The first thing that became evident was that players were finding it difficult to keep their feet after heavy rain during the morning, and drizzle throughout the afternoon. The first action took place on 5 minutes when a Harwood corner from the left was narrowly missed by Gordon Watson who attempted an acrobatic volley. Seven minutes later, a cross into the Harwood box was pushed out by Bobby Harris to the edge of the box where Ed O’Neil was harshly judged to have fouled the Ashton number two. O’Neil was also booked for the offence by the over officious referee. On 20 minutes, a deflected shot was held at the foot of the post by Harris who immediately set the Robins on the attack with a long kick. A cross from the right wing clearly struck a defenders hand but instead of a spot kick being awarded, the referee waved play-on. In the next minute an Ashton attack down their right ended with a dangerous cross to the far post but as Taylor shielded the ball out, he was given a free kick for a push. O’Neil, who was very prominent in the opening period, then put over a fine cross towards John Eastham but the Reds goalkeeper dashed from his line to gather the ball and avert the danger. In a Harwood break, Eastham was unceremoniously dragged down when heading towards the box but to the dismay of the Harwood bench and supporters, the defender escaped without a caution. With half an hour gone, it was nip and tuck but great work by Eastham down the Harwood left resulted in a cross into the box which Damien Hindle was inches away from getting a touch. Ashton were next to show when another cross from their right was cleared for a corner by the ever alert Andy Taylor. O’Neil then forced a corner for the Robins before a great tackle by Ryan Fisher prevented a certain goal at the other end as the forward homed in on goal. Straight after that let off, the deadlock was broken as a ball down the Harwood right resulted in a chase between the Ashton forward and Harris. Harris was beaten and as the ball came across, it was met by the number two whose shot was deflected into the net by Gordon Watson. Harwood responded but a cross from the left was volleyed 20 yards over by Taylor. A minute later, O’Neil was upended 25 yards from goal and it was he himself who took the free kick, a well struck shot was heading towards the bottom right hand corner before the Ashton keeper produced the save of the match. Back came Ashton and Harris was forced into two fine saves within a minute, First he saved a great volley by the dangerous number two, before a low shot from number ten was held at the near post.
By now Ashton were in the ascendancy and were making great inroads down the Harwood left where Paul Morley was struggling to cope. 5 minutes before half time Ashton almost added to the score when their centre forward was niches away from another right wing cross and the same player then went on a 40 yard run before shooting straight at Harris. Just before the break, another right wing cross was palmed out by Harris to the edge of the six yard box but luckily for Harwood, no forward was following up. The half time whistle came as something as a relief to the overworked defence.
Torrential rain at the start of the 2nd half made the pitch even more difficult but it was Harwood who were the first to show. O’Neil, who had been behind most of the good work done by the visitors in the 1st half, pulled the ball back to Taylor who shot a couple of yards over. A cross from Eastham was then headed goalwards by O’Neil but the keeper saved comfortably. A low shot by the Ashton number seven was then held by Harris before the excellent Ashton number two beat players with ease and crossed dangerously into the box where Watson cleared. More Ashton pressure brought a corner, but the tall Harwood central defenders dealt with the threat easily. The introduction of substitute Mark Beard livened things up for the Robins and as he looked dangerous on the edge of the box. He was chopped down only for the referee to wave play-on. O’Neil took another Harwood corner which was cleared but the Robins were now taking control, although the home keeper was still under-employed. Yet another corner resulted in a goalmouth scramble which ended with a good shout for hand ball - once again the official waved away the claims. The ball was cleared for a throw near the corner flag but after it was taken Taylor was pushed over with the referee once more ignoring Harwood’s shouts. O’Neil was surprisingly replaced by Gareth McCash on 65 minutes and seconds later Harwood got the equaliser their play deserved. A through ball saw Beard cleverly turn his marker 30 yards from goal, advance into the box and slide a perfect shot into the corner to send the Harwood faithful into raptures. It was now one-way traffic and substitute McCash embarked on a great dribble down the left which ended in a cross into the box. The ball was scrambled clear by the panicking home defence but seconds later they were under pressure again. Once more McCash caused the problem when he latched onto a tremendous through ball from Eastham before scuffing his shot on the edge of the box.
Ben Lloyd put over a pin-point cross to McCash who headed narrowly over, before the home side responded with a rare attack of their own. A ball into the box ended with a scramble and when it was cleared the number two shot 10 yards wide. With the rain still falling heavily, Harwood continued to attack in droves and it was no surprise when they took the lead as the game entered its final phase. A free kick near the home bench, about ten yards inside the Ashton half, was blasted into the top far corner of the net by Taylor who was mobbed by his team mates. A great ball by Lloyd found Beard in space who coolly chipped the keeper for what looked like the clincher, only to be flagged for offside. Another through ball looked like getting McCash in on goal but the keeper narrowly beat him to it. Eastham then outpaced a defender down the right wing before he was brought down but the free kick into the danger area was cleared. Then Morley, who was having a great 2nd half, ran down the left before swinging a superb cross into the box which only just missed the heads of Eastham and McCash. Less than 30 seconds later, it was Morley again, this time forcing a corner from another cross from the left. The Harwood left back made it a hat-trick a minute later and this time Lloyd headed agonisingly just wide. With 7 minutes to go, Eastham was replaced by Joel Burnside but the Robins continued to hold all the aces. An attack down the right by Taylor and Lloyd ended with a square ball to Fisher who screwed it just wide, but the pair weren’t to be denied as they almost set up Beard, the ball just running out for a goal kick. Fisher was then pushed in the back 30 yards from goal but the referee waved play-on as the ball fell to Beard in the clear. Sadly for the Robins, he lost his composure at the vital moment and skied over with just the keeper to beat. With a couple of minutes left, an Ashton free-kick 25 yards from goal gave them an opportunity to salvage a point, but a weak effort went straight to the under-employed Harris. A cracking cross field ball into the Ashton box almost brought a third goal when a defender sliced it just wide of his own goal. In the next minute, Beard once again turned his marker to put himself clean through, but his touch let him down and the keeper gathered. McCash then set off towards goal before being stopped in his tracks by the full time whistle.
After a poor 1st half, the Harwood youngsters gave a great performance and thoroughly deserved their maximum point haul.

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©2009 J Fenton