Ashington AFC will be hoping to have created yet more FA Cup magic come 5pm on Saturday evening as they travel to Stocksbridge Park Steels in their Third Qualifying Round tie, with the Northumberland side looking to progress to the Fourth Qualifying Round of the tournament for the first time in over ten years.
Ashington’s last appearance at this stage of the competition came in the 2010/11 season where they were eventually knocked out of the Fourth Qualifying Round by Grimsby Town, however The Colliers head into this fixture carrying no fear whatsoever following recent cup scalps and are also in brilliant form in the league.
Ian Skinner’s men currently occupy fourth place in the Ebac Northern League Division One table, and have four games in hand on top of the table Bishop Auckland.
They’re unbeaten in the league, and have already enjoyed two major scalps in recent rounds of this year’s tournament, having dumped out Northern Premier League side Ashton United 3-0 in a replay following a goalless draw in Greater Manchester, and National League North side Bradford (Park Avenue) which saw the Colliers come out on top 2-1 in front of a crowd of over 700 in a gritty, battling performance at Woodhorn Lane in early September.
So what’s in the way of a historic entry into the next round for Skinner’s men?
Well, they face another tough proposition against a Stocksbridge Park Steels side who despite a mix bag of results in their league campaign have also eliminated a higher opposition outfit in the previous round, beating Marine of the Northern Premier League 2-1. In particular, forward Luke Rawson appears to be a real bright spark in the Steels side, and the Ashington backline must be wary of the threat he poses, with the former Bradford PA man notching five goals already this term.
There’s a real buzz around the club ahead of the fixture, and The Colliers will be backed by a superb away following, with over three bus loads of supporters making the journey down the A1. Ahead of the game, Ashington AFC chairman Brian Shotton explained the atmosphere around the club as it approaches:
“For clubs like us an FA Cup run is very special. It is not just the financial benefits it brings but the buzz around the place is something else. We are taking three bus loads and more down to Stocksbridge. It is a special time for the club and town and not something seen for over a decade. The lads have been excellent on the field and we hope that continues on Saturday.”
Despite Ashington being a step down from their hosts, Stocksbridge have not reached the Fourth Qualifying Round since the 2003/04 season. Coupled with the excitement and momentum carried by Ashington this season and the hoards of fans making the journey down means that this is by no means a given victory for them, with the Colliers looking to get themselves within one game of the First Round Proper of the competition.
Buoyed by recent performances, there is no reason that Skinner’s Ashington cannot topple Stocksbridge and create more cup magic.