Saturday 13th August
North West Counties League Premier Division
Ashton Athletic 2 Maine Road 0
Tea hut purchase: None (took too long to get served)
Weather: Overcast, mild and dull (after 4 days of rain)
Parking: Club car park
There are a few Ashton named clubs in non league circles, Ashton Athletic are posted just north of 'Ashton in Makerfield', a small town which is located on the opposite side of the M6 to Haydock Park racecourse. The ground is a sod to find if you've not done your homework (or got a fancy Sat Nav). The Match Shed didn't have any problems as it chugged down the winding narrow lanes (which is quite ironic because it usually gets lost on the bog standard journeys). The Brocstedes Park stadium is along what looks nothing more than an old farm track, its badly rutted and pot holed, as you bounce around the bend the open expanse of Brocstedes Park comes into view, the M6 is just below the trees at the far side of the ground, such a pity that you have to drive miles out of your way to get access to the place. I bet there's not many sides who welcome a visit to this spot in the winter months, especially on a bleak Tuesday night. With the Match Shed parked up behind the corrugated stand a few Maine Road supporters were commenting on the difficulty getting here, I bet a few gave up and went back to Manchester. I paid my 5 quid admission behind about 8 or 9 Maine Road committee types with free passes waiting for them. The bloke on the turnstile asked if I was a concession (OAP), bloody hell, is this a startling wake up call that I'm getting a bit haggard, or is it too much late night over indulgence, I hoped it was simply a case that the chap couldn't see very well?
The entrance brings you onto the clubhouse touchline half way along the pitch, the club itself is part pebble dash and part breeze block, it houses a narrow looking function room titled Aspeys Bar (I think its named after the clubs founder Tommy Aspinall) and it was nice to find some decent toilets for a change. There is also a small cupboard like room which miraculously manages to house a Tea Hut facility, there is a narrow serving window to dish the stuff through. Besides the changing rooms, as we run further down the touchline we find a small VIP stand with seats reserved for officials, must be a cracking view from right down at the corner flag?
The only other structure at the ground is the stand which runs down the halfway line from the opposite side of the clubhouse down to the other corner flag. Without wishing to sound negative, in reality, its more of a shack than a stand, it has tubular white poles holding the corrugated roof up at 5 yard intervals. There are 3 rows of red seats which unfortunately are almost at the same height (so most people tended to sit on the front row).
The other 3 sides of the ground are completely open with hard standing running behind the advertisement boards and the metal railed fence. Theres plenty of room to build a two tier cantilever stand on the M6 side of the ground for when Athletic enter the Champions League (which isn't going to be too long I'm informed). The pitch is pretty good but it does have a downward slope towards the motorway side of the ground. It was time to have a read of the programme, they had about 20 odd of them available from the turnstiles and although the publication had a nice bright cover it was a bit lightweight in content for the £1.50 asking price. The highlight was the page titled 'Match Action' which had 3 pictures of players ambling about doing nothing much at all, weird, I know my pictures aren't exactly sports page fodder but these were really naff, perhaps they'd deleted the good ones and put the rubbish ones in by mistake? The gate today was only 56, normally its less, I suppose there were about 20 odd from Maine Road boosting the attendance, hopefully numbers may start to rise for Ashton if they put a few results together, they won away at AFC Liverpool in midweek. Times have been hard for the home side in recent seasons, after last term they only retained Premier Division status because of a club going bust and another failing ground grading requirements. As for Maine Road they've lost both of their opening games this season (at Barnoldswick and Bacup Borough), word from the regulars is that they deserved better but its nil points on the doors at the moment. The first half was very scrappy indeed.
Neither side controlled the ball and there was an abundance of mistimed passes and poor first touches. Ashton had the better opportunites going forward and took a 1-0 lead just before the break with a weak looking effort from Lee Barratt creeping past the keeper. Maine Road must have been disappointed with their efforts in the last quarter of the pitch, time and time again they continually squandered decent approach play.
Bang on half time I managed to get in the Tea Hut queue with only 1 bloke in front of me. He had ordered a couple of pies and some hot drinks. Unbelievably it was apparent that the pies weren't properly warm! The girl in the hut took an age to sort the problem out, I think she was using a microwave and a camp fire at one stage? Needless to say I lost interest after about 8 minutes and thought sod-it! If you cannot serve 1 person 2 pies and 2 tea's in that kind of time you won't do much business. Surely the approach of half time warrants some type of tea hut preparation?...especially the bare basics of making sure the pies are warm, its not like we are serving up Anfield proportions. Fortunately the football improved a bit in the second half.
Maine Road put some increasing pressure on the Ashton defence but, to the home sides credit, they mopped everything up convincingly. Maine Road were still struggling with that final touch or the accuracy of the important pass, it must have been frustrating for Ian Walker the Manager. This Ashton Athletic side are an almost completely different set of players from last season and Steve Wilkes has brought in a tough attitude to fight 100% for every win, its even on the cover of the programme, the spirit amongst the Ashton players was very evident, they battled to hold on to that 1 goal advantage and matched Maine Road every step of the way.
The visitors changed a few things around midway through that second half and brought on some very young players, the lads didn't disgrace themselves and did ok against their more experienced counterparts. I'm not sure these lads got the nod because of injuries or whether the youth policy takes priority, without being critical, it was going to be very hard for such young lads to change things around in the way it was needed. Ashton sealed the victory with a penalty in the 85th minute from Jacob Wood. In fairness 2-0 appeared about right to me, Ashton battled to the end and had a better completion rate. Such a pity for some of the Maine Road players who performed well on the day, Alex Jay in particular, one of the best players in this league in my opinion, its a pity too many of his colleagues lacked that final touch on the day.
Ashton are now in nose bleed territory '7th'! Maine Road go bottom (for the time being anyway).