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Witton Albion adapt best to conditions to beat fellow play-offs hopefuls Ashton United
WITTON’S latest win, at a wet and windswept Ashton, was easier than they expected.
The significance of climbing to fourth in the table, at least for now, is to strengthen the grip they have on a play-offs place and with it a shot at a second successive promotion.
Desire distinguished them most obviously from hosts also with an eye on finishing in the top five.
Fortune favoured them too, for defender Craig Robinson’s was the decisive last touch for two of the visitors’ three first half goals.
Not they cared, for there was conviction in what they did despite the conditions.
That said, it was Ashton that ought to have led when top scorer Aaron Burns blazed an effort too high after a ball bounced invitingly inside Witton’s penalty area.
Warning heeded, Albion then assumed control.
Danny Andrews’ direct free kick flashed past home goalkeeper Paul Phillips, but Robinson headed to safety from on the goal-line.
A first goal though followed on 22 minutes, Hancock’s shot diverted past the Robins’ number one by Robinson after Steve Foster, aware of his teammate’s forward surge, had sent a cushioned header into his path.
Witton’s second score was a synopsis of their first half showing.
Michael Powell put pressure on Warren Beattie to worry the Ashton man into a mistake, the ex-Chester midfielder’s resulting pass to Hancock turning defence into attack.
The winger’s shot, thumped with his right foot, hurried past Phillips.
With wind at their backs and buoyed by a two-goal lead, Albion forced their hosts into further mistakes.
Chris Lynch ought to have cleared the danger when Witton next went forward, but skipper Anthony Sheehan pinched the ball and gave it to Andrews.
His shot with fury from distance, forcing Phillips into a spectacular save. Hancock reached the rebound, but his placed attempt brushed a defender on its way wide.
A third, match-clinching, goal arrived seconds before the break when Robinson, under no pressure, prodded the ball into his own net from Hancock’s corner.
Number four should have followed two minutes after the interval when Sheehan’s path to a ball inside the area was blocked by a defender’s cynical challenge.
But Phillips saved Anthony Gardner’s spot kick, struck true but parried brilliantly.
Sheehan, with a clear sight of the goal, then smashed a volley too close to Ashton’s goalkeeper after Hancock headed Foster’s cross in his direction.
It proved a catalyst for the Robins’ best spell.
Stephen Johnson swept an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Stuart Plant when Oliver James’ tackle on Burns nudged the ball to him.
And had Lynch not scuffed over soon afterwards, then Witton’s resolve might have been tested.
Burns latched on to a through ball with eight minutes left, but Plant moved swiftly from his line to smother the front man’s shot.
At the other end, Phillips palmed away Hancock’s free kick.
By then though, a year to the day since returning from Clitheroe with points precious to a promotion push, Witton had performed a repeat trick.
Witton Star Man: Josh Hancock. A return to form close to his best. Direct in his dribbling, and trusting his attacking instinct to make runs that lead to both of his goals. It was his corner too that Craig Robinson turned in for Witton’s third.
Word too for goalkeeper Stuart Plant, whose save to deny Ashton top scorer Aaron Burns in the second half made sure Witton were more comfortable in the closing exchanges than they might otherwise have been.
Ashton (4-4-2) Phillips (GK), Frost, Robinson, Lynch, Harrop (Amadi 46), Hogan, Moore, Beattie (Connor 68), Johnson, Burns, Barlow (Sherriff 77). Subs not used Lambert, Burke. Goal Johnson 54. Booked Robinson, Beattie (both ungentlemanly conduct), Lynch (foul)
Witton (4-5-1) Plant (GK), Gardner, Harrison, Glover, Wood, Andrews, Sheehan (Shaw 90), James, Powell, Hancock, Foster (Tuck 73). Subs not used Alcock, Horne, Moseley. Goals Hancock 22, 33, Robinson 45 (+1) (own goal). Booked Powell (ungentlemanly conduct), Foster (kicking the ball away)
Referee Nick Greenhalgh (Bury)