THIS time last year Witton Albion were fourth in the table, five points adrift of top spot in the table.
Their latest loss, a third time this season they have endured a hat-trick of defeats, leaves them outside of the relegation zone on goal difference.
There was a dark cloud over Wincham Park by the time Ashton substitute Joe O’Neill nicked the points for Ashton with a header in stoppage time, helping the Robins to record a fourth successive league win.
For Brian Pritchard, an encouraging debut by new recruit Scott Bakkor in attack at least supplied a silver lining.
After seven defeats on their own pitch – each by a single goal – in a dozen games, Witton need one.
This tale was all too familiar.
Ashton, already conquerors of Albion in the FA Cup this term, assumed the initiative.
Lee Rick’s corners put the hosts under pressure, so much so that Josh Hancock was lucky not to slice an attempted clearance into his own goal.
Martin Pilkington sneaked into a shooting space, spotted by Rick from the right, but Witton goalkeeper Matt Cooper blocked smartly.
Gradually the hosts woke up.
Anthony Gardner, covering for absent Michael Powell in midfield, burst clear from the centre circle on 22 minutes. But his last touch before shooting was heavy, making it easier for custodian Paul Phillips to smother.
Ashton’s threat from set pieces had not receded, Jay Gorton escaping the attention of Ben Harrison to head home another Rick flag kick at a moment when Witton had control.
They reacted in the right way though.
Danny Andrews swerved a free kick over a wall that Phillips pawed over the bar, then Ally Brown blasted into the side netting after Ashton failed to clear.
The best chance was conjured by Jonathan Breeze for Bakkor who, after skipping around the Robins’ custodian, sent a goal-bound shot too close to an alert Greg Pearson who cleared.
Witton did not apply pressure in the same sustained way in the second half, during which Ashton administered their lead by defending more deeply.
Cliff Moyo curved in a cross that picked out Chris Simm, another first-timer signed this week, but he could make only slight contact with his head and the ball skidded wide.
When they did score with nine minutes left, the source was unexpected.
Hancock’s free kick, miss-hit, was re-directed into Harrison’s path and he hooked in on the turn from close range.
Witton looked likely winners in the moments that followed, during which Simm was denied by Pearson when shaping to shoot and substitute Jon Dawson sent a dipping volley inches too high after Breeze swept a pass in his direction.
Ashton, victors in the corresponding fixture last season, sounded a warning when replacement Matty Chadwick was denied by Cooper after he rushed from his line.
Witton lost concentration in added time when a quickly-taken throw invited ex-Albion man Cavell Coo to assist O’Neill with a cross from the right.
His touch was decisive, and damaging.
Witton Star Man: Scott Bakkor. A debut of promise, illuminated by intelligent movement and a threat with the ball at his feet. The youngster will be one to watch in attack during the coming weeks.
Witton (4-4-2) Cooper (GK), Brown, Bodie (Parkhouse 74), Harrison, Moyo (Dawson 66), Andrews, Breeze, Gardner, Hancock, Simm, Bakkor Subs not used Plant (GK), Crofts, Moseley Goal Harrison 81 Booked Simm (ungentlemanly conduct), Bodie (foul)
Ashton (4-4-2) Phillips (GK), Coo, Gorton, Higgins, Pearson, Rick (Lynch 86), Young, Gee, Coppin, Pilkington (Chadwick 80), Johnson (O’Neill 63) Subs not used Halford, Steadman Goals Gorton 30, O’Neill 90 (+2) Booked Gorton, Higgins (both fouls)
Referee Nicholas Barnard (Warrington)