WHILE there was reason for rancour – rightly so, for his side were inexplicably denied a penalty late on – Brian Pritchard’s mood was one of resignation after this FA Cup exit.
Not from his role as manager, far from it.
Rather that his patience has run out with players who added another near miss to Witton’s run of negative results.
This one, with £3,000 up for grabs for the victors, is by far the most costly.
Even without referee Christopher Ward’s aberration in added time, when Ashton goalkeeper Paul Phillips clattered into Steven Hughes after the substitute had beaten him to a bouncing ball in the box, Albion had enough chances to have put a first blemish on the Robins’ record this season.
The hosts’ number nine Martin Pilkington, who combined persistent running with ruthlessness in front of goal, provided the starkest contrast between victors and vanquished.
He speared high into the visitors’ net following a goalmouth scramble to separate the teams at half time, drawing later a foul from Josh Glover that permitted Gary Gee to put Ashton ahead for a second time from the spot.
In between, Witton dominated.
There was end product to their approach play too.
Michael Powell ought to have scored on 26 minutes, this time making only slight contact as he met Danny Andrews’ free kick – unmarked – inside the six-yard box.
Kyle Wilson went close next, reacting sharply to intercept Gee’s careless header before skipping around Phillips.
Taking an extra touch to steady himself, he gave Jay Gorton time enough to scamper to the goal-line from where he smuggled clear the striker’s shot.
The final chance fell to Nicky Platt in the seconds before the whistle.
Perhaps surprised by a back-marker’s unforced error, he aimed a weak finish straight at Phillips.
Yet it was Pilkington, the last to shoot following a frantic melee sparked by Glover surrendering possession, that showed them how it should be done.
The pattern did not deviate after half time when Ashton’s pressing, which had forced Witton to hurry in the opening period, was less intense.
Powell deservedly restored parity when he spun and shot in the same movement on 54 minutes.
At last, Albion had the Robins right where they wanted.
Sheehan, sent clear by Powell, failed to connect properly with his shot and Phillips saved.
Pilkington, persistent even when feeding off scraps, then panicked Glover enough to prompt the latter to tackle rashly.
Gee fooled Cooper from the resulting penalty.
Joe O’Neill then headed high with the goal at his mercy before Witton rallied again.
Hughes forced Phillips to tip over a rising drive, though their next clash was less even – the custodian clattering into the striker after arriving second to a ball nodded on by the same player.
No foul, according to Mr Ward.
That Phillips then flung himself high to his right to parry Hancock’s free kick in stoppage time prompted Pritchard to compare the calamity having his house burgled.
Ashton, deserved or not, keep the bounty.
Witton Star Man: Michael Powell. Occupied a space in front of Witton’s back four – one into which opposition players have drifted unaccompanied too often in recent weeks – and protected it efficiently. Recovered a high percentage of possession, finding time as well to join the attack and score a well-taken equaliser.
Ashton (4-4-2) Phillips (GK), Richardson, Lynch, Gorton, Pearson, Denham (Coppin 63), Gee, Rick, Logan (Young 68), O’Neill, Pilkington (Abadaki 77) Subs not used Burke, Freakes, Williams, Halford Goals Pilkington 21, Gee 70 (penalty) Booked Lynch (foul), Young (provocation)
Witton (4-1-4-1) Cooper (GK), Moyo, Harrison, Joseph, Glover, Powell, Andrews, Platt, Sheehan (Hughes 77), Hancock, Wilson Subs not used Plant (GK), Grocott, Ashworth, Dawson, Purcell, Moseley Goal Powell 54 Booked Sheehan, Powell, Joseph (all fouls)
Referee Christopher Ward (Blyth, Nottinghamshire)