REPORT: Ashton Athletic 0-1 Widnes
Banister strike seals promotion to the Evo-Stik at the first time of asking
A Jack Banister strike after eight minutes sealed promotion to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One West at the first time of asking for Widnes at Ashton Athletic.
Banister’s goal was the difference between the two sides as the winger bagged his 12th and most crucial strike of the campaign.
The win ensured that Widnes would join neighbours and Champions Runcorn Linnets in gaining promotion from the Hallmark Security League Premier Division, becoming the first North West Counties side to achieve back-to-back promotions since AFC Fylde in 2009.
There were brilliant celebrations after the game, as Widnes were presented with the Premier Division runners-up trophy.
Joint bosses Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey made two changes to the side that won at Irlam on Saturday. Sam Sheen replaced skipper Kev Pollard who missed out through sun-stroke while Towey made way for Ben Hodkinson.
Widnes, knowing that one point would be enough to guarantee promotion, made a positive start. Hodkinson’s flick-on allowed George Lomax to nip in and beat Ben Cartwright to the loose ball, only to shoot high and wide off-balance.
The opener came on the eight-minute mark. It was a goal that epitomised much of Widnes’ success this season. A free-flowing move saw Jay Roberts bide his team before drilling a low-cross into the area, with Banister making a great run to fire Widnes into an important lead.
Another opportunity followed four minutes later. Ashton defended well as Callum Wilson threw his body in the way of George Lomax’s effort, with Hodkinson dragging the follow-up wide albeit from an offside position.
It was a glorious sunny afternoon at Brocstedes Park, but both sides struggled in the intense heat having both played 48 hours earlier.
Chances were rare, although it was Widnes who looked the more likely to find a second goal as Jack Graham quickly released Banister in behind who raced clear only to trip over his own feet in the penalty area allowing Ashton to clear the danger.
Widnes were to suffer a blow late in the half as Graham limped off with a knee injury, with the midfielder now a doubt to play in the Macron Cup Final. Elliott Jones replaced him from the bench.
Half-time: Ashton Athletic 0-1 Widnes
The hosts made a double change at half-time, with the in-form Joel Brownhill and Bram Johnstone introduced from the bench.
Ashton started the second half positively but it was Widnes who were first to threaten as Hodkinson nodded just over from a dangerous delivery from Banister.
Widnes then had goalkeeper Richie Mottram to thank for preserving their narrow lead. Johnstone’s free-kick deflected off Daniel Regan towards goal, with Mottram making a world-class save to claw the ball away off-balance.
The game exploded into life as Hodkinson went close again for Widnes, shooting straight at Martin Pearson before Mottram produced a double-save to punch away a corner and block a Brownhill effort.
Moments later, Ashton’ keeper Pearson almost handed Widnes a second goal as he mis-judged Roberts’ cross which bounced over his head towards goal but the hosts’ custodian managed to recover to push the ball away to safety.
Former Widnes man Dale Korie-Butler had a shot blocked by Mike Burke 15 minutes from time, before the lively Hodkinson threatened again – this time hooking a shot over from close-range after good work by Banister.
Towey and youngster Tom Croughan were brought off the bench as Widnes comfortably managed the last 10 minutes to secure promotion, leading to jubilant scenes between players, staff and supporters.
Full-time: Ashton Athletic 0-1 Widnes
Of equal importance to Towey and Akrigg’s side, a clean sheet for Mottram was his 17th shut-out and Widnes’ 18th of the season whilst the Whites’ once again surpassed the 100-league goal mark.