The best that could be said is that this was not a bad performance from the Rams.  The casual uninformed spectator would have found it hard to recognise that this was a contest between a rock-bottom team now 14 points away from salvation and one still harbouring realistic chances of making the play-offs but all of that would be to damn the home team with faint praise.

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division
Harry Williams Riverside Stadium
Tuesday 8th March 2016
Attendance: 142

Apart from the two Ashton goals, the first gifted and the second gift wrapped with the enticement of a courtesan’s come-on, not much happened in either goal mouth for the whole 90 minutes.  Apart from a smart save midway through the first half by Paul Phillips for Ashton, which in any event would have been rendered unnecessary by the linesman’s flag, neither keeper was called into serious action.

Ashton were calm, competent and controlled throughout while the Rams were all hurry and scurry, full of effort but for all the efforts of a busy Danny Wilkins, unable to make much of an impression going forward.

It was Wilkins who provided the two bright moments for the Rams, racing through having been set clear neatly by David Kuba-Kuba in the opening minutes but forced wide by Phillips and then deep into the second half at the centre of neat build-up play which released Andy Smart on the left.  His low cross was perfect but there was no Rams players anywhere near getting on the end of it.

When you are at the bottom, the luck tends to go against you.  A loose clearance after 11 minutes deserved to be fatal but even then the way in which the ricochet to Martin Pilkington presented him with an open goal was on the cruel side of unfortunate.  But there can be no exculpation for Ashton’s second goal ten minutes later.  The through pass from Gary Gee to Pilkington was as well timed as the centre forwards run but the Rams back line was square and statuesque.

Pilkington raced through, drew Grant Shenton and then squared the ball to present Craig Lindfield with an open goal.

And that was just about the last of the meaningful action.  From there it was interesting to observe the differences in the two teams – Ashton were neat and clever, with an instinctive sense of shape and space, making runs off the ball that showed some understanding of its likely trajectory and intention of the player in possession.  The Rams were static and reactive too often, having to be positioned almost like Subbuteo men by commands from the touchline.

Those differences could and perhaps should be put down to comparing a settled team with one which finds itself putting out a different set of players in different positions every match – but the way in which Adam Morning, not the most energetic of players, operated on the touchline in the 20-yard area each side of the half-way line was instructive.  He found space too easy to come by, got a head or foot on everything that came his way and was a source of constant menace.

With his back to the play, his instant deflection onwards with the outside of his foot of ball hit hard to him was exquisite and worth the admission fee – there lies the difference.

The Rams have had experienced players like him – in fact he turned out for them a couple of years back, playing twice in August 2013 and twice off the bench in 2009 – but find it difficult to recruit and retain them or put them to productive use when they have them.

Ramsbottom United: Grant Shenton (capt), Robbie Bromley, Dylan Smith, Kevin McGrath, Nia Bayunu, Alex Meaney (Joseph Shaw 82mins), David Kuba-Kuba, Jake Cliffe, Ashley Stott (Aaron Smith 82mins), Daniel Wilkins, Andrew Smart.  Subs not used: John Pritchard, Luke Heron, Philip Edghill.

Ashton United: Paul Phillips, Cavell Coo, Steve Mason, Jason Gorton (capt), Joe Connor, Gary Gee, Chris Baguley (Mark Lees 80mins), Paul Marshall (Will Haining 89mins), Martin Pilkington (Joel Melia 72mins), Adam Morning, Craig Lindfield.  Subs not used: Ben Wharton, Eddie Toner.
Goals: Martin Pilkington (11mins), Craig Lindfield (21mins)

Referee: Mark Cunliffe (Litherland)

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