The Northern Football League
Published 13th February 2012
Gary Middleton has tasted its highs and lows too and, of the former, craves more.
As a player, the Ashington manager lost, to Tiverton Town in the 1999 final with Bedlington Terriers, but triumphed three years later when the Seahorses beat Tiptree United.
So he knows all too well what Whitley have been through these past few years, and is both hopeful and confident of mining a similar shaft with the Colliers.
Since swapping West Allotment Celtic for Woodhorn Lane three years ago, Middleton – accompanied by Neil Winskill and Richie Bond – has overseen marked progress and nowhere more so than in the Vase.
Both Ashington and Middleton as manager are in the last sixteen for the first time and, after Saturday`s Fifth Round tie at Shortwood United was postponed on Friday, he takes his side to the Gloucestershire-based, Uhlsport Hellenic League outfit this coming Saturday, but he appreciates the long road yet to travel, in buoyant mood.
“The Vase is a big competition and a massive achievement if you can win it,” he said. “At this level of the non-League Pyramid, the Vase is the highest accolade, and what Whitley Bay have achieved is testimony to how good our league is.
“It would be a fantastic achievement for the players and staff if we were to win it but there’s a long way to go yet, and some very good teams still in the competition.
“One thing’s for sure, whoever wins it will be worthy winners. You have to play a lot of good teams, the best in the country.
“You need a bit of luck along the way, as we had at Bedlington when we went to Workington and won.
“I like to think we’re due some now because we’ve not had a lot, we’ve been full value for winning each round we’ve come through.”
Not least in the last, when Middleton took just fourteen players to Newport Pagnell Town.
With Darren Lough (head), Stephen Young (ankle) and Jonny Godsmark (hamstring) injured, Phil Bell (hamstring) a doubt and Marc Walton and Tommy English cup-tied, he might well do again.
But, and with Michael Tait available after the tame affair of a family christening on Saturday, Middleton is not unduly concerned.
“It’s not what you would like, but the lads who are available are the ones who’ve got us this far, they just have to continue producing big performances,” he said.
“The club’s not been in the last sixteen before, and neither have we as a management team.
“So it’s a great achievement and I’m very optimistic that we can get a great result down there. We’ve had them watched a couple of times so we’re aware of their threats and weaknesses.
“They’re a very attack-minded team, they attack in numbers. They’re third in their league, going for promotion.
“But with the season we’re having and the teams we’ve already beaten to get this far, I’m very confident that, on our day, we can beat the very best.
“We’ve proved that this season, against the likes of Spennymoor Town and Newport Pagnell Town, Guiseley and Vauxhall Motors from the Blue Square Bet North and Bedlington Terriers, on Boxing Day.
“There have been some very good performances in those games, we’re in good form and we go in buoyant mood.
“We’re three games from Wembley, which sounds nothing, but each step is a rollercoaster and you’ve got to be able to come through that.”