IT’S been a year of transition at Ashton Athletic – one which has landed them in their first ever cup final.
A summer overhaul at Brostedes Park saw a number of players and a new management team walk through the door to inspire the club’s most successful ever season.
Athletic are now gearing up for the North West Counties Divisional Cup final against Maine Road at Curzon Ashton tonight after a campaign which has seen a number of records smashed.
The side has enjoyed its highest ever league finish, most wins and most points accumulated as they finished sixth in the NW Counties Premier Division.
It’s an achievement which joint managers Ben Kay, Dougie Pitts and Jay Foulds – who all joined from Wigan Robin Park – are immensely proud of.
“It’s been a productive season, considering it’s our first season in charge,” said Kay.
“The old manager stepped down and one of the lads, who is friends with the chairman, was approached and they us if we would like to take over. We don’t have an assistant or a first team coach, we just manage it between the three of us.
“We took the basis of the Robin Park team with us because we thought we could do well.
“We’ve recently won nine games in a row but we lost our last two. Last week we played five games in seven days because there was a fixture deadline for the league.”
Ashton have reached the final after a 6-2 aggregate victory over Rochdale Town in the semi-final.
Thursday’s match will cap off an historic campaign and they’re hoping to go into next season with silverware in the cabinet.
Centre-forward Ryan Small has been in inspired form for Ashton netting 21 goals, including five in the cup, while at the back Ian Rowlands has been a defensive rock.
Kay admits that the success has come as a surprise to him, although he had much higher ambitions than the task which was initially laid down to the managerial trio.
“When we had the meeting the chairman said as long as we don’t get relegated he’d be happy,” he said.
“We had bigger ambitions than that because we knew what type of squad we’d have. We struggled the first few months trying to adapt but once we settled down and got the formation right, we have only lost three games in the last 18.
“We’ve done really well and people are tipping us to be up there for the league next season but that would add more pressure if we started thinking like that.”
If the Ashton players want a bank holiday weekend of celebrations, they’ll have to overcome a strong Maine Road side. The Manchester club has already beaten Athletic twice this season but Kay believes all form goes out the window when it comes to cup finals.
“It will definitely be a tough one,” he added. “They finished fourth in the league and we finished sixth.
“They have beaten us twice this season, but we beat the champions Norton United who finished on 100 points home and away, so it just goes to show anything happen.
“It would be the first major honour really that Ashton Athletic has ever won so there is a huge incentive. Hopefully we’ll have a decent following behind us to cheer us on.”