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Chorley keeper Ashton ready to continue his cup tradition
NOT many non-league goalkeepers can say they have scored two career goals, saved a crucial penalty in FC United’s best ever cup run and played as a centre forward for Bolton in the third round of the FA Cup. But Sam Ashton has done the lot.
If Chorley are looking for heroes when they host Conference side Forest Green Rovers in the second round of the FA Trophy this afternoon, Ashton seems like a natural candidate.
He has had that sort of career.
A bumper crowd is expected at Victory Park for the match, as Garry Flitcroft’s Magpies bid to pull off a real cup upset.
For Ashton, it would be another chapter in his remarkable history in knock-out competitions.
Last season he helped unfancied Skelmersdale United through to the third round of the FA Trophy, where they were narrowly defeated by Luton in front of 2,500 at Kenilworth Road.
Three years ago, he was FC United’s goalkeeper as they progressed to the FA Cup second round – still comfortably the biggest achievement of the club’s eight-year history.
After shocking Rochdale in the front of the live television cameras in the first round, FC United were handed a second round trip to Gus Poyet’s Brighton.
Brighton looked set to earn a last-minute victory at the With-dean Stadium, until Ashton denied Elliott Bennett from the penalty spot and secured a surprise 1-1 draw.
“I dived to the right and got a hand on it. It was an unreal feeling,” recalls Ashton, now 27.
“Brighton were top of League One, they had Glenn Murray who has gone on to Crystal Palace and they had Ashley Barnes.
“Elliott Bennett, who I saved the penalty from, has gone on to play in the Premier League for Norwich.
“It wasn’t just that penalty, I made four or five other saves in that game. The lads said they knew I would save the penalty. Sometimes you get that. You just know things are going to go your way.”
If some predicted he would save that penalty at Brighton, even though FC United lost the replay 4-0, few would have predicted Ashton’s bizarre appearance in the FA Cup third round for Bolton in 2006.
A promising keeper in the club’s youth system, he progressed to Bolton’s reserve team before a moment of sentimentality persuaded Sam Allardyce to field Ashton up front as a late substitute for Jared Borgetti in a 3-0 win at Watford.
Allardyce was aware that Ashton was a huge Bolton fan, who dreamed of playing for the first team.
“I used to go in and tell him he’d picked the wrong team when we lost!” laughed Ashton, who even has a tattoo marking his allegiance to his hometown club.
“When I was in the youth team I played at right back and centre half for a bit when I had an injury that meant I couldn’t go in goal.
“After that the first team were training on Boxing Day and Nicky Hunt got injured, and I was just asked to go in at right back in training. I had Stelios in my pocket!
“This was the first team the day before they played Manchester United.
“A few days later the goalkeeping coach told me to make sure I was ready for the week afterwards, because he said I was going to be in the squad for the FA Cup game as an outfield player.
“They were short of players because a few were away at the African Nations Cup. I trained all that week with people like Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies.
“Then in the last five or 10 minutes at Watford Sam Allardyce said to get ready because I was coming on, and I went on up front!
“We took 2,500 fans down to Watford, and I had a few mates in the crowd who started signing my name.
“I’m a massive Bolton fan and it’s every fan’s dream to play and to have the fans singing your name. The players were all congratulating me afterwards. It was fantastic.”
Ashton has never played outfield since then, though.
“Not in a game, but I have scored two goals!” he said. “I scored one with a kick from my own goal against Retford, and last year for Skelmersdale I scored a penalty.
“We were winning 3-0 and the manager said I could go and take it. I stuck it away in the bottom corner. I think it meant that all 11 players had scored for us.
“I don’t think the gaffer here will let me take one though!
“Josh Hine takes them here and he’s brilliant at them, I face him in training and you just can’t read them.
“I haven’t asked the gaffer if I can take one yet, but maybe I will do towards the end of the season!”
Now, Ashton wants to write the next chapter in his career.
Chorley currently sit second in the Evo-Stik Premier Division, one point behind Ashton’s old club Skelmersdale, and the keeper believes an FA Trophy upset is also within their grasp.
“The league is the main priority, I came here because I wanted to win the league,” said Ashton, whose day job involves helping special needs children in Bolton.
“This is the only league I haven’t won at this level, I’ve won the North West Counties and Lancashire League.
“But we want to progress in the FA Trophy as well and hopefully we can get over 1,000 there for this game, this club is a sleeping giant in non-league.
“The gaffer said to us that he thinks that we are capable of beating any Conference team, and that gives us a lot of confidence. We’ve got a great team spirit and that can take you a long way ,too.
“We’re only three games from Wembley if we win this.
“We’ve got nothing to lose.”
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