ASHTON United are on the verge of their greatest triumph since 1992, the year they won promotion to the Northern Premier League.
They can’t match the four trophies that Dave Denby’s squad racked up that season, but victory in the Evo-stik premier division play-off final would put them back in National League North for the first time since they were founder members in 2003.
At that time they went up as one of 15 NPL clubs. However, if they can beat Grantham Town at Hurst Cross tomorrow (Saturday), it will be as a club that has achieved promotion through its on-field efforts and not because it was part of a breakaway pack.
Ashton have performed heroics over the last fortnight to finish second in the table and beat Farsley in the play-off semis. Liam Tomsett has peaked at just the right time and scored in the last three games, including an injury-time winner at Workington. But manager Jody Banim knows Grantham present a formidable obstacle.
The Lincolnshire side are big, physical, fast and direct. They operate a no-nonsense style and know how to break up play and slow it down when they need to.
In assistant-boss Danny Martin they have a man who loves to wind up a home crowd with over-the-top reactions. He did this to great effect at Bower Fold a month ago when Grantham ended a run of four consecutive wins for Stalybridge including victories over Altrincham and Warrington.
Then-Celtic manager Steve Burr said after the match: “They did well tonight and closed us down at every opportunity. They were better than us and took their chances well. The young lads in our dressing room have got to learn that sometimes you come up against sides like this.”
Robins manager Jody Banim is aware of the challenge that awaits his team. He commented: “We know what they do and they do it very well. As long as we can deal with their long ball and pick up second balls, I think we’ve got players who can hurt them. But it’s going to be very tough.”
In Lee Shaw and Jordan Hempenstall, Grantham have two strikers who boast a combined tally of 54 goals this season. Any problems they have would appear to be in midfield. There are doubts over Michael Hollingsworth and Andrew Wright, who both had to be substituted on Tuesday. Long-term absentee Luke Shaw is definitely out.
Ashton should be able to field their strongest-possible line-up. Banim could bring Matty Chadwick off the bench at some point and there is a very tiny possibility skipper Mark Lees might return after breaking a metatarsal.
On Tuesday, Lees expressed an eagerness, indeed a determination, to be available. Everything depended on training last night and whether he could put any weight on his foot.
Grantham have announced that they are expecting to bring a large contingent of fans with them, so the crowd looks likely to be bigger than the 604 who turned up for the Farsley match.