The crowds decended upon the Skuna with the sun beating down and Colls needing to equal Radcliffe’s result to maintain their 4 point lead at the top of the table and clinch the title in their last home league game of the season.
The game itself played second bill to the event, the public of Atherton came out in their droves to see the Colls attempt to ascend into the Northern Premier League for the very first time.
In their way were Integro Cup holders Trafford FC. The North having one of the best defensive records in the league but being held back by their lack of goals over the season. It was immediately obvious that Trafford were remarkably well organised, and not showing much attacking intent, the onus was on Colls to break them down.
Manager Micheal Clegg chose to counter the size of the Trafford side by bringing winger Conor Gaul in for Connor Hughes and playing with a 4-3-3, Gaul and Ben Hardcastle supporting Tom Bentham. With Clive Smith failing a late fitness test, captain Danny Lafferty moved over to right-back with Matt Grimshaw coming in at centre-back.
It was set pieces that offered Colls their only real sights of goal early in the first half. A Vinny Bailey free-kick from the left was superbly palmed away by Matt Cooper in the Trafford Goal. A second free-kick almost from the same position was then taken by Oli Roberts, Cooper palming over in the other direction again denying Colls.
The best chance of the half, indeed the game, fell to Conor Gaul on 45 minutes as he lofted the ball over Cooper but was denied by a superb last ditch interception by Keil O’Brien before he could finish as the keeper scambled on the floor.
The second half played out much in the same vain, Jordan Cover and Connor Hughes replaced Tom Bentham and Conor Gaul on 59 minutes in an attempt to nick a goal. Cover soon nearly managed just that, Cooper uncharacteristically fumbling an Oli Roberts free-kick but the ball fell just behind the in form striker for Joel Amado to clear.
The manager made his final tactical shuffle on 74 minutes when forward James Kirky came on for Dave Sherlock who had been anchoring the midfield. However the attacking intent of Colls slightly opened the door for Trafford, Amado was first to try his luck with a long range shot that flew well over the bar. Then in Trafford’s best moment of the game, Laurence Taylor broke on the right and fired a low hard shot across Hartley who was superbly down with a strong arm to keep the game scoreless.
As the minutes ticked away, all eyes were on the Radcliffe v Ramsbottom United game. As we entered injury time, a James Kirby shot at the back post, from a similar position to his goal at Market Drayton Town this time evaded the net but went out for a Colls corner. Word reached the team that needing a mere point that the ball needed to stay in the corner. And that it did. A forgetable 0-0 draw being quickly replaced by scenes of jubilation.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the league committee were able to confirm us as champions immediately and progress with the presentation. We’d like to thank the fans, players, staff and everyone associated with Trafford FC for their part in the celebrations, staying to watch, applaud and have a drink afterwards. Class.
The celebrations continued outside the clubhouse at the Skuna until the sun went down, so many people who had put in so much effort over the season finally being able to unwind. Atherton Collieries. Nothern Premier League, here we come.
Team: Greg Hartley, Danny Lafferty, Gaz Peet, Vinny Bailey, Matty Grimshaw, Ian Rowlands, Dave Sherlock (James Kirby 74′), Oli Roberts, Tom Bentham (Jordan Cover 59′), Ben Hardcastle, Conor Gaul (Connor Hughes 59′)
Subs: Danny Lambert, Josh Peet
Twinshock Brewery Colls Mon of the Match: Danny Lafferty