Unbeaten in eight – a statistic any club in any division would be proud to have; the Collieries looked to extend it to nine as they welcomed Alsager Town to Alder House for what was predicted to be an interesting NWCFL Premier Division encounter.
Despite being bottom of the table, Alsager upset the odds in the midweek, beating Runcorn Linnets in an admirable 3-1 home win. Thus suggesting Alsager can, and will, overturn anyone on their day.
Since the start of the season, fixtures have come thick and fast, and a mixture of this, injury’s and availability meant that Manager Michael Clegg had to shuffle the pack, with a few new faces introduced to the side. Jake Kenny returned from injury and slotted back into his right-back position, Brad Cooke out of the squad due to injury, new signing David Sherlock straight into the side at number 10 and youngster Jonathan Hurst taking a place on the bench.
It is safe to say that the Collieries started the better of the two sides as they opened the scoring with just five minutes on the clock. On the right edge of the area, Ben Hardcastle had the ball slipped through to him sublimely by Mark Battersby. Hardcastle did the rest, as he ran at goal before he slotted under the helpless Jack Cookson. A good start from the men in black and white, Hardcastle looked sharp.
However, despite the initial positivity, the Colls gave away a free kick in a dangerous position, just off the edge of the area, central to goal. Luckily, Jordan Elcock fired the ball well over the bar.
It was Hardcastle who scored Atherton’s second, on 20 minutes. Mark Truffas initial shot at goal was well saved by Cookson. However, Hardcastle was first to the ball after a melee in the area, the right midfielder tapped home.
Clearly, Hardcastle was on fire. The winger bossed play and dictated the direction of attack. On 25 minutes, he was denied only by a fine piece of individual defending. The midfielder received the ball in the top right quadrant of the Alsager box and with his back to goal, flicked the ball over himself, the defence and towards the goal – a fine effort that looked destined to cross the line. It would have done so, if it wasn’t for some good work from Liam Simon who tracked back and thumped the ball away from danger.
Despite the Collieries’ continued dominance in the half, goalkeeper Danny Taberner had to be alert on 38 minutes. On the left hand side of the danger area, Chris Smith collected the ball. The forward brought the ball down, turned and released his shot at goal. Taberner reacted well to get down and palm the ball away from danger. This was a sign of things to come.
With two minutes to go until Half Time, Hardcastle completed his first half hat-trick. On half way, Captain Mark Battersby played the ball through to Hardcastle who, advanced through the defence and fired into the top right hand corner of the goal. A fine move from the Colls. A first ever hat-trick and possibly best ever forty five minutes in a black and white shirt for Hardcastle.
Half Time – Atherton Collieries 3-0 Alsager Town
The cliché ‘a game of two halves’ seems fitting when describing this game, for Atherton looked a shadow of the side that they were in the first.
On 50 minutes, Town pulled a goal back. A long ball out of defence wasn’t dealt with adequately by the Colls defence but there was no denying the quality of the Jack Wooley finish from the edge of the box. A goal worthy of any game at any level.
Things went from bad to worse three minutes later when Alsager found themselves with a penalty. Mark Ayres handled just inside the box. Wooley struck his effort sweetly but Danny Taberner strong armed the ball to safety. A fine save.
Despite this, Alsager did eventually get their second of the game on 59 minutes. A forward ball was latched onto by Chris M Smith who collected, turned and on the angle, blasted into the roof of the net. A superb finish from Smith, Atherton seemed asleep.
Seconds later, Town hit the bar. John Jones held the ball for a number of seconds in the left quadrant of the field before he released a super shot that flew through the air and bounced of the woodwork.
Just after the hour mark, Taberner was called upon again. Alsager substitute Jordan Johnson ran through as he chased a loose ball. Johnson attempted to cross to one of his team-mates but the ball was intercepted well by Taberner’s palms.
Clegg knew things had to change, with this in mind he introduced Josh Messer, Keith Wedge and Jonathan Hurst to the game.
On 77 minutes, it looked as if the Collieries were back to form. A corner was swung deep into the Town box, Matt Grimshaw rose highest to head the ball across goal. However, this amounted to nothing as, after a goal mouth scramble, the ball was thumped away from danger.
Arguably one of the best moves of the game came minutes later. Kris Holt slipped the ball through to M. Battersby after Messer had dummied. The trio caught the Alsager back line off guard. This wasn’t capitalised upon though as the forward scuffed the ball wide.
With eight minutes to go until full Time, the Colls made the game safe with a debutant goal for Hurst. The promising young striker was initially denied by keeper Cookson but he showed great composure and technique to drill in the rebound. A great cameo appearance from Hurst.
There was still time for a bit of controversy. Firstly Mark Battersby was shown a red card for second caution for leading with the elbow. Disappointing for the club as he will now join Mark Ayres in missing the FA Vase clash with Newcastle Benfield. A harsh decision maybe but referee Aspinall had the card in the air at machine gun speed when she could have given herself more time to weigh up the job. A Town defender then went straight through Hardcastle studs up leaving him in a crumpled heap on terra firma. Fortunately there was no lasting damage on Hardcastle but the defender can count himself a very lucky boy only the well-used yellow card was wafted in the air.
Hurst had the final chance of the game but he was narrowly off target after good work from Sherlock.
Full Time – Atherton Collieries 4-2 Alsager Town
Unbeaten in nine – a statistic any club in any division would be proud to have.
Next up, Squires Gate.
Atherton Collieries: Danny Taberner, Jake Kenny, Nathan Battersby, Jimmy Moore, Matt Grimshaw, Mark Ayres, Ben Hardcastle, Kris Holt, Mark Battersby ©, David Sherlock and Mark Truffas – Substitutes: Jacob Jones, Keith Wedge, Josh Messer, John Hurst and Andy Heald
Alsager Town: Jack Cookson, Liam Simon, Gary Moluneux, Jake Chadwick, Adam Dawson ©, Jack Warren, John Jones, Jack Wooley, Chris Smith, Jordan Elcock and Josh Crofts – Substitutes: Jordan Southwill, Jordan Johnson, Liam Shaw and Kyle Blake
Match Report – Zach Pierce