Alder House has seen some decent players over the years, but I doubt many of them could match the calibre of visiting skipper Julio Arca, with the 37 year old boasting over 300 league appearances with Middlesbrough and Sunderland and loving life in non-league, with his appearance undoubtedly a special moment for Colls captain Brad Cooke as possibly the only Sunderland fan in Atherton got to go head to head against the Argentinean midfielder.
After the continued wet weather saw Easter Monday’s home game against Ramsbottom United bite the bust, it was a minor miracle that this fixture was even able to take place with large sections of the Kensite Stadium pitch underwater barely 24 hours before kick-off, with huge credit going to the Colls ground staff volunteers who did a sterling job in ensuring the pitch was playable, particularly when bearing in mind the 300 mile round trip to be undertaken by the visitors.
In truth, the visiting side dominated the encounter and it wasn’t until the 88th minute that Colls, tightly pressed in midfield throughout, managed to get a serious glimpse of goal when Ben Hardcastle, who recently added 12 months to his contract with the club, flashing a shot narrowly above the target after a driving run forward.
The victory for South Shields – scorers of nineteen goals in their last four league and cup outings before their visit to the Kensite – puts them three points clear of Hyde United at the top of the Evo-Stik League Division One North, with a couple of games in hand to boot, as they look to quickly progress up the footballing pyramid. On this showing, their credentials aren’t to be questioned after a dominating and efficient performance, going in front on 13 minutes when Dillon Morse’s long ball over the top released Lee Mason, who slotted past Greg Hartley from an acute angle from the right hand side of the penalty area.
That lead was almost doubled only a couple of minutes later, Michael Richardson showing some twinkling feet to dance his way past a couple of challenges and poke the ball past Hartley, only for Colls right back Jake Kenny to appear in the right place at the right time to hack the ball off the line.
Having seen his pre-match plans disrupted by the late withdrawal of Jordan Cover, Collieries boss Micheal Clegg had another problem to contend with on only 23 minutes when Chris Lynch was forced to withdraw from the action, replaced by Matt Grimshaw at the heart of the black and white defence.
Harley did well to save Craig Baxter’s driven effort from twenty five yards out on thirty three minutes before Colls asked credible questions for a penalty when Gareth Peet was bundled over by Morse, only for the appeals to fall on deaf ears.
Aksel Juul came off the bench for the visitors at half-time and within five minutes of his introduction he had doubled his side’s lead, finishing from Richardson’s cut back after Hartley had initially done well to claw a looping effort away from his right hand corner.
As the temperature started to drop, the visitors continued to have the better of the game without necessarily threatening a third goal as things got a little scrappy with Josh Messer, Danny Lafferty and Dave Sherlock all finding with their way in to the referee’s notebook as the game petered out to only a second defeat for Colls in seventeen outings.
Colls have a quick chance for redemption when they are back in Kensite Stadium action this coming Saturday (7th April) as Prescot Cables visit for a 3pm kick off before the black and whites travel south to Staffordshire the following Thursday (12th April, 7.45pm) for the Integro League Cup Semi Final away to Evo-Stik League Premier Division side Hednesford Town.
Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Jake Kenny, Glenn Matthews (Liam O’Neill 74’), Josh Messer (Dave Sherlock 65’), Danny Lafferty, Chris Lynch (Matt Grimshaw 23’), Daniel Lambert, Brad Cooke ©, Adam Farrell, Ben Hardcastle, Gareth Peet
South Shields: Liam Connell, Craig Baxter, Darren Lough, Jon Shaw, Dillon Morse, Julio Arca © (Karl Ross 80’), Louis Storey, Robert Briggs, Lee Mason (Graeme Armstrong 70’), Michael Richardson, Jamie Holmes (Aksel Juul 46’). Substitutes (not used); Alex Nicholson, Paul Woolston
Goals: Lee Mason (13′), Richard Juul (50′)
Match Report: Matt Lawton
Photograph: David Featherstone