A second half performance full of grit and determination saw Atherton Collieries claim their fourth point in three days, even managing to overcome Jamie Forbes’ sending off to score a late Ben Hardcastle equaliser to earn a share of the spoils on a rainy evening at the Kensite Stadium.
The visitors had gone in front as early as the third minute through Andy Owens, but Hardcastle was on hand to level the scores with eight minutes left, despite Forbes’ departure for a second yellow card only five minutes previously.
After running out handsome 3-0 victors away to Brighouse Town at the weekend, Colls boss Micheal Clegg kept faith with the same starting eleven, but it was back to the drawing board within three minutes of kick off as confusion in the Colls defence presented Andy Owens with an opportunity he was all too happy to take. Colls were comfortable 3-0 winners when the two sides met in the Integro League Cup last month, but the visitors were an entirely different proposition in this encounter and they did a fine job in preventing Colls getting in to their stride, with Clegg taking the somewhat drastic action of making a double substitution on 27 minutes in an effort to reorganise and galvanise his charges with midfielder Sebastian Julian and defender Chris Lynch sacrificed for Jordan Cover and Jake Kenny, allowing Cover to play up front alongside the previously lone striker Ryan Salmon. However, even that plan fell in to disarray inside a matter of minutes when Salmon and Skelmersdale left back Jack Fleming clashed heads, with the end result being Salmon heading to hospital with a broken nose and Darrhyl Mason entering the field as Colls’ third and final substitution with more than fifty minutes still left on the clock.
The second period saw the heavens open and a much more attack-minded Colls performance as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser, though they still had to be wary at the back and were thankful to Adam Reid for coming up with a terrific save on 54 minutes to palm away a Nathan Randell header.
As the game ticked past the hour mark it would seem that it wasn’t to be Colls’ night as Gareth Peet thumped a strike against the left hand post with the goalkeeper beaten having previously seen Roberts do well to keep hold of a low left-footed strike from Hardcastle, and the task became even greater with thirteen minutes left as Jamie Forbes was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence after bringing down Callum Mahoney as the Skelmersdale front man looked to break forward, with his first yellow card arriving in the 19th minute for a foul on Owens by the right-hand corner flag.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Colls stayed in the hunt for an equaliser and went agonisingly close with eleven minutes left when a set piece straight from the training ground saw Iain Howard deceive everybody in the ground and decide against shooting from a promising position 25 yards out and instead nudging it across a few yards for Danny Lafferty to send in a ferocious strike that was deflected inches wide of the target for the first of three successive corners as Colls upped the pressure. Against all odds, such attacking endevour finally paid off on 82 minutes when Mason nodded down a Howard cross at the back post in to the path of Cover, who flicked the ball on for Hardcastle to force the ball home from a yard out to spark jubliant scenes on and off the pitch.
With Colls in the ascendancy and even daring to dream of a winning goal, Skelmersdale gave a timely reminder of the precarious nature of the game when Owen’s headed Fleming’s corner narrowly wide only three minutes after conceding, but there were no further scores to be added, leaving Colls to be pleased with their fighting spirit and a point well earned in what was the first of three consecutive home games. The second game of that trio comes on Saturday (25th November) when Radcliffe Borough make the short journey to the Kensite Stadium for a 3pm Evo-Stik League Division One North fixture before Bamber Bridge come to Atherton the following Monday (27th November, 7.45pm) for an Integro League Cup tie.
Atherton Collieries; Adam Reid, Chris Lynch (Jake Kenny 27’), Gareth Peet, Daniel Lambert, Danny Lafferty ©, Jamie Forbes, Ben Hardcastle, Sebastian Julien (Jordan Cover 27’), Ryan Salmon (Darrhyl Mason 36’), Iain Howard, Glenn Matthews. Substitutes (not used); Brad Cooke, Rob Sadler
Skelmersdale United; Lee Roberts, Arnold Baxendale, Jack Fleming, Mike Roddy ©, Phil Mooney, Josh Wardlie, Nathan Randell (Tom Mitchell 71’), Rob Bourne (Callum Lucy 67’), Andy Owens, Callum Mahoney, Harry Blackburn (Chris Hill 58’). Substitutes (not used); Jonathan Crane, Jack Sims
Referee; Mr L Corrigan
Match report; Matt Lawton