The Fourth Round Proper was uncharted territory for the Collieries. The sublime 3-0 win away at Penrith in the previous round gifted the Colls another away trip at a Northern League outfit, this time Shildon the destination.
Atherton were under no illusions, this would be a tough game. The County Durham side were the bookies second favourites to lift the trophy having won fourteen out of their last fifteen games, last season had taken the league and cup double in the Northern League which is by common consent the strongest Step 6 competition.
However, thanks to the professionalism of the backroom staff, the commitment of the players and the coachloads of Collieries supporters draped in green for the afternoon, the Collieries came back from 1-0 down to run out, quite unbelievably, 4-1 winners, sending the 100+ supporters into song and dance, a cup upset if ever there was one.
What must be remembered, though, is that none of the above would have been possible without Adam Reid’s epic save thirty seconds into the game. The Colls made a nervy start, understandably so, and as a result gifted their hosts with an early attack. The ball was delivered to Michael Rae on the far right side of the Atherton area. Directing his effort on goal, Rae had the potential to undo all of Clegg’s game plan within the opening seconds. Luckily, Adam Reid somehow managed to scoop the ball away from behind him and prevent an early set back. It was a truly stupendous save and as early as it was could be construed as a game changer.
As touched on earlier, the first period of the game was a very cagey affair as both sides settled into the game, desperate not to concede. The Shildon defence were in fine form for the first half, seemingly soaking everything up the Collieries had to throw at them. On 22 minutes however, the Colls managed to squeeze a ball through. Mark Truffas collected the ball sent over to him on the left side of the field, the talented winger could only poke the ball wide, however.
Four minutes later and the Colls exploited the flanks yet again. Ben Hardcastle collected the ball in midfield and surged down his familiar right side, cutting inside before he poked his effort just shy of the left post.
With ten minutes to go until the interval, it looked as if Atherton might just nick the advantage. Hardcastle was deep on the right flank and drilled the ball across the face of goal. All it needed was a touch, unfortunately no one was there to provide it and the ball tickled away for Shildon to clear. The hosts had won the opening period on points with Rae and the lively centre forward Amar Purewal showing true class. The Colls side worked collectively as a side and must surely been satisfied to go in for half time oranges on level terms.
The second 45 will go down in Colls history as one of the greatest comebacks and, eventually, wins of all time.
However it Shildon took the lead on 55 minutes. The hosts broke and threaded the ball through to experienced forward Amar Purewal. The former Darlington 1883 attacker slotted a low and hard shot past Reid for a deserved notch. This was after Mark Battersby had seen his 20 yard effort cannon off the Shildon crossbar with the custodian in no man’s land.
Remember though, this is Atherton Collieries, a side that does not go down without a fight. And, fight they did for, and within five minutes they were level much to the delight of the travelling contingent.
A long punt forward should have been a routine clearance for Shildon stopper Liversedge, however the keeper for some reason opted to clear the ball with a header. The ball landed at the feet of Ben Hardcastle. Taking advantage of the open goal, the skilful winger scooped the ball into the back of the net, lobbing both Liversedge and a defender. It was an unerringly instinctive finish which thoroughly punished the keeper’s split second decision. Out of nowhere, the Colls were now level, and boy were they galvanised.
Another three minutes had passed by the time the ball rippled against the Shildon net for the second time that afternoon. Truffas crossed superbly for Mark Battersby to beat his marker to the ball which he glanced across Liveredge and into the bottom far corner of the net. Que celebrations, unbridled joy and shock from the Colls camp, for the first time this afternoon and against the odds the Collieries were in front.
Atherton seemed to control the game now, and Shildon simply buckled under the pressure. This was evident on 68 minutes when the Colls scored their third of what was a superb afternoon. From a Hardcastle corner kick, defender Danny Lafferty bulleted a header towards goal. The ball seemed likely to clear the crossbar but in what seemed like slow motion it in off the both head of the defender on the line and the underside of the crossbar. Que shellshock then pandemonium.
The boys weren’t finished there though. Keen to give justice to this professional, controlling and simply awesome second half performance they added a fourth to the scoresheet with only three minutes to go. Substitute Jordan Cover led the counter attack from a desperate Shildon effort on goal. Having the ball played through to him, Cover’s pace was simply too much to handle for the Northern League outfit and he caressed the ball under Liversedge. The Colls faithful were now in dreamland
After eight minutes of added time, the referee blew to bring an end to one of the best Collieries performances in their 101 year history. The players, coaching team and supporters celebrated in unison as Dean Street bounced to an Atherton Collieries tune. There was many a tear shed unashamedly in these emotional scenes.
Words cannot describe how much this win means to everyone at the Football Club, the last 16 of the FA Vase is a superb achievement, but one that Clegg and the boys deserve. Safe to say, everyone (from the players to the supporters) is enjoying this journey we find ourselves on, we’re not sure where it will take us next, but wherever it is everyone is welcome to join us.
I think the sentence from Ian Templeman’s report on the Hallmark Security League website sums it up succinctly, ‘the second 45 minutes will live long in the memory of everyone involved with Colls who watched the events unfold’.
A fine performance, a fine win, UP THE COLLS!
A shout out to Shildon FC who were genial hosts. They were naturally disappointed but magnanimous in defeat and the many good luck wishes which were offered as we left the clubhouse were very much appreciated.