In close to 102 years of existence, Atherton Collieries have never before played at such lofty heights in the English footballing pyramid, but a goal in each half from Adam Farrell and Ben Hardcastle was enough to see Micheal Clegg’s side earn a place in the Integro League Cup Semi Finals at the very first attempt.
The games have undoubtedly been coming thick and fast for the black and whites, but in a spell where Atherton’s finest have lost only once in fifteen games, the entire squad has been bouncing at the prospect of each game, not least after twice defeating high-flying Scarborough Athletic last week before winning by the only goal in a tough encounter at Kendal Town only 48 hours prior to this vital quarter final.
Clegg made a few tweaks to the side that won in Cumbria on Tuesday, with Chris Lynch, Danny Lambert, Brad Cooke and Gareth Peet all coming in to the starting line up to face a Ramsbottom outfit who are the only side to have defeated Colls in their remarkable run that stretches back as far as mid-January.
Having drawn a rare blank when the sides met in a league fixture only nine days ago, Colls took only thirteen minutes to get themselves on the scoresheet in this one when Ramsbottom goalkeeper Sam Ashton did well to keep out a Chris Lynch header from Ben Hardcastle’s corner, only for Adam Farrell to be in the right place at the right time to sweep the ball in to the net from close range.
Ben Hardcastle has long been a stand out player for Colls, and he was again a pivotal figure having skippered the side at Kendal on Tuesday on the occasion of his 200th league appearance for the club. First he set pulses racing on thirty nine minutes when he raced clear on goal after giving a five yard head start to the visiting defence, but stumbled under heavy pressure at the last second and subsequently miscontrolled the ball enough for Ashton to smother it, and then he drew a smart stop from Ashton with a driven effort at the back post after Gareth Peet had skinned Liam Brownhill down Colls’ left flank to deliver the cross.
Peet was also proving to be a danger and he was brought down thirty yards from goal on forty four minutes with Ashton doing well to cope with a late bounce low down from Farrell’s resultant free kick, with Colls going in to the break a goal to the good.
The two sides exchanged substitutions and a booking apiece in the second half with Rammy’s Jon Robinson booked for a late challenge on Brad Cooke in midfield on 69 minutes, two minutes before Colls’ Daniel Lambert was shown a yellow card for a foul on Greg Daniels.
The 77th minute saw Hardcastle demonstrate some nifty feet on halfway to leave Tom Brooks for dead before breaking down the right wing and deliver a tantalising low cross that Ashton smothered as the ball whipped across his goalmouth before Hardcastle sealed victory on 87 minutes, lashing the ball high in to Ashton’s net, and certainly not the least he deserved for a fine evening’s efforts.
The draw for the Integro League Cup Semi Final will take place on Friday evening, with a last four encounter to come against either South Shields, Coalville Town or Hednesford Town. Colls are in league action on Saturday afternoon (31st March) when they visit Droylsden for a 3pm kick off before Ramsbottom United make a quick return to the Kensite Stadium for an Evo-Stik League Division One North fixture this coming Bank Holiday Monday afternoon (Easter Monday, 2nd April, 3pm kick off).
Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Chris Lynch, Glenn Matthews, Josh Messer, Danny Lafferty, Matt Grimshaw, Danny Lambert, Brad Cooke © (Dave Sherlock 79’), Adam Farrell (James Sigsworth 68’), Ben Hardcastle, Gareth Peet (Jordan Cover 82’). Substitutes (not used); Liam O’Neill, Gary Burnett
Goals: Adam Farrell (13′), Ben Hardcastle (87′)
Ramsbottom United: Sam Ashton, Liam Brownhill, Phillip Dean, Dean Stott ©, Luke Thompson, Ryan Ellison, Jamie Rother (Sam Madeley 63’), Tom Brooks, Jon Robinson (Chris Rushworth 86’), Greg Daniels, Luke Jordan. Substitutes (not used); Harry Foulds, Jerome Wright, Josh McGreavey
Match Report: Matt Lawton
Photo: David Featherstone