To retain their position at the top of the Evo-Stik West Division table, the Collieries had to build upon an important three points the weekend previous with a positive result against Kendal Town on Saturday. With a relegation battle on their hands, Town came with their own agenda; ultimately an agenda shredded by Clegg’s men following a triumphant 8-0 victory.
A damp Skuna surface was nurtured magnificently by the Grounds team after an evening of torrid weather the night previous. Clegg’s men did not allow this to dictate how they played, though. Fluent, open football still the order of the day for the black and whites.
In truth, Kendal bossed the opening five minutes of the game as they asserted their determination to leave Atherton with three points. Greg Hartley had to be alert on six minutes as Town’s Gavin Clark poked a ball just wide of the goal. Smart defending and luck on Atherton’s side, Kendal’s grip of the game soon loosened.
The game turned on ten minutes as the Colls registered their first attempt on goal. Tom Bentham whipped an expert ball into the area, Ben Conway’s header soon bounced high and wide, though. A similar move saw Bentham at heart of the action again two minutes later as Atherton opened the scoring. Vinny Bailey, very much back at the heart of Clegg’s side, played a great ball along the deck into the centre of the area. With just one touch Bentham pinged the ball into the top left-hand corner of the goal. A simple but smart finish from the forward; little did Bentham know this was to be the first of many.
A last man challenge from Kendal’s Jacob Davis on 20 minutes made the visitor’s afternoon all the more difficult as a red card was swiftly wafted by referee L. Corrigan. Atherton took full advantage of the now depleted Town side. Ben Hardcastle fancied his chances on the half hour mark. A superb individual move resulted in an ambitious effort 20 yards from goal. The furious shot unleashed by the winger was collected well by Kendal stopper Stuart Dixon.
Determined not to go down without a fight, the visitors had a bight back on 43 minutes. Athletic winger Steven Yawson had a superb half for Kendal, his best effort coming on 43 minutes. As he caused more problems for the Colls back four, he collected the ball of the edge of the area, turned, but fired well over the bar.
Despite the pressure led by Yawson, the Collieries doubled their advantage just before the interval. A Bailey free kick yards from goal was used to lay off midfielder Oliver Roberts. The playmaker’s rocket at goal was parried straight out by Dixon to the feet of Bentham who lobbed home with ease to double both his own, and Atherton’s advantage.
The second period of the game saw Atherton really take control of the game, ten-man Kendal helpless as Clegg’s men showed their class.
Bentham secured his hat-trick 47 minutes into the game. A superb ball threaded from midfield into the area allowed Bentham through on goal. One-on-one, the forward dinked the ball over Dixon and into the back of the net. Again, a smart finish from the relentless forward.
Creativity flowed naturally from Colls attacking moves, at the heart was Oliver Roberts who bossed play and provided the balls necessary for Bentham to finish. A diagonal ball across to Conway on 56 minutes saw the winger play a high ball into the area, hat-trick hero Bentham headed in with ease for his fourth. An invaluable assist from Conway whose cross simply met the head of target-man Bentham.
Just three minutes later and four-goal Bentham turned provider. A Colls throw saw Kendal press deep inside their own area on the left side. Under pressure, the unstoppable forward chipped the ball towards Hardcastle on the near post. Surrounded by Town defenders, Hardcastle redirected the ball into the back of the net with the deftest of touches. A low-key but equally as fine a finish seen in the Skuna yesterday. Clegg’s men five to the good.
In a game such as this it would be easy to focus on the goals and the goals alone, but the play that led up to them was simply impenetrable. Clegg’s men carried the ball forward with confidence, always looking for the all-important break-through. One of the best moves of the game was not registered on the score-sheet thanks to a fine Dixon save. Peet floated a pin-point ball from his left-back position for the agile Bentham to attack. The forward met it with a furious volley ultimately collected well by the Kendal stopper. The accuracy of Peet’s ball was unbelievable, likewise Bentham’s volley was worthy of a man with, at that time, four goals to his name.
Town’s afternoon turned from bad to worse on 66 minutes, a foul on the troublesome Connor Gaul saw the referee point to the spot without hesitation. Set for his fifth of the afternoon, Bentham took responsibility. A tame penalty ultimately met with a strong save from Dixon. Not to worry though, at the second time of asking Bentham converted from the spot after a Gaz Peet foul on 74 minutes. The robust forward smashed it into the back of his net for his fifth and Atherton’s sixth.
Substitute James Kirby got in on the act on 85 minutes. Again the flanks were exploited by the Collieries, the ball whipped in for Kirby who poked into the back of the net. Fair play to Dixon who threw everything at it to prevent a seventh.
As the game ran towards its conclusion, Bentham secured his second hat-trick of the game. A defence splitting pass was played forward by Roberts, collected, fired low and hard into the back of the net across Dixon.
At eight the Colls were done for the afternoon, with six to his name as was Bentham.
Where to start? Clegg’s men were simply unplayable – the second period of the game saw them control every aspect of it. Their defence were alert and ready as when they needed to be, midfield vital when attacking moves made, and as for Bentham… well he quite rightly must take all the headlines for this one: unstoppable.
After the game, Assistant Manager Andy Heald spoke of his pride in the preparation Atherton undertook ahead of this fixture: “Getting the lads to be aware of exactly what was expected of them was important. We’ve done great against the top teams and when you come up against the teams that aren’t doing so well it can become a little easy for us and our mindset is not where we want it to be.
Today everybody was channelled which is key, we approached it like any other game and it has paid off for us. I am delighted with what’s happened. The standard the lads are playing at from a football point of view is phenomenal. It is the best footballing side we have ever had at this club. Some of the goals today evidence exactly what has been going on.”
On Bentham’s performance and goal tally, Heald said: “We strive on breaking records, I think that might be another record that we broke today. Tom has got that in his locker, his movement and the way he pins the centre-half, and that is what we wanted to do today. Some of the goals were absolutely superb.”
Next weekend, the Collieries make the journey across to an inform Mossley side for what is set to be another competitive fixture.
Man of the Match: Tom Bentham
Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gaz Peet, Oliver Roberts, Danny Lafferty ©, Ian Rowalnds, Ben Hardcastle (Adam Farrell 65’), Connor Gaul, Tom Bentham, Vincent Bailey (Dave Sherlock 72’) and Ben Conway (James Kirby 57’) – Unused Substitutes: Josh Peet and Matthew Grimshaw.
Match Report: Zach Pierce
Match Photo: Ian Monk