Atherton Collieries started life in the Evo-Stik League with a convincing 2-0 victory over rivals Colne at Holt House. Michael Clegg’s side came into the match as underdogs against a side who made the play-offs last campaign but came away having put in one of their best performances in recent years. It was a story of the two birthday boys grabbing the goals with Jordan Cover and Ben Hardcastle both finding the back of the net.
Colls were wearing their sky blue and white striped away kit for the first time and looked resplendent as they attacked down the slope in the first half. Iain Howard made his second league debut for the club following his arrival from Curzon Ashton. Fellow summer additions Danny Lambert and Matthew Marsh made the bench.
The match started in basking sunshine at the end of the M65. It was the away side who settled better and they hurried their hosts, pressing at every opportunity. This paid off after just four minutes when Ben Hardcastle was gifted the chance to open his account for the campaign. A tame back pass from Colne left back Chris Lynch slowed in the grass as it travelled to goalkeeper Hakan Burton. Jordan Cover pressured the former Curzon Ashton man and the ball became loose in the area allowing Hardcastle to step up and fire into the net from close range.
There was a moment of disappointment on 11 minutes when right back Jake Kenny went down injured. He turned his ankle on the soft turf and was subsequently replaced by Danny Lambert who took a place in midfield with Brad Cooke reverting to the right back position. It was a cruel blow for Kenny who has been a mainstay in the Colls team over the course of the two title winning seasons; he will be back but will have to wait just a little longer to play his part in the Evo-Stik campaign,
Colls continued to attack their hosts and were first to every ball. Things were in danger of becoming a bit heated, with full blooded tackles flying in and irate shouts rebounding around the ground from both dugouts. Darrhyl Mason used his body to win a free kick on the edge of the area and Gareth Peet took responsibility for it. He curled the ball over the wall and to the right hand side of the goal where Burton scooped the effort on to the post. The follow up was netted but it was correctly chalked off for being offside by the linesman.
Colne looked dangerous on the attack but they rarely threatened to test Adam Reid thanks to the defensive masterclass that Collieries were able to provide. Josh Messer was able to soak up many attacks from the reds and also came close to his first goal for the club but his shot looped narrowly wide of the left hand post. The search goes into its fourth season.
Half time arrived and it allowed Colne manager Steve Cunningham an opportunity to reorganise his talented side. Former Salford City playmaker Phil Dean was introduced down the left hand side but was stifled by Brad Cooke who would have been proud of his performance.
Ben Hardcastle was close to doubling his sides tally moments into the half when his rasping effort was palmed wide by Hakan Burton. The resulting corner was dealt with and Colne broke on the attack and this is how the rest of the game panned out with both sides moving forward at relentless speed and force.
Adam Reid put in one of his best performances in a Colls shirt, dealing with a number of dangerous crosses. There were a couple of times when Colne looked like they would pull a goal back but were unable to do so thanks to a number of Atherton bodies being thrown in the way in the area.
Colne were fortunate to not be reduced to ten men with around 20 minutes left when Danny Wilkins was guilty of momentarily losing his temper. With the ball going out of play he confronted Gareth Peet and pushed him to the floor. On another day it would have been a straight red and would have helped to calm proceedings down.
The last quarter of the match saw tempers continue to rise and you sensed that whoever scored next would go on to seal the three points. With two minutes remaining it was Colls who doubled their lead when the broke at speed from the back. Iain Howard raced into the area and left Colls three on one. He unselfishly played the ball across the face of goal to Jordan Cover who finished into an empty net in front of the Red Army.
In a match where the majority of the team and the management would consider it the biggest in their careers, it was a nerveless display. An early goal definitely settled the team and by common consent the winning margin could have been greater than two goals.
Colne: Hakan Burton, Chris Lynch, Lee Pugh, Alex Coleman, Mark Ayres, Simon Nangle (C), Spencer Jordan, Jacob Gregory, Danny Wilkins, Michael Fish, Michael Morrison – Substitutes: Adam Morning, Alex Curran, Kenny Taylor, Lewis Hanley, Phil Dean
Atherton Collieries: Adam Reid, Jake Kenny, Gareth Peet, Josh Messer, Danny Lafferty, Jamie Forbes, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke (C), Jordan Cover, Iain Howard, Darrhyl Mason – Substitutes: Matt Grimshaw, Mark Truffas, Danny Lambert, Matthew Marsh, Rob Sadler
Attendance – 263
Man of the Match – Iain Howard
Report by Joseph Gibbons
Photo by Ian Monk