A hat trick from leading scorer and captain Mark Battersby was the highlight of an outstanding 5-1 win for Atherton Collieries over Colne in the MEN United Cup Final at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium.
Throughout a rainy night on the Lancashire coast, it was a terrific performance from Colls that was impressive from the off, and in the end they were worthy winners in a game that served up some excellent entertainment for the watching spectators.
Before the game Colls manager Michael Clegg, who missed the game due to a pre-booked holiday, had spoken of his side’s determination to put the bad memories of last season’s defeat in the final of the same competition to Glossop North End behind them, and they certainly set about banishing the demons quickly with a whirlwind start.
Colls could have gone ahead in the first minute when Mark Truffas curled in a corner kick that Mark Battersby just failed to get a touch on at the near post, but within another 60 seconds the deadlock was broken.
The Colne defence failed to deal with a right wing cross into the box, allowing Jordan Cover time and space to direct a powerful header towards Cross in the Colne goal, and the keeper could only beat out the ball back to Cover, who needed no second invitation to bury the ball into the net for the opener.
Within five minutes, Cover came close to doubling his side’s advantage when he just missed the target with a glancing header from a Truffas cross, but he soon made his mark on the game once more, by creating Colls second goal on the 13th minute.
A fine through ball released him free down the right, and as Colne keeper Cross advanced to narrow the angle, Cover attempted to beat him with a chip from 25 yards. At full stretch, the keeper got a hand to the ball but could only palm it in to the path of Mark Battersby, who had an easy job of rolling it into the empty net and put Colls two up.
The relentless pressure from Colls continued and as the midway point of the half approached, Cover almost got the better of Colne defender Coleman in a tussle for the ball inside the box, but the defender recovered to deflect Cover’s shot for a corner.
A header and a shot from Mark Ayres that weren’t far off target were the next Colls efforts on goal, and it took until the 27th minute before Colne created a goalscoring chance of note.
It was an effort certainly worthy of a goal, as Danny Boyle took a delightful first touch on the edge of the box to turn his defender, and he unleashed a cracking shot that beat Adam Reid in the Colls goal but rebounded off the crossbar.
But the action was soon back up at the other end, and the Colne defence was unpicked once more with a terrific cross field pass from Mark Truffas that found Mark Battersby in space with a clear shot on goal.
It was the sort of chance that the prolific Colls striker has buried umpteen times, but on this occasion he was denied by a fine blocking save by Colne keeper Cross.
The keeper then had a heart in the mouth moment two minutes later when his miscued goal kick landed straight at the feet of Jordan Cover, but the striker squandered the opportunity.
It had been a half of almost total Colls domination, but the last action of the half delivered Colne a lifeline in the most unexpected of circumstances.
A low Simon Nangle cross from the right seemed to be covered by Colls keeper Adam Reid, but although he got a firm hand on the ball to push it out, it rebounded off the knees of Mark Ayres, and rolled agonisingly into the net despite Reid’s best efforts to keep it out.
It was rough luck on Colls, but the goal delivered a vital lifeline to Colne, who had been second best for much of the first half.
However, after flurries around both penalty areas in the opening minutes after the break, Colls restored their two goal advantage 11 minutes into the second half.
A mazy run from Jordan Cover set up Mark Battersby for a shot that Cross could only push out into the path of Ben Hardcastle, who reacted quickly to fire into the corner of the net from eight yards.
An injury to Alex Coleman on the hour led to an enforced change of personnel for Colne, and Ed Williams and Ben Hoskin joined the fray in a refreshed line up with Adam Stockdale also leaving the field.
But although the noisy Red Army did their best to lift the spirits of their team, it was Colls who always looked the more threatening up front, content to retain possession and probe for openings.
With 19 minutes remaining, Mark Truffas almost caught Cross in the Colne goal out with a left wing free kick driven low to the near post, but the keeper was alert and pushed the shot away.
But four minutes later, the game was put beyond Colne’s reach when Colls scored a fourth goal.
A ball into the box caused problems for the Colne defence, and after Cover and Battersby had shots blocked, Battersby pounced on the loose ball to fire home from close range.
It almost got worse for Colne when a mazy run from Truffas took him past two challenges and through on goal, but Cross did well to push his shot away.
However, Colls rounded off a fine night six minutes from time, when a long ball forward caught out the Colne defence, and Mark Battersby took a touch and beat Cross with a delightful lob from 25 yards to complete his hat trick.
Atherton Collieries: Adam Reid, Jake Kenny, Gareth Peet, Kristian Holt, Mark Ayres, Matt Grimshaw, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke, Mark Battersby (Captain), Jordan Cover, Mark Truffas.
Subs: Jonathan Hurst, Callum Jones, Dave Sherlock (for Kristian Holt 85), Josh Messer, James Kirby (for Jordan Cover 85)
Colne: Stuart Cross, Adam Stockdale, Lee Pugh, Alex Coleman, Dean Stott, Simon Nangle (Captain), Dominic Craig, Chris Anderson, Kenny Taylor, Danny Boyle, Michael Morrison.
Subs: Tom Berwick (for Kenny Taylor 69), Edward Williams (for Alex Coleman 63), Ben Hoskin (for Adam Stockdale 63)
Referee – David Underwood
Assistants – Ian Jones and Mark Hughes
Fourth Official – Richard Holmes
Attendance – 406
Match report by Ian Templeman
Photo by Steve McLellan