A remarkable encounter at Prescot Cables’ Volair Park saw Atherton Collieries and Skelmersdale United fail to trouble the scorers, but it was certainly a first half in particular that will live long in the memory with no less than three red cards shown before the break, with the point claimed by Colls undoubtedly considered to be a good one given the circumstances of playing for more than 45 minutes with only nine men.
The two sides had met earlier in the season at Skelmersdale’s previous home ground when Colls ran out 3-0 victors in an Integro League Cup tie, but on an understandbly heavy pitch, both sides struggled to create many openings in a frantic opening period high on effort and work rate if not quality. There had been little sign of the drama to come as the only incidents of note in the first half hour saw a smart save from Colls goalkeeper Greg Hartley to deny Greg Darr and a yellow card – later to prove pivotal – for Colls’ Darrhyl Mason for a heavy challenge on Mike Roddy.
The game exploded in to life on the half hour mark when Skem skipper Liam Hollett had trouble controlling the ball close to halfway and virtually in front of the two dugouts, taking a heavy first touch that took the ball far enough away from him to invite a sliding challenge from Colls midfielder Neil Chappell, making his second ‘debut’ having recently returned to the club. As Chappell slid beneath Hollett, the home centre back lunged forward in an effort to retrieve the ball from his previously poor touch and resulting in an almighty coming together of the pair in what the general consensus on the terraces seemed to indicate was a free ball that was fair game for both players to attempt to challenge for. Hollett arguably come off worst and, while he was on the ground receiving treatment, the match officials held something of a conference before showing first Chappell a red card, and then Hollett following him down the tunnel once he had returned to his feet. The equal punishment and game being restarted by a drop ball would suggest that blame was aportioned to both parties, but this certainly meant the game quickly became much more fractious as each challenge that followed brought it’s own appeals and counter-appeals.
Skelmersdale quickly withdrew Alaster Redmayne as they changed their shape to reorganise with their ten men, while Colls boss Micheal Clegg chose not to disrupt his ten remaining players, although only a few minutes later he was given serious food for thought when Darrhyl Mason was given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card for dissent for taking his protests too far at the award of a free kick in the Skelmersdale penalty area for what looked to be a somewhat routine and innocuous coming together between Mason, goalkeeper Lee Roberts and defender Jack Fleming.
Proceedings didn’t open up quite as much as you might expect in the second half given the reduction in numbers on both sides, and if anything it was possible that Colls had the best of the play during the second period, despite their one man disadvantage as first Hardcastle fired narrowly wide of the left-hand post before Roberts did well to use his feet to block a fierce strike from Iain Howard.
The hosts had a brief chance late on, putting the ball past Hartley’s post as they pressed forward in search of a winner, but in truth a goal didn’t necesarily look likely at any point for either outfit, with both sides probably glad to hear the final whistle with no further repeat of the scenes of the first half.
Colls are quickly back in action on Monday evening (29th January) when Bamber Bridge visit the Kensite Stadium for a 7.45pm kick off in the Integro League Cup before hosting Brighouse Town in a league fixture the following Saturday (3rd February, 3pm).
Skelmersdale United: Lee Callum Roberts, Phil Mooney, Jack Fleming, Mike Roddy, Liam Hollett ©, Josh Wardle, Jordan Darr, Tom Molyneux, Tyler Rufus, Jack Lenehan, Alaster Redmayne (Jonathan Crane 34′). Substitutes (not used); Tom Mitchell, George Withe, Bevan Burey, Chris Cheetham
Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Jake Kenny, Luke Giverin, Josh Messer (Daniel Lambert 80′), Chris Lynch, Daniel Lafferty, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke ©, Darhyll Mason, Iain Howard, Neil Chappell. Substitutes (not used); Matt Grimshaw, James Sigsworth, Jamie Forbes, Ryan Salmon
Match Report: Matt Lawton
Photo: Dave Featherstone