The Collieries opened their pre-season schedule with a trip to friends West Didsbury and Chorlton on Saturday in what was an end-to-end encounter, seemingly a solid test for both sides.
Both sides have improved over the close season break. The Colls, buoyed of course by their Championship winning season, slotted new signings Danny Lambert and Ian Howard into the side. West, facing another season in the NWCFL Premier Division, gave a debut to former 1874 Northwich star Tom Bailey amongst others.
The opening exchanges suggested that Atherton were seemingly the rustier of the two sides, West forced early pressure on the black and whites’ defence. The most notable of their opening efforts forced Gaz Peet into a goal-line clearance following a rare Reid error from a West corner.
Against the run of play, Howard was able to show-off his capabilities to the 208 in attendance with his first effort on goal eleven minutes in. The forward carried down the left flank before he cut inside and fired a direct shot at goal. West’s stopper collected with ease.
However, on eighteen minutes, the hosts drew first blood. Attacker Ben Steer tapped home from inside the area for the Chorlton based side after a diagonal ball was played forward for him. A deserved lead for West.
Though five minutes later, the Collieries found themselves level. From the right side of the field, Ben Hardcastle crossed to Darrhyl Mason. Under pressure from the West defence, Mason had two options, either collect and compose or bundle into the roof of the net. Of course, the striker opted for the latter. A reward for the superb half mason had had.
In true pre-season style West soon retook the lead, highlighting the clear end-to-end nature of affairs. A free kick curled in by stalwart Matty Kay was flicked on and into the back of the net by Nia Bayunu, his header landed in the top left hand corner of the net, Reid unable to collect.
Lessons had to be learned from a rather average pre-season opener, and clearly the Management Team felt the same as they delivered a rather honest assessment of the opening 45 to the players at Half Time.
This made no amends to the immediate performance unfortunately as West bagged a third three minutes into the second half. Gary Lilley was allowed to tap in yards from goal after a Scott Mason cross tickled through. In reflection, Atherton should have defended better.
Improvements were evident when the Colls made a series of substitutions on the hour mark. Notably Jordan Cover’s return to the field seemed to cause many a West defender headaches.
On 67 minutes Atherton pulled one back. Hardcastle latched on to a long ball deep in the West half and passed across to the onrushing Cover. Rather unselfishly, Cover passed further along to Johnny Gorman in the area who was able to tap into an empty net.
Both sides were keen to score again as the game became increasingly stretched, but it was Atherton who eventually levelled four minutes later, Gorman again tapping in from close range. Mason drilled the ball across goal to gift the former Northern Ireland international possibly the easiest goal of his career.
A score-draw, in reflection, was the fairest result possible. Both sides grew into the game as the close-season fatigue was shaken off. As mentioned in the post-match interview with Assistant Manager Warren Jones, both sides will learn from this game as West proved to be strong opposition, providing the challenge Clegg and his team looked for over this summer period.
Atherton Collieries: Adam Reid, James Brookes, Gaz Peet, Vinny Bailey, Matt Grimshaw, Danny Lafferty, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke (C), Darrhyl Mason, Ian Howard and Mark Truffas – Used Substitutes: Jordan Cover, Johnny Gorman, Josh Messer, Jamie Forbes, Danny Lambert and Jake Kenny.
Match Report: Zach Pierce
Photo: Ian Monk