LIGHTNING FIRST HALF CATCHES COLLS COLD
Alsager Town 3 Atherton Collieries 2
By Matt Lawton
Third bottom Alsager Town earned a huge lifeline in their fight against relegation to North West Counties League Division One with a lightning first half performance that caught Colls cold in a stormy encounter in the Cheshire rain.
Although Michael Clegg’s side had seen their unexpected title challenge fade away over three games without victory, this defeat represented only their third loss in the previous thirty three league outings in a season that has still got two cup finals on the horizon for the black and whites.
The two sides had initially been scheduled to meet on Grand National day earlier this month but fell victim to a waterlogged pitch, but on this occasion the pitch held firm despite periods of torrential rain during the game, although its bobbly nature gave all the hallmarks of a late-season meeting.
Needing a victory to keep in touch with fourth bottom AFC Darwen, Alsager were quick to every ball and keen to press Colls in to as many mistakes as possible and they deservedly went in front on twenty six minutes, albeit from the penalty spot after Ahmed Sullay brought down Josh Gordan. Gordan picked himself up to score from twelve yards, though Adam Reid will have considered himself unlucky not to have saved it having managed to get a strong hand to the ball, but not quite enough to prevent it from going over the line having initially dived the wrong way.
Only four minutes later and Alsager doubled their lead when, hampered by a strong wind in to his face, Reid could only fumble the ball in to the goal from an inswinging Leigh Skellern corner kick, whipped in from Alsager’s left hand side. Colls’ night went from bad to worse six minutes later when centre back Callum Jones was shown a straight red card for seemingly throttling Daniel Cocks in an off the ball incident, with Cocks also given his marching orders for his part in the melee that followed.
It was the hosts that coped better with playing with ten men and they were three goals to the good on the brink of half-time when Skellern did well to beat the Collieries offside trap and hare down the right hand side before putting a quality ball in to the centre that left Gordan with a simple finish for his second goal of the evening.
Jordan Cover and Ben Hardcastle were introduced to the field at half-time to replace Hurst and Pickering while James Kirby replaced Mark Battersby on the hour mark, but it took until the last 15 minutes before home goalkeeper Matt Conkie was forced into a serious save, doing well to divert a Mark Truffas strike from the edge of the box away for a corner.
Having come from 3-1 down to salvage a 3-3 draw at home to Nelson on Monday night, Colls aren’t averse to retrieving unlikely deficits, but even Colls’ standards it was a tall order when Cover headed in a Truffas cross to make it 3-1 with five minutes remaining. As the game ticked over to stoppage time it became all the more of a possibility when a curling Truffas effort flashed past the post before centre back Mark Ayres made it 3-2 with his third goal in two games, coming up with a simple finish at the far post from a James Kirby ball across goal, but the clock wasn’t their friend and in the end the hosts were left to celebrate what could turn out to be a vital three points in their fight for survival.
Colls need only a point from Saturday’s home fixture with fifth-placed Congleton Town and they will have secured third spot in the North West Counties League Premier Division, the highest league position in the club’s history and a tremendous achievement for a side in their first season at this level.
Atherton Collieries; Adam Reid, Ahmed Sullay, Gareth Peet, Kris Holt, Mark Ayres, Callum Jones, Justin Pickering (Ben Hardcastle 45), Dave Sherlock, Mark Battersby (James Kirby 61), Jonathon Hurst (Jordan Cover 45), Mark Truffas. Subs (not used); Matt Grimshaw, Jake Kenny