The Colls' journey continued at Hurst Cross, the long-time home of Ashton United, a venue befitting our first ever game at this level of football. After falling behind to two goals in the second half, both stemming from corners, Micheal Clegg’s team replied with an equaliser each time to leave with a point that puts us 10th in the BetVictor Northern Premier, level 7 in the football pyramid. Without a fit recognised forward, Colls set up to be hard to beat, a 5 man defence with Lafferty, Rowlands and Grimshaw sitting in front of keeper Theo Roberts, Clive Smith and Gaz Peet as full-backs licensed to push forward. The front two of Ben Hardcastle and Ben Conway had a tough time from Ashton’s mammoth defenders, relying on the guile of Oli Roberts and Vinny Bailey in midfield to create the opportunities, as Kieran Nolan provided a barrier in front of the backline.
Colls' initial forays into the Ashton box were expertly dealt with by the experienced Nicky Clee, it was soon obvious that it would take something special to unlock a defence built on National League North level players. As ever, Gaz Peet was industrious on the left, drawing fouls from both Liam Tomsett and Aaron Smith. Peet was also called into action defensively as former Chorley forward Josh Wilson attempted to impose himself on the game.
The closest we came to a goal in the first half was Sam Sheridan for Ashton who rattled the bar from a corner on 18 minutes, foreboding what would occur in the second half. Similarly for Colls, midfielder Oli Roberts' set-pieces were providing Colls main threat as chances were of a premium, little were we to know that the second half would provide 4 goals and numerous openings!
That man Sam Sheridan opened the scoring with the first attack of the second half on 46 minutes, a corner wasn’t dealt with adequately and he was on hand to drill the ball low into the net. That was the signal for manager Micheal Clegg to change the structure of his team, young legs of Brad Lynch being introduced on the left, matching the hosts’s 4-3-3 formation. He almost immediately introduced himself to the game, closing down keeper Worsnop and almost catching him unawares.
On 63 minutes Lynch did make his mark, carrying the ball from his own half, he sprayed it out to the right, Kieran Nolan whipped a cross in and Lynch himself had ghosted in at the back post. Caught in two minds, he opted to control the ball rather than head, taking a touch before firing the ball through the legs of full-back Kyle Harrison and into the net to draw the game level.
Having done the hard work in pegging Ashton back, Colls once again fell behind to a Sam Sheridan goal, this time his corner floating over the outstretched arms of keeper Theo Roberts and into the back of the goal. Hearts sank amongst the Colls faithful but another lungbusting run from Lynch through the heart of the Ashton defence saw him hauled down on the edge of the area. Set piece expert Oli Roberts fired home Colls’ second leveller of the game, in front of the jubilant away support.
With both teams hunting what would be a certain winner, the game ignited on 89 minutes when a nothing challenge from Kieran Nolan saw Tom Field react and both players headed off for an early shower. The final seconds saw Colls’ defence put their bodies literally on the line to preserve that valuable point, as the referee signalled time, manager Clegg clearly looked the happier of the two men in charge. Atherton Collieries: Theo Roberts, Clive Smith ,Gaz Peet, Danny Lafferty(c), Ian Rowlands, Matt Grimshaw (Lynch 55'), Kieran Nolan, Vinny Bailey, Ben Conway (Jack Egan 70'), Oli Roberts, Ben Hardcastle (Jordan Cover 85'). Substitutes (not used): Dave Sherlock, Niall BattersbyGoal(s): Brad Lynch (64'), Oliver Roberts (76') Attendance: 202