After playing their two festive Bank Holiday fixtures on the road the Collieries returned to the Skuna Stadium for a tough looking Evo-Stik Division 1 West clash with Kidsgrove Athletic. This was the third meeting of the sides this season with the scores on doors level at 1-1. Athletic had won the FA Cup game with Micheal Clegg's team getting a modicum of revenge in the reverse league fixture. For the black n white stripes there was just one change from the team which performed with excellence at Ramsbottom United on New Year's Day with Greg Hartley returning between the sticks. Gareth Peet was named skipper for the day to commemorate him making his 250th competitive appearance for the club. His debut was on 24 August 2010 in a 1-0 defeat at AFC Blackpool in the NWCFL Division 1.
The visitors started proceedings on the front foot and Hartley was forced into a smart save from an Anthony Malbon rasping drive. Hartley then foiled Rhys Thompson with a close range block after a quick break had undone his defenders. Colls got a toe in the game and a Ben Conway effort was well saved by young gun stopper Jack Livesey who was making making his debut for the Potteries side on loan from Carabao Cup Semi Finalists Burton Albion. This deal was important enough to have flashed up on the Sky Sports News ticker earlier in the week. Tom Bentham thought he had opened the scoring after he tucked home a Livesey parried save but the assistant referee's raised flag fully muted his celebration. On 27 minutes Bentham got his goal to the delight of the home faithful. Ben Hardcastle burst through the midfield and threaded his pass to the inform striker who planted the ball into the bottom right hand corner. The talented Malbon crafted a couple of openings out of nothing but his well struck attempts cleared Hartley's crossbar.
Colls returned from their interval debrief excellently and put The Grove rearguard under pressure. Connor Gaul and Gareth Peet were both played into the penalty box only for Livesey to save their shots with aplomb. Gaul doubled the lead on 53 minutes. He ghosted into space on the left hand side of the pitch and advanced into the area before rounding Livesey and tapping home. A truly fine goal which lit up the Skuna. Kidsgrove are a redoubtable bunch and despite the blow kept to their game plan and just after their hour mark got their reward. A panicky challenge on the left edge of the box enabled Lee Williamson to whip in a free kick which gave Hartley no chance whatsoever.
All to play for now as both teams continued to play the game the right way. Hardcastle wriggled into the box but his finish was food and drink for the inspired Livesey who then somehow cleared a point blank James Kirby tap in off the line. Despite enduring a nervy last few moments as the visitors forced a couple of corners Colls held on for a vital victory. This was the first time the Kidsgrove colours had been lowered on their travels in league action and their current position of twelfth is difficult to comprehend. A third ultra, ultra competitive match up between two evenly matched sides.
A tremendous triumph for Michael Clegg's side which saw the team rise a position to second in the league. A true team effort but the Colls Mon lPA was awarded to Connor Gaul for a tricky display capped by a great goal. Final mention must go to Sir Gaz Peet - 250 up!!!! Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet (C), Oliver Roberts, Danny Lafferty, Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle, Tom Bentham (Matty Grimshaw 87'), Connor Gaul, Josh Peet (Vinny Bailey 63'), Ben Conway (James Kirby 63')Goal(s): Tom Bentham (27'), Connor Gaul (53') Attendance: 215