Storm Dennis offered Brad Cooke's Atherton Collieries a chance to regroup and refocus during what is a period of transition for the black and whites. In the two weeks since the last fixture, Cooke has added five new names to the Colls squad; Iwan Murray and Cain Noble return on loan from Chester, Matty Makinson on loan from Colne, Jamal Crawford on dual reg from Curzon Ashton, and old favourite Danny Taberner returns after over three years away. Despite these additions, a bout of illness which caused the midweek Lancs Challenge Trophy cancellation meant Atherton travelled south to Basford on Saturday with a lighter than usual squad. Basford's 4G facility meant that this game was definitely not going to fall foul of the weather. At the opposite end of the table and second in the league, the three points were just as important to Saturday's hosts as they looked to close the gap on South Shields. Likewise Atherton looked to re-energise their season with a positive outcome in Nottinghamshire.
Perhaps this is the reason why the game, ultimately, was such a close one. Though as one storm ends another one starts, the high winds certainly had their impact on the football played. The first real bit of action in the game came on 24 minutes. Gaz Peet played a ball into the area deep in his familiar left wing position. This should have been a routine clearance for the United defence but their stutters were challenged by Danny O'Brien as he poached the ball from their feet. Jordan Cover collected in the now packed area but could only poke into the keepers arms. Basford countered after expert delivery from stopper Kieran Preston but, his opposite number Paddy Wharton commanded an acute defence.
The game was now very much alive as both sides switched on. Indeed it was Cooke's men that opened the scoring on 31 minutes. Noble marked his return to black and white stripes with an exquisite finish 25 yards from goal. The creative midfielder collected the ball from O'Brien after a cool run from the winger. A break in the wind saw Noble unleash a ferocious effort that sailed past the helpless Preston and into the back of the net. A definite contender for goal of the season.
The two teams went into the break, however, on equal terms. Two minutes before the interval the hosts were level; Matthew Thornhill applied the final touch after a well crafted move had opened up the Colls defence.
It was a much improved performance from Atherton in the first 45 as they matched Basford touch for touch. However, as the game grew older we started to see why Basford are breathing down South Shields' necks.
The half started brightly for the Collieries. In fact, they came incredibly close to retaking the advantage on 64 minutes. A corner was swung into the area, Ashley Dunn picked up the second ball and curled an effort at goal. Destined for the back of the net, Stef Galenski was on the line to launch it away from danger, good natured shouts from the Colls faithful though suggested the ball could have well gone over the line but the referee was assured - no goal. Cooke's men just missing that stroke of luck sometimes needed in this division.
From this point onwards Basford began to show their class, but resolute defensive play from the Collieries frustrated the hosts efforts. On 69 minutes the black and whites failed to clear their lines from a routine cross into the area. Nat Watson was left with a clean strike at goal, a sure goal if it wasn't for Wharton who made an heroic stop to tip it over the bar.
Half chances came and went for both sides. A smart Colls move was sliced over the bar from substitute Louis Myers and Basford's Watson headed over the bar yards from goal.
On 86 minutes though, Atherton hearts were broken as Basford took the lead. Watson finally got the better of the Collieries back line as he volleyed home from a Rev James lay off. Wharton did well to block James' run, Watson though had an open goal to fire into. A smart move from the championship chasing side who showed their class.
Colls still had time to engineer another opportunity but two on target Myers efforts in the same move were well foiled by the Basford shotstopper.
This was hard on Atherton who performed extremely well in difficult conditions. Brad Cooke & Co demanded the lads played with pride in the badge following the insipid showing last time out and they certainly got a whole hearted response. On other days they could quite easily have travelled home with at least a point in the bag. The away following certainly appreciated their heroes efforts. Basford are a quality footballing team who will certainly qualify for the Play-Offs at the very least.
There are still a mammoth seventeen league games on the horizon starting with a home game with Matlock Town on Saturday. There is plenty of hard yakka ahead, get behind the lads starting with Saturday's home clash with Matlock Town. Atherton Collieries: Paddy Wharton, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Ash Dunn, Danny Lafferty (C), Matty Makinson, Jamal Crawford, Cain Noble, Jordan Cover (Louis Myers 56'), Vinny Bailey (Iwan Murray 84') & Danny O'Brien (Ben Conway 56'). Substitutes (not used): Dylan Glass, Danny TabernerRama Spice Man of the Match: Danny Lafferty Attendance: 270
Photograph: Rob Clarke