The top two in the Evo-Stik Division One West went head to head at the Skuna, and despite attempts to play down the importance of the game, with many more points to be played for, a bumper crowd of 611 ensured that the game did indeed have a cup final feel to it. Colls unusually kicking up the slope in the first half had to rely on set pieces early in the game as their only real threat, Radcliffe's fans massed at the bottom end of the ground had little to grab their attention also, cagey was the word. Colls' first sight of goal from open play took 20 minutes to transpire, with the ball finding its way out to Gaz Peet on the left, his ball in rebounding off Tom Brown into space 10 yards out from goal. Tom Bentham was first to react but with his back to goal, his swiveling shot drifted just wide.
The ball was in the Radcliffe net on 27 minutes, a Gaz Peet free kick swung in after Prince Haywood had chopped down Tom Bentham saw Bentham challenging Martin in the Boro net alongside Radcliffe centre-back Callum Grogan, only for the whistle to blow as the ball fell kindly to Ian Rowlands.
Soon after, Colls had the best chance of the half, Ben Hardcastle receiving the ball wide on the right from Dave Sherlock, riding a heavy shoulder barge, he drifted past left-back Lee Neville to fire off a low shot that was well saved by the feet of Martin as Connor Hughes and Vinny Bailey waited to pounce.
After the half hour mark, Radcliffe's attack came more to life with Scott Metcalfe firstly shooting on target from distance as Greg Hartley held well then spurning a clearer chance on 40 minutes. Both sides content with their first half performances as a game of chess unfolded.
It was Colls again who had the first sight of goal in the second half, Tom Bentham turning Kyle Harrison to get a shot away that was met by the firm hand of the Radcliffe custodian Martin, Callum Grogan able to clear any further danger.
Scott Metcalfe was again testing his shooting boots for Boro but this time his shot landed somewhere near Eaton's garage with the back four of Smith, Lafferty, Rowlands and Peet providing a superb barrier in front of keeper Greg Hartley.
Substitute for Radcliffe Tunde Owalabli was looking lively and the game turned on 70 minutes when he ran at the middle of the Colls defence, what looked like a harmless shot clipping a heel and completely wrong footing Hartley to nestle in the net. Hartley being covered in assorted pints for his trouble.
Colls came within inches of a response 5 minutes later, Connor Hughes audaciously attempting to chip the keeper from the edge of the box. Martin produced a superb save to tip the ball onto the bar and substitute Jordan Cover couldn't direct his header goalward from the rebound.
An even better chance was to present itself on 83 minutes as a handball on the edge of the box gave Ben Hardcastle the chance to equalise from the spot. However, his shot aimed at the roof of the net went agonisingly wide. So often the hero, this wasn't to be Ben or the Colls' day.
A further chance presented itself on 88 minutes as Colls threw men forward, again Martin was the hero for Radcliffe as Conor Gaul nodded a corner back into the danger area, James Kirby swivelled to strike the ball but Martin was able to get the slightest of touches on the ball.
Radcliffe were able to see the game out and take 3 points back over to M26 to close the gap on Colls to a single point.
Watching the game back, we created a couple of great chances, 9 times out of 10 you'd get 1 or maybe all 3 points from the game. The manager promised us twists and turns and he was entirely right, however with 18 points to play for, our destiny is still firmly in our own hands.
Colls will be looking to consolidate their place at the top of the table when they have a double header next weekend, with a trip to Widnes' Halton Stadium on Saturday (6th March, 3pm kick off) being quickly followed by the re-scheduled home fixture against Newcastle Town, with the Staffordshire outfit visiting the Skuna Stadium at 7.45pm on Monday (8th April). Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Oli Roberts (James Kirby 45'), Danny Lafferty, Ian Rowlands, Connor Hughes, Vinny Bailey, Tom Bentham (Jordan Cover 61'), Ben Hardcastle, Dave Sherlock (Conor Gaul 78'). Substitutes (not used): Matt Grimshaw, Danny LambertColls Mon of the Match: Gareth Peet Attendance: 611
Photo: David Featherstone