Colls returned to Monday Night Football for the first time since October, the special atmosphere of the floodlit Skuna being sorely missed by all. With both teams’ games falling victim to the weather at the weekend, and with both teams needing a win to boost their promotion ambitions, the tension was palpable. The crowd consisted of the Colls faithful (new and old), the odd hardy soul from Leek, a veritable who’s who of local football and a group of Wismut Aue fans over from Saxony. Leek started with all-time top scorer Tim Grice up front, with this season’s top scorer Aaron Bott on the bench. It was Grice who had the first sight of goal in the game, getting his head to a cross but unable to direct on target, Greg Hartley in the Colls’ goal safely watching the ball fly over the bar.
Jordan Cover returning from injury looked to have never been away was well tackled in the box by the flying challenge of Scott Lycett then picked up the pieces after the Leek keeper failed to hold a Gaz Peet cross, only to see his shot fly narrowly over. Down the other end, Bob Stevenson was looking lively for Leek, being twice denied by Hartley.
Seemingly out of nowhere on 35 minutes, Colls Mon of the Match Connor Hughes cut in with the ball, evading a couple of challenges as the Leek Defence then sat off him, his shot from well outside the box flew past the keeper low into the corner to open the scoring.
Before Leek had chance to produce any kind of response, Colls doubled their lead on 41 minutes. Tom Bentham with his back to goal produced a Cruyff turn to bamboozle William Reeves in the box, taking a touch to control he produced a shot that rose into the roof of the net to put Colls two goals up. Tom also scoring the only goal of the game at Leek, cometh the hour...
The second half was a more tentative affair, Colls reluctant to throw men forward with that lead in the bag, Leek unable to make inroads into a resolute defence. Set pieces provided the best opportunities for both side, captain Darren Chadwick shot just wide for Leek on 55 minutes after a corner. Colls best chance of the second half came following a period of pressure, with a Gaz Peet free-kick deflecting out for a corner. From a subsequent corner, Ian Rowlands popped up with one of his headers from close range only to be denied by the man on the line who had stuck to his position on the post.
The managers both reshuffled their teams on the 70 minute mark, Leek bringing on Port Vale bound Dan Trickett-Smith and later top scorer Aaron Bott. Even with the quality on display, Colls were able to nullify everything Leek could throw at them. Lafferty shielding the ball out of play or Smith haring his man to produce a mistake to relinquish possession. The willing runners of Hughes, Hardcastle, Kirby and Nightingale pushing Leek back into their own half time and time again.
It took a flash of genius to beat the Colls defensive unit, and Trickett-Smith was the man to produce it on 89 minutes. The ball sat up for him to strike a shot so sweet that no one could see it’s trajectory, only when the net rippled did its final destination become apparent. Leek went in hunt of an unlikely equaliser but Colls game management came into play, the final whistle blowing with Leek pinned deep in their own half. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Vinny Bailey, Daniel Lafferty, Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle, Dave Sherlock, Tom Bentham (James Kirby 73'), Jordan Cover (Lewis Nightingale 78'), Connor Hughes (Matt Grimshaw 89'). Substitutes (not used): Conor Gaul, Oliver RobertsGoal(s): Connor Hughes (35'), Tom Bentham (41')Twinshock Colls Mon of the Match - Connor Hughes Attendance: 329
Photo: David Featherstone