The Harry Williams Stadium has never been a happy hunting ground for the Collieries. Indeed, the previous two outings have seen Manager Michael Clegg's men return with nothing but a point. However, this was a new year, 2019 had arrived and with it a refreshed sense of determination as Atherton move into the latter half of the season. Ultimately nothing dared stop the Colls, a triumphant 3-0 victory with a performance to match this despite only a depleted Atherton squad available for selection, several key players missing through injury.
The first half was an even affair both sides boasted string spells of play. Atherton arguably dominated the first 15 minutes of the game but had nothing to show for it, the only highlight being a mix-up in the United back four. A routine clearance from Goalkeeper Sam Ashton bounced straight off of defender Kyle Jacobs. Truthfully, the ball could have gone anywhere, a corner awarded to the Collieries amounted to nothing. A frustrating spell bossed by Colls but with shots on goal few and far between.
Ramsbottom really took a grip of the game on 21 minutes as they came closest to opening the scoring. Outside of the area, the ball fell to Jamie Rainford who had a clear sight at goal. The midfielder's looped effort sailed down and hit the woodwork.
Dale Latham covered for the unavailable Greg Hartley in goal, and the stopper did a fine job of it to with a number of solid saves throughout the first half.
Both sides went into half-time without a goal to their name. Seconds before the whistle went, though, Edward Moran poked an effort wide after cutting inside from the left flank.
The second 45 was certainly a much more conclusive half of football with Atherton showing their quality, togetherness and sheer determination to take full control of the game.
Two efforts in quick succession acted as warning signs for Ramsbottom as to exactly what was to come. A Tom Bentham effort on 47 minutes was fired straight at Ashton, whilst Ben Hardcastle’s potential opener was deflected behind for a corner.
On 54 minutes, the deadlock was finally broken, albeit in rather scrappy circumstances. Indeed, the ball was pinging around the United area as the hosts failed to clear their lines, ultimately Connor Gaul provided the definitive touch to fire the ball into the back of the net. The winger showing real awareness to guide the ball through various lines of defence and into the Ramsbottom goal.
Latham's afternoon was not over just yet. The stopper did well on 61 minutes to collect a Ramsbottom effort at the second time of asking. The Goalkeeper, alert, opted to collect rather than parry with various threatening forward players ready to tap home the loose ball for United.
Three minutes later and an error at the back gifted Colls their second. A clear breakdown in communication from a Tom Kennedy throw saw a pass back to the keeper. Only this pass was of the wrong kind, came at the wrong time and the wrong place. Bentham, keenly watching, intercepted with apparent ease and slotted the ball into the empty net. The forward will score harder goals, but his intense focus during a conventionally routine moment must be credited.
With Atherton in the driving seat, Ben Conway added his name to the score sheet and solidified the advantage on 78 minutes. From midfield, the ball was played to the forward who curled an effort from 25 yards out into the bottom right hand corner. A sublime finish tucked away with ease by Conway.
The Collieries defence, though, had to be alert with minutes of the game remaining. Richard Brodie causing headaches as he wriggled into the area, his effort was met by Clive Smith on the line, though. A fantastic piece of individual defending from Smith who helped ensure a 3-0 win for Clegg's men.
After the game, Clegg spoke of his joy after the performance, but highlighted the difficulties the team faces with injuries: “This is one of the best sides Ramsbottom have had now so we were aware of the threats they posed. We knew it was going to be a tough Christmas, but to go to Trafford and come here and leave this period with four points is fantastic.
“We were good today, everyone knows we’re missing players. One lad went out during the warm-up, eight players we had out today. I think this just shows the squad and the togetherness, I thought Dale Latham was exceptions in what he had to do, our back-four was solid. It’s been good to keep that back-four together.”
“Credit to the lads. Really really happy with that today.”
The Collieries next game comes on Saturday as they welcome Kidsgrove Athletic to the Skuna Stadium. Another though encounter for Clegg’s men, but as the Manager highlighted above, preparation is key. Atherton Collieries: Latham, Smith, G Peet, Roberts, Lafferty, Rowlands, Conway, Bentham (Kirby 83'), Hardcastle, J Peet, Gaul (Matthews 83')Man of the Match: Ben Conway Attendance: 410