Atherton Collieries were looking to bounce back from a tough 4-0 defeat against Liversedge on Tuesday night with a first ever visit to Belper Town in Derbyshire. What a backdrop, rolling fields, a sprawling 19th century mill and a church. One could only imagine a dusting of snow and voila, a picture perfect Christmas card setting.
A squad littered with injuries meant that the Colls were not at their strongest from minute one. This was made worse as defender Clive Smith pulled up in the warm up. Never fear, Jay Fitzmartin was on hand to replace him as Cooke made slight changes to the day's formation.
A healthy Athertonian following backed the lads from the first minute as the lads on the pitch hit Belper with a flurry of attacks. Within three minutes of one another, Ben Hardcastle, Fitzmartin and Bailey Thompson all had good sight of goal. Their efforts, however, were either high, wide or intercepted. Still, a positive start for the Stripes.
This continued with the closest effort of the half coming from the boot of Gaz Peet. A tasty-looking free kick from just outside of the area saw the left wing back immediately grab the ball and get in position. Lips licked, Peet swung a ball towards the bottom right hand corner for Belper stopper Tom Jackson to scramble away.
The hosts grew into the half, but with some solid defending Colls didn't look overly threatened apart from a goalmouth scramble which thankfully came to nothing. A 0-0 score at half time was a fair reflection of a game that was yet to really come alive.
Atherton started the brighter of the two sides in the second period of the game. Fitzmartin was through on goal within seconds of the whistle. The forward, though, fired just over the bar.
Down the right wing, Marcus Cusani put a fantastic shift in throughout the 90. The Colls stalwart saw his best opportunity of the game on 56 minutes. Playing across to Ollie Brown, the forward ran and received the ball back in what was a fine, fast-paced move. Cusani elegantly got his shot away which sailed over the bar with to the utter relief of Jackson. It was by far the best move of the match.
On 74 minutes, the Collieries were made to rue their missed chances - first blood to Belper. A free-kick just outside the left of the Colls box provided a good opportunity for the hosts to progress against the run of play. Drilled across goal, the ball was delivered on a plate to Jerome Greaves who headed home with ease.
Charlie Reaney added a second for the hosts on 86 minutes. A potential foul in the buildup went unpunished and a swift one-two move saw the forward played through on goal. The advancing Chapman spread wide, but to no avail as the ball was slotted into the back of the net.
A tough afternoon for the Colls that brought a tough week to a close. Despite all of this, there is a reason as to why the Atherton faithful rounded off the afternoon's choir practice with a rendition of "we love you Collieries". That's because we do. And we know the lads do too.
In his post-match interview, manager Brad Cooke talked of the four remaining games of this season as being massive. Whilst the outcome of those four games are still be decided, what isn't in doubt is that the whole Club is united. From the players, to the supporters, to the management team - we are Atherton Collieries and we will fight for every point until the very last game of the season. This starts with next week's game away at Matlock. Colls: Mackenzie Chapman, Jay Fitzmartin, Gareth Peet (C), Oli Brown, Scott Sephton, Joel Amado, Ben Hardcastle, Jack Lenehan, Bailey Thompson, Adam Haw (Jesse Ebosele 78’), Marcus Cusani - Subs (Unused): Danny Lafferty, Adam Rooney Attendance: 502 Colls Mon of the Match, presented by by Are You The Clown: Scott Sephton, Sponsored by X Digital Media