Atherton Collieries recorded an opening day victory away at league newcomers Cammell Laird with goals from Ben Hardcastle and Mark Truffas. Colls travelled to Birkenhead buoyed by the introduction of Phil Howard and Mark Battersby to the side. Battersby started up front, whilst Howard was put on the bench. Jordan Cover is still a week away from reaching full fitness while Kris Holt is still unavailable.
A torrential thunderstorm during the match made for difficult playing conditions, but the pitch handled the deluge well.
Cammell Laird controlled the opening exchanges, passing the ball around with more care than Colls. The frantic and unsettled nature of Colls play presented the ball to the home side on various occasions. Joe Holt was a stand out performer for Tony Sullivan's side and he caused Atherton many problems down the right hand side.
Holt was brought down on the edge of the area and a free kick was awarded. It was a dangerous position to concede and goalkeeper Josh Harris dealt with the resulting shot very well.
It came against the run of play when Colls took the lead on 19 minutes. Fantastic link up play between Ben Hardcastle and Mark Battersby deservedly resulted in a goal. Hardcastle carried the ball down the wing before cutting inside and feeding into Battersby's feet. A flick around the defender saw Hardcastle receive the ball back, before curling it into the bottom right hand corner past Mike Langley.
Nathan Battersby was put in a more attacking role for this match and he was unlucky not to double Colls lead on a couple of occasions. His first shot went just wide, while Langley made a crucial save to deny the second.
Colls had played well since going in front, but they were capable of far better. The second half performance was completely different to the first despite Cammell Laird having the odd period of sustained pressure.
Mark Truffas struggled to adapt to the conditions in the first half, but put in a man of the match performance in the second. Having said that, not one Colls player can be accused of not putting their all in during the second period.
Ben Hardcastle was gaining more freedom down the right hand side, supported by Jake Kenny who put in a fantastic performance at right back.
A corner kick was won after an attack was dealt with by Lairds, but the resulting set piece nearly saw Colls double their lead. Andy Heald rose in the area, beating his marker to the ball but his header flew just over the bar.
On 60 minutes, Mark Truffas claimed Colls' second goal of the afternoon. He picked the ball up on the left hand wing and cut inside before launching a low shot towards goal. A deflection took the ball past Langley who could do nothing but see it fly into the bottom right hand corner.
The downpour then started and Cammell Laird began to exert more pressure on the visitors. Cross upon cross was dealt with by the Colls defence, with James Brooks, Matt Grimshaw and Chris Lawton seemingly getting their head on everything thrown at them. However, they could do nothing when Joe Holt peeled off at the back post and headed past Josh Harris on 73 minutes.
Phil Howard made his Colls debut in place of Mark Battersby, andMatty Boland was brought on in place of Mark Truffas. Fresh legs up front caused Cammell Laird more difficulties and if it wasn't for Langley pulling off a string of fantastic saves then Atherton would have gone further in front.
With five minutes remaining, Cammell Laird began to throw everybody forward. It was tense viewing for the large travelling contingency who were seeking refuge at the back of a stand.
Colls held out and claimed all three points. They were made to work hard for the win against a side who will undoubtedly be in the promotion shake up at the end of the season. Atherton Collieries: Josh Harris, Jake Kenny, James Brooks, Andy Heald, Matthew Grimshaw, Chris Lawton, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke, Mark Battersby (Phil Howard), Nathan Battersby, Mark Truffas(Matty Boland) - Substitutes: Jake Patton, Gareth Carson, Danny TabernerCammell Laird: Mike Langley, Freddie Potter, Franny Foy, Liam Holett, Ben Cartwright, Danny O'Brien, John Couch, Carl Clampitt, Dean Shacklock, Craig Cairns, Joe Holt - Substitutes: Danny Dixon, Paul Cliff, Bram Johnstone, Sean Richards, Paul Foy Attendance: 72
Match report: Joseph Gibbons