A remarkable second half turnaround saw Micheal Clegg’s score four goals without reply after the break to overturn a 3-1 half-time deficit and collect all three points from an eight goal thriller away to Clitheroe. A Colls victory had looked far from likely at the break after the black and whites had conceded three first half goals in a dismal opening 45 minutes, but if anything that merely highlighted the stark contrast with the second period as the visitors produced some terrific attacking football to turn the game on its head having pulled back to 3-2 within a minute of the restart and somehow always looking likely to win thereafter.
Clegg made three changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Kidsgrove Athletic at the weekend with Dave Sherlock, Josh Peet and Glenn Matthews replaced by Lloyd Bannister, Vinny Bailey and Conor Gaul, with Morgan Bacon retaining his spot in goal.
The tone of the first half was set after only five minutes, as Zehn Mohammed put the hosts in front, nodding past Bacon to end a spell of defensive head tennis after Colls struggled to clear from a corner.
Colls were level within two minutes, however, Ben Conway’s trademark dancing feet seeing him dodge a couple of would-be challenges inside the Clitheroe penalty area before laying it on a plate for Ben Hardcastle to roll home the equaliser.
Only 20 minutes were on the clock when Clitheroe restored their one goal advantage, Danny Lambert being dispossessed deep in to the Colls half when trying to retrieve a deflected Bacon clearance, leaving Obi Anoruo with a simple finish in to the empty net.
Home goalkeeper Ed Wilczynski twice denied Colls in quick succession, keeping out a Jordan Cover header at the second attempt on 25 minutes having earlier kept out Conway’s stinging drive, while Bacon did well to prevent a rebound on the half hour mark when keeping out Max Hazeldine’s low shot.
There was little sign of the drama to come as a thoroughly miserable first half for Colls was completed as the clock ticked over in to added time as they went 3-1 down, Clitheroe centre back Jay Jeffries’ side-footing a right-sided Adam Morning corner past Bacon on the volley.
With Clegg’s half-time words still fresh in their ears, Colls signalled their intent within a minute of the restart as Connor Gaul pulled a goal back, initially seeing Mohammed clear the ball off the line after Gaul had rounded the goalkeeper, but the young winger was well placed to smash home the rebound to narrow the deficit to one goal.
Colls debutant Bannister went close on 52 minutes, driving forward from halfway before skimming his strike narrowly wide of the target before the visitors remarkably drew level on 68 minutes, Gaul’s twinkling feet bringing him inside from the left hand touchline before playing a deft ball over the top for Conway to fire across the goalkeeper and in to the net.
You’d have certainly got long odds at half-time on a Colls comeback at half-time, but they were thoroughly in the ascendancy at this stage of the game and certainly weren’t going to settle for a point, Gareth Peet driving forward down the left flank with only six minutes remaining and delivering the ball to the back post for James Sigsworth put Colls in front, stroking the ball home at the back post with his first touch of the ball having only entered the field for the impressive Gaul just two minutes earlier.
As if turning a 3-1 deficit in to a 4-3 lead wasn’t enough, Ben Hardcastle proceeded to put the seal on the win in added time, racing on to Conway’s through ball and jubilantly slotting Colls’ fifth goal past Wilczynski, taking his side to eighth spot in the process.
This Saturday sees Colls travel south to take on Kidsgrove Athletic in an Evo-Stik League Division One West fixture, only seven days after the tempestuous FA Cup tie between the two sides at the Skuna Stadium before Droylsden visit Alder Street the following Monday (17th September, 7.45pm) as Colls begin their defence of the Integro League Cup. Atherton Collieries: Morgan Bacon, Lloyd Bannister, Gareth Peet, Danny Lambert (Dave Sherlock 61’), Danny Lafferty, Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle, Vinny Bailey, Jordan Cover (Luke Giverin 82’), Ben Conway, Conor Gaul (James Sigsworth 82’). Substitutes (not used): Glenn Matthews, Josh PeetGoals(s): Ben Hardcastle (7’, 90+4’), Conor Gaul (46’), Ben Conway (68’), James Sigsworth (84’)Man of the match: Ben Conway Attendance: 219
Match report: Matt Lawton
Photograph: David Featherstone