Atherton Collieries fought to a deserved home draw to Belper Town in a classic ‘game of two halves’ at the Skuna Stadium.
Colls bounced back from a disappointing defeat to FA Trophy exit to Leek Town with a much-improved performance in the first half, captain Danny Lafferty striking from the penalty spot to give the stripes the lead. Belper fought back in the second half however and equalised through Ben Middleton, before a second yellow card for Ollie Brown saw Colls finish the game with ten men.
Brad Cooke will have been looking for a reaction from his side following the weekend's defeat, and Colls made a lively start under the floodlights. Scott Bakkor was on his game from the off, beating his man and driving into the box but skewing his shot well-wide of the target. Marcus Cusani's cross forced an early save from Daniel Moore before a corner won by Bakkor was volleyed over by Luca Defretias-Hansen.
There was an early let-off for Colls as Brodie Litchfield drove at the Colls defence down the left-hand flank, digging out a cross to the back post that luckily was fired into the side netting. A quarter of an hour had gone when at the other end Bakkor went down under challenge in the penalty area, the referee pointing straight to the spot. Captain Danny Lafferty stepped up and made no mistake, dispatching with aplomb.
Colls looked good value for their lead and had chances to add to it, Scott Bakkor glancing a header over the bar before Gaz Peet flashed a teasing cross across the face of goal. The same pair combined on the half-hour mark, Bakkor chesting the ball down to the full-back who's first-time effort was inches from whistling into the top corner. Aaron Smith then dragged a strike wide after a promising break in midfield.
After the half time interval it was a different story, with Belper enjoying more of the ball and looking the most likely to score. The visitors saw a header nodded wide from a set-piece before Ollie Brown went into the book for a clumsy challenge on the edge of the area. The resulting free kick was in dangerous position but thankfully was lashed high over the crossbar.
Colls' stopper Nico Defreitas-Hansen was reliable when called upon, producing a stunning reflex save to deny a volley from the visitors at point-blank range. There was nothing he could do about the equaliser however, stopping Tom Wilson's header from crossing the line only for Ben Middleton to smash home the rebound and draw the visitors level on the hour-mark.
Despite battling to get back in front, Colls lacked any real cutting edge in the second half and Clive Smith's wicked cross deflected into the arms of the keeper was the closest they came, Aaron Smith also chancing his arm with a curling free kick just wide. The visitors seemed content with a point and rarely troubled Nico late on, bar for an effort from distance which produced a fairly straightforward save.
With the game becoming stretched in the latter stages, challenges came to the forefront with Town's Danny South first cautioned for a heavy tackle on Luca Defreitas-Hansen before Ollie Brown saw his second yellow for a miss-timed challenge on Josh Woodcock. Charlie Reaney also made his way into the book for his part in the fraccas that followed.
Despite Colls going down to ten men, there was little time left on the clock for the visitors to push home the advantage and the game sizzled out with the sides sharing the spoils. Few would argue it wasn't a fair result on the night, with Colls strong first half showing proving enough to earn them a valuable point despite Belper's second half comeback.
Colls are next in action on Saturday as they make the trip down to Lincolnshire to face Gainsborough Trinity. Kick off is 3pm.
Colls: Nico Defreitas-Hansen, Clive Smith (Adam Rooney '90), Gaz Peet, Joel Amado, Danny Lafferty, Luca Defreitas-Hansen, Arran Pettifer, Ollie Brown, Scott Bakkor (Jay Fitzmartin 90'), Aaron Smith (Ethan Kershaw '86), Marcus Cusani
Unused: Jesse Ebosele
Report: Danny Brown
Photo: Dave Featherstone