A straight red card for Colls custodian Greg Hartley completely changed the dynamics of this Monday night fixture and left the home side playing two thirds of the game with right back Dave Sherlock in net. Video replays have been looked at by the club and it is clear that the decision was completely incorrect which will make this defeat even harder to swallow. Collieries came into the match on a high after a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Glossop North End on Saturday. Their promising start to the campaign looked to continue when Ben Hardcastle put his side 1-0 up after 14 minutes but the celebrations were short lived, despite the fact Atherton dominated the first half.
The black and whites came out of the traps in impressive fashion with Hardcastle volleying marginally wide with just seconds on the clock. Seagulls defender Olly Marx had to be aware moments later when he cleared the ball away from the line after Hardcastle had squared to striker Adam Farrell.
Hardcastle's third goal in two matches arrived on 14 minutes after Farrell had seen his strong header parried away by Tranmere Rovers loanee Paddy Wharton. With the ball loose in the area the winger capitalised and smashed the ball high into the roof of the net before racing off to celebrate in front of the clubhouse with his team mates.
Colls continued to play nice, fast flowing football in all areas of the pitch and had a handful of opportunities to double their early advantage. Colwyn Bay silenced Alder House when they equalised on 27 minutes through a glancing Ashley Ruane header which left Greg Hartley with no chance.
The complexion of the match changed completely on 37 minutes when Hartley was handed his marching orders by the officials. A quick punt upfield by Wharton allowed Ruane in behind the Colls defence, forcing Hartley to come rushing towards the attacker to avert the danger. The striker then tried to chip the ball over the goalkeeper who was now outside his area. The effort hit Hartley across the face and away from danger.
The linesman, who was far further from the incident than the referee, then wafted his flag to alert the referee to some form of issue. A long conversation between the men in black ensued and unbelievably Hartley was sent for an early shower for apparently handling the ball outside the area. Replays have since categorically proven that this decision was completely and utterly incorrect.
Right back Dave Sherlock took one for the team and took over goalkeeping responsibilities, while Ben Conway who had been a thorn in Bay's side had to be withdrawn to allow Deven Golden to take Sherlock's place at right back. This shuffle in personnel and having a man less ultimately took it's toll on Michael Clegg's men.
The red card did revitalise Colls up until half time, taking a lead shortly before the interval. Golden was played in down the right hand side having been allowed too much room by the Seagulls defence. He then looked up and fired in a low cross to the centre where Connor Gaul was on hand to finish through the legs of Wharton.
Colls knew that they would have to limit efforts on their goal throughout the duration of the second half if they were to get anything from the game. On the whole they did this magnificently with the back four having to battle hard due to the numerical disadvantage. When the defence were beaten it was down to Sherlock to keep his side in the game and this he did to his credit.
Just two minutes into the half Luke Horrocks burst through one-on-one and looked sure to score but the stand in goalkeeper pulled off a magnificent finger tip save to nudge the ball over the crossbar. Moments later, Horrocks was at the centre of things again when he scythed down Golden from behind in front of the two dugouts and escaped with just a yellow card.
Five minutes later and Colwyn Bay were level once again when Josh Brizell poked the ball past Sherlock from close range after some scrappy build up play. The momentum now was very much with the visitors and they took the lead very soon after when a cross by Tom McCready floated into the top right hand corner, leaving Sherlock absolutely no chance.
Colls kept plugging away and introduced Tom Bentham for the last 25 minutes, replacing Adam Farrell who had done well to hold the ball up against a physical Bay back line. It didn't take long for Bentham to make his mark on the match as he looked to test Wharton with a curling effort from the edge of the area on 71 minutes. It looked to be dropping into the left hand corner but went agonisingly wide; a corner the only reward.
With ten minutes remaining Collieries went for a more attacking set up, with centre half Iain Rowlands being replaced by winger James Sigsworth as they looked for an all important equaliser. The latest addition won a free kick and Gareth Peet took responsibility, only to smash his effort into the wall. Fortunately he regained possession and floated the ball into the area where Danny Lambert headed on to the crossbar.
It was the same story less than a minute later as Gaul crossed the ball into the area and picked out Bentham who also saw his headed effort come crashing off the woodwork. It felt like it was just one of those nights and those fears were confirmed when Colwyn Bay broke and scored their fourth to clinch all three points. Callum Hassan, a towering specimen of a human being, was handed the simple task of nodding the ball past Sherlock after a delicate cross from the right hand wing.
An extremely tough result for Colls to take having controlled the match until Hartley was dismissed. The team battled well and Sherlock pulled off some brilliant saves when called upon. Hopefully the pain of this evening's result will be very raw in the minds of the players when they take to the field on Saturday against Colwyn Bay in The FA Cup. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Dave Sherlock, Gareth Peet, Danny Lambert, Danny Lafferty (C), Iain Rowlands (James Sigsworth), Ben Hardcastle, Vinny Bailey, Adam Farrell (Tom Bentham), Ben Conway (Deven Golden), Connor Gaul. Substitutes (not used): Matt Grimshaw, Josh Peet
Colwyn Bay: Paddy Wharton, Tom McCready (C), Josh Brizell (James Devine), Luke Horrocks, Gareth Grant, Olly Marx, Danny Andrews, Lassana Mendes (Ethan Devine), Ashley Ruane, James Barrigan, Craig Pritchard (Callum Hassan). Substitutes (not used:) Paddy Rutter, Blake Robinson
Referee: N. Evans
Man of the Match: Dave Sherlock Attendance: 200
Match report: Joseph Gibbons
Photograph: David Featherstone