The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang had finished a couple of days before this league fixture between Atherton Collieries and Brighouse Town but the pitch did it’s best to resemble an ice rink come the end of the game. Fortunately, the referee used his common sense and after liaising with both clubs the game was given the green light late on. Collieries came into this match enjoying a fantastic run in the league after going six matches unbeaten and winning the previous three. Brighouse were fairing less well but came into the match in high spirts having signed Oran Thompson on loan from Premier League side Huddersfield Town and they also welcomed back midfielder James Hurtley.
Piling on the pressure in the early stages, Brighouse looked to replicate the outcome of their previous outing to Atherton; a hard fought 2-1 victory in the FA Cup. Despite all their early promise the Colls back line were able to hold firm and were well supported by goalkeeper Greg Hartley who was once again in inspired form.
The first chance of note came on seven minutes when patient play in midfield saw a Brighouse attacker fire a well hit volley just over the bar from the edge of the area. The pace of the match became more frenetic but took a major turning point on the half hour mark when Huddersfield loannee Thompson was brandished a straight red card following a late, two footed lunge on Brad Cooke in the centre circle.
In recent seasons, Colls have failed to take advantage of having more men on the pitch but this occasion was different. It quickly became evident that momentum was now in Colls hands and Brighouse found it hard to keep a foot hold in the game.
The deadlock was broken two minutes before the interval when Ben Hardcastle volleyed the ball into the bottom right hand corner past George Clarke. It meant that in all four meetings between the two sides, the winger had netted on each occasion. He is well and truly a thorn in Brighouse’s side.
Disappointment was to arrive in the closing moments of the half when centre half, Chris Lynch, who had battled well was withdrawn due to injury.
Brighouse came out of the starting blocks quicker in the second half and immediately set about trying to draw back on level terms. Hartley pulled off a smart save and the defenders, now with Grimshaw in the middle held firm once more.
The storm had been weathered and Colls began to pass the ball around more confidently. As a result, their lead was doubled on 59 minutes after clever play down the left hand side from Danny Lambert worked the ball into the danger zone. Brighouse were unable to clear their lines and a clearance was volleyed cooly into the bottom left hand corner by midfielder Vinny Bailey.
Following the goal, Glenn Matthews made way for young winger James Sigsworth. The 18 year old who played for Daten FC last campaign has had odd chances in the first team this season but this was an opportunity he grasped with both hands. Numerous winding runs and intricate build up play down the left caused Brighouse right back Callum Hall all sorts of problems.
His introduction added further urgency and excitement in the Colls front line and a number of attacks rained down on the Brighouse back line.
With five minutes of the match remaining, Sigsworth ran in from the left and hurdled the challenges of two defenders before being brought down in the area. Hardcastle took responsibility for the spot kick and dispatched it into the bottom right hand corner.
Adam Farrell was brought on in place of Jordan Cover and the striker was more than happy to open his account for the club in added on time. A smart ball played through from midfield by Sigsworth saw the substitute race through and take the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper. It looked like the ball would flash out of play off the ever increasingly-frozen ground but Farrell managed to apply the deftest of touches to guide it in at the near post.
It had been a solid performance from Atherton Collieries; one which lifted them to fourth in the form table ahead of South Shields. Undoubtedly the sending off was a turning point but the home side showed enough fight and desire regardless of that and were good value for the three points.
The next match sees second placed Hyde United in town on Saturday 3rd March with a 15:00 kick off. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Jake Kenny, Danny Lambert, Chris Lynch (Matt Grimshaw), Danny Lafferty, Josh Messer, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke (C), Jordan Cover (Adam Farrell), Vinny Bailey, Glenn Matthews (James Sigsworth)Brighouse Town: George Clarke, Jack Normanton, Gabriel Johnson, Callum Hall, Oran Thompson, James Hurtley, Daniel Naidole (Waide Fairhurst), Tom Haigh, Aaron Martin, Mohammed Tijani Ibrahim (Isaac Marriott), Iwan Heeley - Substitutes not used: Daniel Grimshaw, Chandler Hallwood, George Gomersall
Goal(s): Ben Harcastle (42', penalty 85'), Vinny Bailey (59'), Adam Farrell (89') Attendance: 161
Match report: Zach Pierce
Photograph: David Featherstone