Report: Colls 4-1 AFC Darwen

Collieries came into their home match against AFC Darwen knowing that seven more league points would see them clinch promotion and they edged closer to their goal with a comprehensive second half display. Atherton had an almost full strength squad at their disposal following Friday’s postponed match at Daisy Hill. However, defenders James Brooks and Rob Swanton were side lined through injury and Mark Ayres had left the club in the week to join Ramsbottom United. Andy Heald was brought in at left back and Keith Wedge took up a spot on the bench having returned to the club for his second spell, joining from Radcliffe Borough. It was an end-to-end encounter, but all goals were to be seen at the newly named Scoreboard End as the newest addition to the ground made it’s debut. For years the folk of Atherton had dreamt of seeing the black and white stripes’ score displayed in such splendour, so it was only fitting that the visitors opened the scoring. The opening exchanges of the match saw Collieries go close on a couple of occasions but good defending and goalkeeping from The Salmoners saw the home sides front line become frustrated. Poor defending allowed Darwen striker Paul Coote to claim his 21st goal of the campaign on 23 minutes. Like the parting of the red sea, Coote travelled through on goal with vast space allowing him time to steady himself before tucking the ball neatly past Danny Taberner at the near post. Stern words from the side lines followed and the home side then appeared to have more momentum about their play. Gareth Peet and Kris Holt were instrumental in driving their side forward and it was the latter mentioned who came close to finishing off a fantastic move two minutes after falling behind. Great build up play resulted in a cross being dinked in from the left hand side but Holt was leaning backwards as his head met the ball. A minute later and Peet wriggled his way past the Darwen full back again and this time it was Darwen goalkeeper Stefan Holden who was called upon to save his side. As the ball travelled across the face of goal to the waiting Mark Battersby, the tall stopper got a fingertip to the cross to avert the danger. Collieries' pressure continued but it was the Anchor Ground outfit who took the lead going into the second period. Keith Wedge had been brought on for the injured Andy Heald midway through the first half and Clegg decided to bring on winger Ben Hardcastle who arguably changed the match when he came on. Hardcastle played down the right and the Darwen defenders found it hard to cope with a relentless Collieries attacking presence. Mark Battersby fired his side back on to level terms four minutes into the second half when he dispatched the penalty that he had earned. It was a composed finish from the forward who placed the ball into the bottom right hand corner past Holden. The goal of the match – and one of our goals of the season – came on 53 minutes. Rather fortuitously the ball fell to Battersby who was 25 yards from goal. With his first touch he curled the ball around Holden and it nestled into the bottom corner. It could be argued that the goalkeeper knew very little about the effort as it flew past him but nothing can be taken away from the goal scorer who was now one goal away from yet another hat trick. That hat trick arrived on 59 minutes when Kris Holt was upended in the penalty area. The Darwen player was shown a second yellow and Battersby claimed the ball, perching it delicately on the penalty spot. He opted to send the ball to the left this time but the outcome was still the same as Holden had to pick the ball out of the net again. Collieries were now in full flow and it looked like the floodgates could open. Only one more goal was to be added to the home side’s tally as Gareth Peet smashed the ball home in the final minute of normal play. A 4-1 score line was a fair reflection but doesn’t demonstrate how well Darwen performed in the first half. The result took Colls to the top of the table for 24 hours before Cammell Laird demolished Widnes and just four points are now required to gain promotion. Atherton Collieries: Danny Taberner, Jake Kenny, Andy Heald, Gareth Carson, Matt Grimshaw, Josh Messer, Brad Cooke, Kris Holt, Mark Truffas, Gareth Peet, Mark Battersby - Substitutes: Jordan Cover, Mark Adams, Ben Hardcastle, Keith Wedge & N. Battersby Match report by Joseph Gibbons

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