68 teams entered the Integro league cup this season, only four remained on Thursday and Atherton Collieries were one of them. After seeing off Skelmersdale United, Bamber Bridge Scarborough and Ramsbottom United, the games didn't get any easier for the Colls with an away trip to Hednesford Town awaiting Clegg’s men in the next round. As a former conference outfit, Town were easily one of the most experienced sides Clegg’s men have ever come up against during his time at the club. Their purpose built ground was something we could only dream of; Old Trafford when comparing it to the Kensite. Of course, though, we love our shabby old ground.
There might have been a gulf of quality off the field, however, on the field there was no such thing with the Collieries showing Hednesford exactly how it's done with an emphatic 4-1 victory.
From the very off Clegg’s men were seemingly in control. Early pressure was simply not dealt with by the hosts.
The stand out opportunity of the first half came on 27 minutes. Whenever in the side, Jordan Cover offers a threat most teams simply cannot deal with. Once again, this was the case here. A threaded ball played cover through with Hednesford defender Sam Oji the only case for defense on the half-way line. In his attempt to catch the forward, Oji pulled his hamstring, leaving Cover with a clear run on goal. Playing the team-game, the prolific striker squared the ball to Dave Sherlock who, unbelievably, was prevented from opening proceedings thanks to a fine save from stopper James Wren.
Increasingly, though, the Pitmen grew into the game, a nice spell of possession saw them with numerous half-chances on goal. The Collieries were defending well.
The Colls had one last chance to make their possession count. Ben Hardcastle drilled a sublime effort at goal from the edge of the area, unfortunately the hosts were equal to this as they cleared off the line heroically. Following utter chaos in the Hednesford box, the ball fell to Danny Lafferty who blazed the ball well over the mark.
A strong first half from Atherton, however, the strong black and white following were about to witness an even stronger one.
Two minutes after the restart the Collieries took the lead. Another forward ball was latched onto by Cover. This time he, again, out-ran his defender with apparent ease before he fired an unstoppable, literally, shot into the top right hand corner of the goal. Even Wren’s glove could not prevent Clegg’s men opening the scoring.
Minute later the Colls doubled their advantage. Set-pieces have never been Atherton’s strong point, evidently though it has been something they have worked on. Brad Cooke planted a direct header into the top left hand corner of the goal from an inswinging corner. A sense of pride for the captain who has been with the club since the NWCFL First Division days.
On 70 minutes, with the hosts only able to touch the ball briefly, the black and whites got their third of what was an unbelievable game. Yet another through ball along the slick Keys Park turf was collected by Cover. In his efforts to rob the ball off the forward the defender lost his footing, allowing Cover a clear run on goal. This time the forward slotted the ball into the back of the net with ease. In the aftermath, a straight red card was shown to Charlie Gatter who was a bit to controversial in his discussion with the referee.
Two minutes later, a Grimshaw push in the area resulted in the hosts being awarded a penalty. Despite Greg Hartley’s best efforts, Danny Glover was able to convert.
Ultimately though, the Collieries ensured their place in the final with a fourth goal to put the cherry atop of the cake. A long ball from the Colls defence was bravely dealt with by Wren on the half-way line. Unfortunately his clearance landed straight at the feet of Hardcastle who simply carried the ball downfield before passing into an empty net.
An unbelievable win for Clegg’s men again top opposition, a sign of how far the Collieries have had to come in a very short space of time. Their reward? A place in the final against Coalville Town, venue TBC. Hednesford Town - James Wren, Callum Mendez-Jones, Darren Campion, Reece King, Samuel Oji, Charie Gatter, Anthony Dwyer, Tom Thorley (C), Joey Butlin, James Lawrie, James Fitzgibbon - Substitutes: Danny Glover, Louis Harris, Joe Fitzpatrick, Tom Wheeldon, Jose Veiga
Goals: Daniel Glover (penalty 72')
Atherton Collieries - Greg Hartley, Jake Kenny, Danny Lambert, Josh Messer, Danny Lafferty, Matt Grimshaw, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke (C), Jordan Cover, Dave Sherlock, Gareth Peet - Substitutes: Adam Farrell, Liam O'Neill, Marcus Cusani, James Sigsworth
Goals: Jordan Cover (49', 70'), Brad Cooke (53'), Ben Hardcastle (90')
Man of the Match: Brad Cooke Attendance: 211
Match report: Zach Pierce
Photograph: David Featherstone