What would euphemistically be known as a 'keenly fought' encounter saw Micheal Clegg's table-topping Atherton Collieries pegged back by ten man play-off chasers Prescot Cables, with the black and whites leaving Volair Park with only a point, though results elsewhere meant Colls still hold a four point in number one spot as the league heads in to March and arguably the final strait. With Connor Hughes coming straight in to the Colls starting line up after signing on loan from National League North outfit Curzon Ashton, Dave Sherlock was the only other change in the starting eleven from last weekend's 0-0 draw with Droylsden, with Conor Gaul and James Kirby instead starting from the bench.
Although Colls have been quite rightly heralded for their attacking exploits as the league's top scorers - the draw at Droylsden being the first time they'd drawn a blank in nine games - the black and white rearguard has been in equally exalted company, with James McCulloch's 18th minute opener for Prescot in this encounter coming just five minutes short of the 500 minute mark since Colls' defence was last breached when Lee Williamson scored a consolation effort for Kidsgrove Athletic in their early January 2-1 defeat at the Skuna Stadium.
Arguably Prescot had done most of the running in the first half, but having survived a scare in the 14th minute when a Ben Hardcastle effort was ruled out after a somewhat debatable offside decision, the hosts were thankful for centre back Louis Coyne heading a chipped Tom Bentham effort off the line on 22 minutes before Colls drew level seven minutes later, Hardcastle's effort being superbly tipped on to the inside of the post by Cables goalkeeper Ollie Taylor, only for the home custodian to be beaten by Tom Bentham's sharp reactions to send the rebound in to the back of the net.
In what had been a somewhat tempestuous encounter throughout, the home side were reduced to ten men just ten minutes in to the second period when Aaron Turner - a central figure whenever tempers seemed to be frayed - was shown a second yellow card for what seemed a rather innocuous foul close to the halfway line. It's probably only fair to point out that he was far from the only player to find his way in to the referee's notebook, and if nothing else Prescot's defending became all the more resolute as Colls look to gain the initiative and push on for a winning goal.
Indeed, at times it was hard to tell which side had the man disadvantage as Prescot gained in confidence as the half wore on, Greg Hartley being called on to make a smart save at one end before Taylor again had to be at his best at the other end to deny Kirby.
Both Hughes and Hardcastle had further efforts to test Taylor while the Cables goalkeeper did well to keep hold of a last-ditch Gareth Peet free kick, but in the scheme of things a draw was probably a fair result as Colls hit the 60 point mark for the season while the hosts kept in touch with the play-off pack.
Colls are back in action next Saturday (2nd March) when old North West Counties League adversaries Colne, chasing the play-offs from 8th position after a 3-1 home victory over Kendal Town this afternoon, are the visitors to the Skuna Stadium for a 3pm kick off. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Oliver Roberts (James Kirby 60'), Daniel Lafferty Ⓒ, Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle, Vinny Bailey, Tom Bentham (Conor Gault 76'), Connor Hughes, Dave Sherlock. Substitutes (not used): Josh Peet, Matt Grimshaw, Danny Lambert.Goal(s): Tom Bentham (29′)Colls Mon IPA Man of the Match: Ben Hardcastle Attendance: 609
Match Report: Matt Lawton