Report: Squires Gate 3-4 Atherton Collieries

The two sides last met in 2011, in an FA Cup tie at School Lane. It rained throughout and a solitary goal from Andy Harvey saw Gate progress into the next round. Much like that day, it rained perpetually on the Fylde coast but fortunately for Colls this time they came away with a win. Collieries had a full strength side at their disposal with Ahmed Sullay the only notable absentee. The side remained largely unchanged from Saturday's defeat against 1874 Northwich, and Michael Clegg's faith in his players was rewarded with a hard fought victory. Cheered on by a large following on a cold, wet, miserable night in Blackpool, Collieries started off the better of the two sides. The wet pitch allowed the visitors to get the ball down and pass it, allowing them to build up confidence that appeared to have been missing in recent weeks. The deadlock was broken on 6 minutes when Colls won a penalty. Mark Battersby picked the ball up outside the area and hit it at pace towards the back post. The ball travelled at pace before hitting the arm of a defender, with the linesman a matter of metres away. Protests were waved away and it was Battersby who composed himself to slot the ball past Benjamin Fletcher. Ben Hardcastle enjoyed arguably his best match in an Atherton Collieries shirt, and it was the winger who doubled the advantage on the 20 minute mark. Seemingly from nowhere he made a goalscoring opportunity and took it superbly. Mark Truffas hoofed the ball into the air from the defensive third before play made it's way over to Hardcastle on the right hand wing. Taking on the left back he shuffled past him and fired the ball into the bottom left hand corner.  It seemed all the early hard work had been undone just two minutes later when Squires Gate pulled a goal back. A needless free kick was given away close to the halfway line allowing the home side to load the area. Launched into a sea of bodies, goalkeeper Danny Taberner fumbled when attempting to collect the ball, allowing Alexander McKendrick to smash the ball into the roof of the net from close range. Collieries came close to restoring their two goal cushion on 28 minutes when great interchange in midfield presented another decent goalscoring opportunity. Brad Cooke collected the ball in the centre of the pitch and fed it out wide to Ben Hardcastle who proceeded to skip past his marker towards the byline. A cross was cut across the face of goal but nobody was able to apply a finishing touch that would surely have resulted in a goal. The score was made 3-1 on 32 minutes when Ben Hardcastle grabbed his second of the match. A neat one-two with Mark Battersby on the edge of the box saw the latter flick the ball over a defender allowing Hardcastle to set himself. On the half volley he hammered the ball towards Fletcher who could do very little to react as the sheer pace of the shot took it past him. With seconds remaining of the first half, Squires Gate once again pulled a goal back following the awarding of yet another careless free kick. Although the original threat was dealt with, the next stage of play saw Josh Westwood head past Taberner at the back post following a precise cross from the left. It had been an entertaining half for the neutral, though many were glad of the break as the rain began to lay seige on the Fylde Coast. Many spectators may have been envious as they heard the final whistle of Wren Rovers v Garstang on the other side of the fence; it had kicked off 45 minutes earlier. Michael Clegg kept his side the same for the start of the second half. However, he was forced into making a change when Matt Grimshaw hobbled off after four minutes; he was replaced by Kris Holt.  The home side came very close to equalising on 50 minutes when the ball was lumped forward into the Colls area. Danny Taberner was beaten in the air and the loose ball was poked towards goal. Fortunately Josh Messer was on hand to slide across the line and nudge the ball the other side of the post. The scores were level on 60 minutes when another penalty was awarded. Jake Kenny was running across to cut a ball out when his ankle turned beneath him, sending him flying into the attacker. A complete accident, but definitely a penalty. The resulting spot kick was rifled in by Danny Penswick as Kenny unfortunately limped off into the nearby changing rooms. It later transpired that he had fractured part of his ankle and will be out for a few weeks. James Kirby was brought on in place of Matt Boland and this delivered the desired effect for Clegg's side as they went on to press their opponents across the pitch. Mark Truffas was threatening to produce a moment of magic and it came following a few choice words from a usually quiet bench. He cut in from the left and set off on a winding run before being denied by a fantastic stop from Benjamin Fletcher. Despite just preventing his side from falling behind again, Fletcher was picking the ball out of the back of his net for a fourth time just a minute later. A ball was played down the wing with James Kirby the intended target. He burst through two backtracking defenders and carried on towards goal before slotting it into the bottom left hand corner. It was no more than he deserved having hassled and hurried the Squires Gate backline following his introduction. A wonder goal nearly arrived from the home side on 70 minutes, but a 30 yard pile driver bounced off the top off the crossbar and out for a goal kick.  It was gripping end-to-end football, and Mark Battersby was the next to try his luck at goal. Ben Hardcastle continued to work hard as he spearheaded a three on one attack. Bursting through the middle he had James Kirby to his right and Mark Battersby to the left. He passed left and Battersby saw his delicate effort curl marginally wide of the right hand post. Collieries were not hanging on to their lead like in previous matches and were good value for the three points. The final whistle arrived after three minutes of added time and the players were applauded by a vociferous following from Atherton. The support was incredible and will no doubt spur the players on for Saturday's match at Brighouse. The result sees Colls rise up to sixth, level on points with Nelson. A special mention to Ben Hardcastle who really did put in a shift and showed just what he is capable of when he is at the top of his game. Well done Ben. Squires Gate: Benjamin Fletcher, Andrew Richards, Brett Ferguson, Michael Hall, Wesley Benjamin, Christopher Anderson, Alexander McKendrick, Daniel Penswick, Joshua Westwood, Terry Cummings, Joshua Kay - Substitutes: Mark Buchan, Aaron Clarke, Alex Colquhoun, Ashley Rowley, Nathan Trout Atherton Collieries: Danny Taberner, Jake Kenny, Keith Wedge, Josh Messer, Matt Grimshaw, Mark Ayres, Ben Hardcastle, Brad Cooke, Mark Battersby, Matt Boland, Mark Truffas - Substitutes: Nathan Battersby, Jordan Cover, James Kirby, Gareth Peet, Kristian Holt Man of the match: Ben Hardcastle Attendance: 150   Match report by Joseph Gibbons 

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