Cantilever Park has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Brad Cooke’s Colls. For the third consecutive season Warrington Town was the destination on a Tuesday night in August. Despite two previous 2-0 defeats on previous occasions, performances had been strong. Indeed, had Danny Lambert’s thumping effort nestled into the back of the net as opposed to bounce back off the bar, last season’s outcome could have been very different.
Cooke admitted that the priority for this game was a good performance. Saturday’s defeat to the hands of Hyde United left all in black and white feeling a little flat. Well, it was certainly the performance Cooke desired as the 2-0 defeat away at Warrington hoodoo was finally broken – in some style too.
With the pack shuffled slightly, Ollie Brown came into the side to make his Atherton debut. The midfielder was joined by Luca Defreitas-Hansen and Aaron Smith in the three changes from Saturday’s game.
The Colls took the game to Warrington from the first whistle. On 13 minutes, keeper Tony Thompson’s palms were warmed. A dead ball situation saw Town clear their lines, but only as far as Adam Rooney. The defender – who has impressed since his summer transfer to the Skuna – whipped the ball back in instantaneously for Joel Amado to loop a header towards goal. Thompson, unsure, but ultimately steady in his collection.
Seconds later, the black and white wave surged forward once more. Jay Fitzmartin led the Colls attack, cut inside and teased a shot on goal. Thompson was troubled – the stopper dived low to his left to turn the ball behind for a corner. Another solid save. Suspension served and back in the side, L. Defreitas-Hansen played a pivotal role in this clash with the yellows. Here, the American stalwart could only watch as his header crashed against the bar.
Now, you may be forgiven if you have a strange sense of déjà vu reading this report – so far, it all sounds a little too familiar to last season’s trip to Cheshire. Well, when Warrington drew first blood on 17 minutes Cooke and Sadler could only look at one another in pure disbelief as this sense grew stronger. Town were awarded a free-kick left of the Colls box. Jordan Buckley took advantage as he poked home a drilled ball to make it 1-0 Warrington.
Colls didn’t sit back; they took the game to their hosts to see if they were truly worthy of the lead. Cooke’s side are no strangers to coming back from behind this season having done it twice already. Something, Cooke felt after the game, Atherton have to improve on, “The average age of the squad today was 22 years old, we have some good young kids in there. They have got to learn quickly. We can’t keep giving teams a goal head. Hopefully, that will start Saturday against Matlock.” In truth, Warrington were fortunate to head into the break one goal up.
With all to play for, the Collieries came out second half and played positive, attacking football. A good twenty-minute spell of the second period saw the Colls dominate. Warrington, though, are a side who know how to get the job done and it was something the Atherton defence had to be wary of throughout. On 52 minutes Captain Danny Lafferty led by example as he heroically jumped in front of a direct shot at goal.
Lafferty’s bravery was rewarded just four minutes later as the Collieries got their equaliser. A free kick from the right-hand side of the Town box was played in by Fitzmartin. Forward Scott Bakkor leapt to meet the ball and volleyed it into the back of net – Thompson and his colleagues in yellow had no chance. It was a fine finish to deservedly bring Cooke’s lads level and open Bakkor’s account in black and white stripes.
As the Colls continued to put last season’s play-off finalists under pressure, L. Defreitas-Hansen caused yet more problems for the Warrington defence. 72 minutes played and a Colls corner was drilled into a packed box. The American was first to the ball but his header was cleared off the line by a superb piece of individual defending from Josh Seary. Cooke could do nothing but admire such acrobatic defensive action, “It’s unbelievable what the kid’s done on the line there. Whether it’s over the line or not is irrelevant, what he's done to clear that is unbelievable defending.”
A triple substitution from Town boss Mark Beesley saw a different approach from the hosts as they switched the game and put Atherton under more pressure. The remaining 20 minutes saw the Colls be disciplined in defence and show great character to continue to break and attack, both sides wanted thre three points.
The final whistle brought to a close what was a good advert for the Northern Premier League – an open, end-to-end game in which a point was the least the Colls deserved. Reflecting on the action, Cooke said, “We are all disappointed we haven’t got the three points tonight. We thought our performance warranted it. We showed so much character and continued to work to the game plan. The lads dug in and got a deserved equaliser.”
With four of the current top six played, attention now turns to a Bank Holiday weekend double header. Matlock are the visitors to the Skuna on Saturday, before a 48-hour turnaround for a trip to Lancaster City on Monday. Your support, as always, is very much appreciated!
Colls: Nico Defreitas-Hansen, Ollie Brown, Joel Amado, Adam Rooney (Marcus Cusani 50’), Danny Lafferty ©, Luca Defreitas-Hansen, Ethan Kershaw, Jack Lenehan, Scott Bakkor (Declan Daniels 93’), Jay Fitzmartin (Luke Nichols 83’) and Aaron Smith. Unused substitutes: Oli Roberts.
Man of the Match – Scott Bakkor, sponsored by M Riley Plumbing and Heating
Report – Zach Pierce
Photo - David Featherstone