A bumper crowd of approaching 500 saw Michael Clegg’s #almostfamous black n white stripes attain a vital and ultimately convincing Evo-Stik Division 1 West victory. Colls’ last visit to The Millbank Stadium was in September of the glorious 2016/17 NWCFL Championship winning campaign and in a rare blip the lads put in a ‘no show’ display and the hosts thoroughly deserved their 2-0 triumph. The sides had already met at the Skuna twice this term with Colls winning 3-2 and 4-2 in the league and the FA Trophy respectively. The above results gave the teams the incentive to prevail in a 3rd v 2nd match up rightly slated as the Divisional match of the day.
Colls made one change to the line up that narrowly beat Kidsgrove Athletic in their last outing with James Kirby replacing a not 100% fit Connor Gaul. Who could forget Kirbs’ scene stealing performance on this paddock in September 2015 when he bagged a mercurial second half hat-trick in a lauded 4-1 victory. The other goal-scorer that day was Krissy Holt, now a Linnet and he was on the subs bench while another stellar ex Colls Mon Paul Shanley (2010/11 NWCFL Division 1 Player Of The Year) was also in opposition.
The weather on the morning of the match was somewhat becalmed but by 3pm the rain and a swirling wind had hit Halton ensuring that the conditions were tricky to say the least. Linnets had the elements at their backs in the first half and the lion’s share of football seemed to be played out in Colls territory although Colls had 55% possession according to the statistics. Acknowledging the conditions the black n white stripes defended as unit and limited their oppo’s to long range sorties which fortunately left the Stadium or hit the ingeniously located Evo-Stik advertising board directly behind the sticks. Greg Hartley was forced to make a vital punch at the farpost as real danger loomed and his ‘Superman’ launch was extraordinary. Colls were playing some lovely stuff without being particularly threatening until they took the lead on 40 minutes. A galloping Gareth Peet was brought down on edge of the box. He certainly landed inside the whitewash but referee Atkinson gave a free-kick rather than a penalty. Video evidence has since vindicated the eagle-eyed whistleblower so kudos to him. Oli Roberts and Vinny Bailey lined up to take the kick and It was the latter who whipped the ball imperiously into the far right corner of the net to send the impressive Colls support into delerium. Bend it like Bailey!
The second stanza opening saw Linnets press but again the Danny Lafferty led defence offered few clear cut opportunities. When Colls had possession Ben Hardcastle was leading the yellow n greens a merry dance. They just didn’t know how to contain him. In the 74th minute Hartley was finally beaten by a shot that crept through a crowded penalty box. The home faithful were already celebrating regaining parity only for Peet to appear and clear off the line. Seconds later Colls had doubled their advantage. Dave Sherlock won a midfield 50/50 and made a simple pass to Tom Bentham who then played in Ben Conway. The lively winger outstripped the defence and slotted past Dylan Forth from an acute angle. Bentham headed over a free-kick before Ian Rowlands bagged his 5th of the campaign. In a goalmouth scramble he pirouetted like Nureyev before slamming the ball in corner of the net. In injury time the two Ben’s almost put the icing on the cake, Conway fed Hardcastle who blasted wide in a one on one situation.
A wonderful performance and scoreline which was perhaps a tad harsh on the hosts. An all round team display, great defending especially in the less than helpful conditions of the first half and poised & explosive attacking play whenever the chance arose. Radcliffe losing helped put the team top of the division for a third weekend of the campaign. With fifteen games remaining the hard work continues unabated. On Saturday Kendal Town visit the Skuna. 3pm Ko. Atherton Collieries: Greg Hartley, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, Oli Roberts (Dave Sherlock 65’), Danny Lafferty (C), Ian Rowlands, Ben Hardcastle, Vinny Bailey (Matty Grimshaw 87’), Tom Bentham, James Kirby (Connor Gaul 65’), Ben Conway. Substitutes (not used): Adam Farrell, Josh PeetGoal(s): Connor Gaul (55'), Tom Bentham (65'), Ben Conway (78')Man Of The Match: Ben Hardcastle Attendance: 480