Keen the shake off any hangover from a disappointing Tuesday night FA Cup replay defeat against FC United, the Colls welcomed the trip to Stalybridge Celtic on Saturday. Almost two weeks away from Betvictor Northern Premier League action and Atherton found themselves in a really positive position. To build on this, Clegg and his team were focused towards a first away win of this season. Like all games, this would be no given, Celtic's Bower Fold is an especially hard place to go, Scarborough Athletic rolled over 5-1 earlier last month.
The Collieries started this game with a real energy. The lads in bright orange held the ball well, attacked from the back and highlighted some real flaws in Stalybridge's midfield four. This strong start was utilised completely as Clegg's men took the lead with just three minutes on the clock. The ball was slipped through to an advancing Vinny Bailey on the left side of the area. The midfielder cooly collected and instead of going for glory himself, knocked it acutely across to forward Tom Bentham. The birthday-boy tapped into the back of the net with expert precision.
This woke Stalybridge up a little, but Atherton did well to retain defensive control. The hosts were forced to long range efforts, often high and wide, something Scott Bakkor was guilty of on 16 minutes. The ball landed at the midfielder's feet from a dead ball situation square on goal at the edge of the area. As Lafferty lead the pressure, closing angles down, Bakkor's only option was to fire the ball at goal. Ultimately the shot flew over the bar and the stand behind.
Atherton continued to exploit Stalybridge's failure to deal with attacks down the wing. Bentham came close to doubling both his own and the Collieries tally on 30 minutes. Gaz Peet danced his way down the by-line before he zipped a cross up and over to Bentham, the robust forward could only head wide.
The Colls second of the game did come soon after though, with 38 minutes on the clock. Bentham turned from scorer to provider as he leaped past the fullback and crossed a pin-point ball over to Brad Lynch on the far post. The winger, alert, headed into the back of the net and past despairing Goalkeeper Adam Fojiteck.
Soon the second half of the game rolled around, a period of play that saw Celtic increase the pressure on the Atherton defence, ultimately offering nothing too substantive in front of goal.
However, the hosts did manage to claw a goal back ten minutes into this half. A scramble in the area saw the Collieries fail to clear their lines. Bakkor, who earlier was guilty of firing well wide of the mark, this time fired home with a precise, unstoppable effort yards from goal.
Stalybridge continued to pile on the pressure, but Clegg's men defended well and continued to frustrate their hosts to nothing more than stray efforts here and there.
Ironically the Collieries regained possession of play after Dave Sherlock's dismissal on 62 minutes for his second yellow of the game, albeit briefly. Five minutes after the dismissal Lynch went one-on-one with the Stalybridge stopper as he collected a launched ball forward. Fojiteck stood his ground well and Lynch could only fire at the keeper.
The pressure continued to build as Stalybridge looked to make their one man advantage count. However, with a sturdy figure in the form of Oliver Byrne between the sticks they never looked like scoring. Strong defensive back line propped up by even stronger goalkeeping that saw the Colls ultimately take their first three points away from home this season.
Attention has now turned from league straight back to cup as Cleggy and his team start their Integro League Cup campaign on Monday with a home game against Prescot Cables. Atherton Collieries: Ollie Byrne, Clive Smith, Gareth Peet, David Sherlock, Danny Lafferty (C), Josh Thompson, Josh Egan, Vinny Bailey, Tom Bentham (Kieran Feeney 87'), Jordan Cover (Ben Conway 64'), Brad Lynch (Ollie Roberts 64'). Substitutes (not used): Chris Cheetham, Niall BattersbyGoal(s): Tom Bentham (4'), Brad Lynch (39')Rama Spice Man of the Match: Tom Bentham Attendance: 269