Atherton Colls 2 Cammell Laird 2
THE division’s top two sides went head-to-head at Alder House and a pulsating 2-2 draw was the outcome.
Collieries last faced Cammell Laird on the opening day of the season when a deluge of rain fell on Birkenhead.
There was much uncertainty as to whether the match would go ahead and the same could be said for this reverse fixture. Downtown Atherton had seen constant rain in the days leading up to this encounter, with neighbours Daisy Hill seeing their home match fall foul of the weather. The pitch at Alder House held up well and hopefully it will be in a playable condition for the Boxing Day visit of Atherton Laburnum Rovers.
The meeting back in August saw Collieries take all three points with a 2-1 win at Kirklands. After a poor opening 20 minutes from Colls they undeservedly took the lead when Ben Hardcastle scored with a fantastic solo effort. Joe Holt equalised for the home side before a deflected Mark Truffas sealed the win for Michael Clegg’s side. It was said that Cammell Laird would be strong competitors this season and that has since transpired with Lairds sitting top of the table.
After claiming pole position a couple of weeks ago, Collieries have found themselves four points behind their promotion chasing rivals, but with the advantage of having four games in hand. A win against Lairds would have seen the gap closed to one point going into Boxing Day’s action. As it stands, the gap remains at four points following a pulsating advert for NWCFL between two sides that few would bet against being promoted at the end of the season.
It was a better start for Collieries this time around; a complete contrast to the shaky and unsettled period at the beginning of the last meeting. The home side got the ball down and played good football in the opening exchanges, but Paul McNally’s team dealt with all thrown at them. Cammell Laird played good football themselves, spreading play well with pinpoint long balls mixed in with good interchange in the midfield.
The first real chance on goal came on 13 minutes when the visitors had a shot from 25 yards out. Adam Hughes picked the ball up in the centre of the field and moved forward before firing a low shot into the hands of Danny Taberner in the Colls goal.
Fantastic build up play from Collieries on 22 minutes saw Brad Cooke nearly open the scoring. A number of short quick passes were exchanged before Cooke was set up to volley towards goal at the back post. From a tight angle it would be difficult to score past Mike Langley who was in inspired form throughout the match.
A minute later and Collieries came close to breaking the deadlock again. More good build up play saw Mark Ayres clip the ball into the area. The ball evaded the Lairds defenders and Josh Messer couldn’t quite get enough purchase on the ball to steer it past Langley at the near post.
Penalty appeals were then waved away by the referee when a Cammell Laird defender appeared to move his shoulder towards the ball in the area.
The vociferous Alder House crowd felt aggrieved not to have been given the decision but you win some and lose some.
The match was still evenly poised and Lairds took the lead on 29 minutes. Lairds exploited the left hand side and it was from here that a long ball was pumped into the area. It wasn’t adequately dealt with by the Collieries defence and Joe Holt was on hand to slot the ball past Taberner from close range. That was Holt’s second goal against Colls this season.
Two minutes after taking the lead, Lairds should have found themselves pegged back. Cooke played a delicate through ball to Mark Battersby who chipped the ball over Langley with his first touch. With the ball looking like it drop into the back of the net, there were collective sighs when it fell centimetres wide of the right hand post. It was a sign of things to come as both sides missed guilt edges chances to give their sides the ascendency.
Half time gave Collieries time to regroup and it appeared to do the trick as they took the game to their opponents in the second half. The home side undoubtedly had the majority of chances on goal but Cammell Laird were more composed and this saw them come close to claiming all three points.
The first chance of the second half came on 50 minutes when a trademark Ben Hardcastle run saw him wind into the area. He could have gone down to win a penalty, but the winger stayed on his feet and a rather tame effort followed. It certainly buoyed the home side and chance after chance came reigning down on the Cammell Laird goal.
Battersby squandered another chance on 53 minutes when a careless back pass from the Lairds left back gifted him a clear run on goal.
It could be argued that Battersby had too much time and space to consider where to place his shot and in the end it somehow went agonisingly wide. You sensed it wasn’t going to be Atherton’s day.
Minutes later and Cammell Laird doubled their lead with some precise direct play. Three passes from the edge of their own area was all it took to have the ball in the net at the other end.
Play was spread wide to the left and Taberner once again found himself trying to stop a close range shot. This effort was steered into the bottom left hand corner by Adam Hughes. The nervousness around Alder House was palpable with Collieries looking like they would suffer their first league home defeat since March.
Collieries carried on pressing forward and Battersby came close to scoring once again a couple of minutes later.
Kristian Holt replaced Andy Heald and Jordan Cover replaced Josh Messer. This brought fresh legs into the final third for the home side, but still various chances were squandered in front of goal. Cammell Laird had most players behind the ball and anything that did get through them was either saved by Langley or came out off the woodwork.
Mark Truffas was the first to see his curling effort bounce off the top of the crossbar before another came crashing off the post.
Truffas was rewarded for his hard work on 63 minutes when he was able to exploit a large gap in the Lairds defence. He skipped past a defender but was unable to get his shot past Langley from close range.
Fortunately the goalkeeper could only parry the ball a matter of feet and Truffas needed no invitation to pass the ball into an empty net.
Despite now being on top, Collieries could have been 3-1 down if it wasn’t for Danny Taberner who pulled off two outstanding saves to keep his side in the game.
The first save was one which would be played over and over again if it was in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Lairds once again charged down the left hand side and pulled the ball back across the face of goal where the striker was unmarked.
With Taberner diving one way and the ball going the other, he somehow managed to get an arm to the shot much to the amazement of every in attendance.
He was called into action again a minute later when Cammell Laird tried their luck from the edge of the area. The shot came through a crowd of bodies and looked to be going into the top left hand corner before Taberner tipped the ball out for a corner. It was those saves that rallied the home side and Brad Cooke grabbed a deserved equaliser on 84 minutes.
Throwing bodies forward in an attempt to salvage something from the match, centre half Mark Ayres saw his back post volley bounce out off the upright.
The ball fell to Cooke on the edge of the area who smashed it into the left hand corner, leaving Langley with no chance at all. Pure passion was exerted in the celebration as he ran off to celebrate in front of the infamous “Leigh Branch” of Colls supporters.
In the end, Cammell Laird were hanging on but Collieries couldn’t find that elusive goal despite opportunities to do so. A point for both sides was the fairest result and everybody left the ground satisfied with what had been one of the best matches to have been showcased at Alder House in recent years.
A good following from both sides made for a warm and entertaining atmosphere while some of the best players at this level showed what they are made of. Everybody eagerly awaits the next meeting between the two sides – whenever and wherever that may be – and for all the right reasons.
On Boxing Day is is Flatcap Derby 6 when Atherton LR make the short journey to Alder House KO 3pm.
It should be the proverbial christmas cracker!