Atherton Colls 1 Bootle 0.

A priceless second half goal from Jordan Cover was enough to see clinch the three points that Atherton Collieries needed to move level on points with opponents Bootle at the top of the Hallmark Security Football League Premier Division on a Baltic evening at the Kensite Stadium.

In what was an almighty tussle in front of a bumper crowd of over 450, the game was preceded by an impeccable minute’s silence in memory of Colls president David Norris who sadly passed away recently.

The action on the field began quickly with Colls flying out of the blocks and going close within six minutes when Ben Hardcastle did superbly well on the right hand side to beat Bootle left back Michael Ordish and deliver a pinpoint cross that was deserving of a more successful finish than Jordan Cover managing only to glance the ball wide of the target.

Cover had another chance to open the scoring minutes later, accelerating clear of the Bootle back line and through on goal, only to drag his shot wide of the far post.

With Bootle struggling to keep with the energy of the Colls side, there was only one team looking likely to go in front as Micheal Clegg’s charges pressed forward in search of a reward for their persistence. Even with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, Bootle’s defending was becoming ever more desperate and ragged as first Mark Truffas saw his goalbound shot deflected over the bar by a despairing lunge, with Danny Lafferty inches away from scoring from the resultant corner as his header was cleared off the line by Ordish.

With no quarter asked nor given, the referee had his work cut out trying to keep a lid on what was becoming an increasingly feisty encounter between two of the main title protagonists as the game became a real battle of wits in the centre of the park, with the frenetic nature of proceedings leaving little room for attacking endeavour.

Mark Truffas fired a free kick wide of the target before Bootle survived a huge handball shout amidst a bout of penalty area pinball as they desperately threw bodies towards the ball in an effort to keep out a barrage of Collieries attempts on goal before the visitors inadvertently had their best chance of the game when Adam Reid had to come up with a smart save to tip Ordish’s cross-turned-shot over the bar, leaving the game scoreless at the break but with Colls undoubtedly having the better of the game.

With a strong wind behind them, Colls faced something of a rarity in playing down the slope in the second half which certainly aided any attempts to exploit the pace of Hardcastle and Cover on the counter attack as Bootle finally managed to get more of a foothold in possession and start to exert their influence on the game.

It increasingly looked as though one goal might make all of the difference, and it duly arrived for the Colls on 65 minutes when visiting goalkeeper Charlie Taylor failed to keep hold of a Brad Cooke effort, with the ball falling at the feet of Cover who made no mistake in sweeping the rebound home to spark jubilant scenes on the terraces.

That lead was almost doubled only minutes later when Taylor lost the flight of the ball in the wind and was left in no man’s land as Truffas rounded him outside of the penalty area, but the blushes of the goalkeeper were saved by some superb defending to marshall Truffas out wide and prevent any chance of getting a shot away.

The visitors piled on the pressure as the game entered it’s latter stages, forcing a succession of corners with a torrent of high balls forward, but Colls continued to pose a threat on the break with substitute Mark Battersby always looking to be on the brink of a second goal with each half chance of going clear of the back line.

The home support had to endure an anxious five minutes of added time before the referee’s whistle could allow celebrations to begin as the black and whites put down a huge marker in the title race, managing to keep a clean sheet against a side who had scored an incredible 104 goals in their previous 29 league outings this season.

Atherton Colls 1 1874 Northwich 0

The second and third placed clubs in the Hallmark Security Premier Division faced off at the Kensite Stadium and in a very close affair it was the Collieries who prevailed through a solitary Ben Hardcastle first half strike.

The opening twenty minutes was cagey with the sides showing each other an enormous amount of respect with the visitors edging it slightly. Colls first real opportunity was on 24 minutes when Gareth Peet fed Mark Truffas whose curling shot was saved well by Greg Hall. From the resultant cornerthe all important goal was scored. Vinny Bailey caught the 1874 rearguard on their heels, picking up a short corner before bamboozling his marker on the byline. He played the ball back to Neil Chappell who shot through fresh air but Hardcastle was on the spot to smash in from 15 yards out. Chappell was keen to score against his old side and he launched a strong effort from the edge of the box but it flew over the crossbar. Jason Carey had 1874’s best effort but Adam Reid was equal to it.

The second period was just as competitive with Colls exerting more of the pressure but clear cut chances were kept to a minimum. Reid pulled off a fantastic reaction save from a low free kick before more Bailey skill set up Jordan Cover who uncharacteristically scuffed the gilt edged chance wide of the goalposts. Last gasp defending foiled the persistent Chappell again then the blue bandana wearing Hall excellently tipped over a goal bound snapshot. Referee Appleby played five minutes injury time and the final peal of his whistle saw the home players and supporters collectively exhale a huge sigh of relief.

The man was played before a second consecutive KensiteStadium crowd over 400 and credit goes to both sets of fans who supported their heroes with passion throughout.

Colls edged the possession 51% to 49% so the match was even matched as it should be when second lock horns with third. For the second time in a week a 1-0 victory enabled Michael Clegg’s team draw level with leaders Bootle on points.

There are still five teams left in the title hunt and with just short of a third of the campaign remaining there promises to be many twists and turns before a champion is crowned.

Next Saturday Colls host Congleton Town in a Hallmark Security Premier Division clash. KO 3pm