Vodkat Premier Division
New Mills 3
Atherton LR 2
In WHAT was arguably the best game seen at Church Lane this season, a late Steve Moore penalty proved to be the match-winner as New Mills returned to the top of the Vodkat Premier Division.
Following the torrential overnight rain, the Church Lane pitch looked in great condition mainly thanks to the efforts of volunteers on Saturday morning.
Their hard work was rewarded as early as the fourth minute as New Mills took the lead. Moore played a superb through ball to the feet of Adam Mather, and the midfielder never broke his stride as he thumped it past Atherton keeper Martin Pearson.
Surprisingly, that early goal failed to spark the home side into life and Atherton came more into the game as the half progressed. The equaliser came in the 27th minute following Phil Howard’s outswinging corner kick which evaded the vast majority in the penalty area.
The loose ball dropped nicely into the path of full back Ben Cartwright who drove the resulting shot through the traffic and past the unsighted Millers keeper Dominic Ingram-Hughes.
Both teams had decent opportunities to claim the lead prior to the half time interval. Daniel Smith’s deflected effort skimmed fractionally past The Millers’ upright, but down at the other end Atherton keeper Martin Pearson made a couple of outstanding saves to deny Carlos Meakin, particularly an outstanding point blank effort in stoppage time.
The visitors took a shock lead three minutes after the interval when Daniel Smith beat the offside trap and capitalised on acres of space down the right hand side. The Atherton midfielder’s shot beat Ingram-Hughes and had just enough pace to beat Nick Swirad’s valiant attempts to clear the ball.
The goal woke The Millers from their early second half slumbers and they started to get a grip on the midfield. The game’s outstanding player Mather went on a fantastic run down the wing and his inch-perfect cross found an unmarked Moore in the penalty area, but the striker wasted the opportunity.
The equaliser finally arrived on the hour mark and followed a good period of controlled possession in the Atherton half. Captain Syd Pickford laid the ball across the 18-yard box for full back Mike Bowler, whose beautifully-arrowed drive into the bottom corner resulted in his first goal of the season.
Bowler then turned provider with a defence-splitting pass to Leon Grandison. The striker couldn’t take advantage of the one-on-one situation with Pearson and dragged his effort wide.
The Millers grabbed the winning goal that they probably deserved, on the balance of play, with only three minutes of the game remaining, but there was an element of controversy surrounding it.
Atherton centre half Kieron Halliwell handballed Mather’s cross but as the ball was smashed at him from point blank range, there was a doubt whether it was a deliberate infringement.
Referee Mr Astley, whose excellent overall performance contributed to the game, thought otherwise and had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Moore kept his cool to send the keeper the wrong way, a goal that took extra significance when the news filtered through that previous leaders Winsford United had dropped points at home to Barnoldswick Town.
New Mills: Ingram-Hughes, Bowler, Innes, Hirst (Horrocks), Barras (Coyne), Swirad, Meakin, Pickford, L Grandison, Moore, Mather. Unused subs: Monaghan, Crowe, K Grandison. Attendance: 142.