Atherton Collieries fly the flag for the League in the FA Vase on Saturday when they travel up to face Northern League side Shildon in a tough Fourth Round tie.
Shildon may be only a small town in County Durham, a few miles away from larger neighbour Bishop Auckland, but the town’s football team has established a formidable reputation as one of the Northern League’s strongest clubs in recent times.
Currently the reigning Northern League champions, Shildon were semi-finalists in the FA Vase in 2013, and two years ago reached the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, eventually going out to former NWCFL side Norton United in a replay.
This season, they knocked out FA Vase winners in 2015 North Shields on their own ground in the last round, having accounted for Litherland REMYCA earlier in the competition, and currently sit third in the Northern League, with games in hand on the two teams above them, North Shields and South Shields. They come into the game on the back of five straight wins, and have won 14 of their last 15 games.
They aren’t short in the goalscoring department either having scored 68 goals in 25 league games, although interestingly there appears to be a goalscoring threat from throughout the team, with leading scorers Billy Greulich-Smith and Paul Connor only having scored 11 and 10 goals apiece.
It’s clear that Colls face a tough task on Saturday, although in a statement on the club website this week, Shildon Chairman David Dent has asked for the support of the town for the big game, and his comments suggest that they will not be underestimating their visitors to Dean Street on Saturday.
”The game against Atherton represents a really exciting tie”, he said. “Whilst they will no doubt install us as favourites we are well aware of the quality within their squad, and to go and beat Penrith away as comprehensively as they did in the last round is a good illustration of their abilities”.
Colls, of course, can travel up to the North East with some confidence, having turned in some pretty impressive performances of their own in recent months. They also come into the game on the back of five straight wins, have won 11 of their last 12, and have more impressive goalscoring stats than their opponents, having scored 83 goals in 32 games across all competitions this season.
Colls manager Michael Clegg is under no illusions about the task facing his side, but believes they have the required quality in their ranks to progress through to the next round of the competition.
“I think that Shildon and South Shields are the best sides left in the competition, so I don’t think we could have got it any tougher”, he said.
“They are obviously a strong side, but we are in good form ourselves, and haven’t lost in the league since September. This season we have the best defence in the league too, and that never seems to get talked about, people seem to look at the goals we score.
“Also, we went to Penrith in the last round and won 3-0, and Shildon won 3-1 in their league game there, and we beat Jarrow 5-0 in an earlier round and Shildon beat them 3-0 in the league, so as much as we know they are a good side, our results aren’t much different to theirs against the same teams.
“Over the past year or two we’ve been used to going into games as favourites, but this time we aren’t, and in a way it will be good going in to a game under no pressure and the lads can just go out and enjoy it.
“We’ve players who don’t worry who they play, and will play with no fear, and we know we are not going up there to get rolled over.
“If it’s a battle then we’ll have a battle, and if it’s a football match we’ll play football, and we will go up there, enjoy the day and have a few beers whether we win or lose”.