Atherton Collieries are gearing up for one of the biggest games in their history as they prepare for Saturday’s tie at Cleethorpes Town in the Fifth Round of the Buildbase FA Vase.
It’s a clash of big guns from neighbouring leagues, with Colls sitting level on points with Bootle at the top of our Premier Division, going head to head against a team that are ten points clear at the top of the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.
It’s sure to be a testing afternoon for Colls, but manager Michael Clegg insists it’s a challenge they are ready for.
“All the lads are really excited about the game and looking forward to it”, he said. “We’re coming into the game in good form, we’ve only lost one in 23 games and are playing well.
“I never thought we would progress as quickly as we have done, people forget that this is only our second season in the Premier League. We’ve got a great set of lads who are all local, a great team spirit and we all work hard, and we’re ready for the game” .
Colls have been competing continuously in the Vase since 1980-81, but this season is the first time they have ever reached the last 16 of the competition. However, they are old hands in comparison to their opponents, who only joined Northern Counties East League for the 2012-13 season and entered the Vase for the first time the following year, when they were promoted as champions of the Northern Counties East League Division One.
Since then, Cleethorpes Town’s progress has been impressive, with 4th and 3rd place finishes in the Premier Division in the last two seasons, and this time out blazing a trail at the top of the table which they currently lead by ten points, having lost just once in their last 13 games.
One of those victories was a win in the Third Round of the Vase at home to Bootle, who had taken the lead in the 83rd minute through a goal from Ryan Cox, but two goals in the last five minutes from Brody Robertson clinched a dramatic last gasp victory for Town and that game has obviously formed part of Michael Clegg’s planning for Saturday.
“I spoke to Joe Doran (the Bootle manager) to talk about when they went up there, and we went to watch Cleethorpes ourselves and I thought they are a lot like us”, said Michael. “They look to attack teams and their strikers are decent.
“They are a really nice club too, they knew we were there when we went over and they made us really welcome, and invited us in at half time.
“I know that Cleethorpes sent a scout to watch us at Congleton on Saturday and he left after about an hour. I’d have done that too if I’d been sent to watch us as future opponents, we were brilliant in the first half and were 3-0 up at half time, and we had some regular players missing too”.
It promises to be a titanic clash between two evenly matched teams, with a good sized crowd anticipated, and once again Colls can expect to backed by a large travelling support as they aim to reach the last eight.
“We’ll be taking three coaches up there, and I know there are people driving there because they need to get back quickly on Saturday night, so I can see us having over 200 travelling to watch us”, said Michael.
“It’s going to be two in form sides up against one another, which is obviously what you would expect at this stage of the competition.
“We’ve got no injuries, so we are going into the game with no excuses”.