REPORT | Widnes 1-2 Atherton Collieries
By Callum Chadwick
10-man Widnes slip to home defeat
Sam Sheen saw red as Widnes slipped to a 2-1 home defeat to title chasing Atherton Collieries on Saturday.
George Webster had given Widnes a half-time lead but Atherton reversed the deficit in the second half with goals from Jordan Cover and Connor Hughes, before Sheen was shown a second yellow card late to condemn Widnes to a third straight league loss.
Co-bosses Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey made three changes to the side beaten at Prescot Cables last time out, with the suspended Mike Burke replaced by Danny Ventre, who captained the side.
Elsewhere, Ben Hodkinson and Harry Brazel dropped to the bench as Webster and Niall Watson were preferred in the starting line-up.
Widnes started well and in truth, they controlled the first half in a performance at the Halton Stadium reminiscent of the previous two seasons. The Whites looked to use the size of the pitch and moved the ball around well to probe an Atherton side who struggled to adapt.
The title-chasing visitors were unusually flat in the first half, with Ben Hardcastle’s strike wide Colls’ only real sight of goal in the opening 45 minutes.
There was a real purpose about the hosts’ play. Ventre quarterbacked from the midfield while full-backs Shaun Holden and Jay Roberts found joy down the flanks.
Roberts would threaten for Widnes on 12 minutes, floating a cross into the area that narrowly evaded the head of George Lomax, forcing a corner that would lead to the Whites’ opener.
Finlay Sinclair-Smith’s corner was only half-cleared to Webster who collected the loose ball and coolly picked his spot to fire Widnes into a deserved lead.
A goal to the good, Widnes were in complete control, moving the ball about with relative ease as Atherton failed to trouble Owen Wheeler.
Widnes had further chances to increase their lead but struggled to work Colls keeper Greg Hartley who made a fairly routine save from Watson while Ventre flashed an effort wide.
Whatever was said at half-time in the Atherton dressing room seemed to breathe new life into the visitors who looked rejuvenated and a completely different side following the restart.
Michael Clegg’s men upped their intensity, and after Conor Gaul was tripped on the edge of the area by Sheen, Gareth Peet rattled the crossbar with a free-kick as Collieries showed their intent.
However, Widnes spurned a gilt-edged chance to increase their lead moments later, as the on-loan Blackpool youngster showed great footwork to cut inside and rifle an effort just over.
Clegg withdrew right-back Clive Smith for forward Tom Bentham as Colls tactically reshuffled to three at the back and Widnes looked to respond with the introduction of the energetic Hodkinson to lead the line.
But Colls hit back shortly before the hour-mark as Cover headed home unmarked from a Peet free-kick as Widnes were left to rue missed chances for a second successive week.
Clegg’s outfit were on top and looked to turn the screw as chances came and went, with Wheeler making a great save low to deny Peet cutting inside from the left.
Collieries’ period of sustained pressure paid off moments later as the visitors completed a seven-minute turnaround. Widnes cheaply lost possession and Atherton quickly launched a counter-attack with Dave Sherlock’s cross finding Hughes in the area, who took his time to apply a composed finish and slot the visitors into the lead.
Widnes looked to respond as Towey and Brazel came off the bench but it was Colls who enjoyed further chances with Hardcastle striking wide.
Sheen was shown a second yellow card eight minutes from time to deal Widnes’ chances of an equaliser a hammer blow, as he arrived late and brought down Hughes with a sliding challenge.
Hughes almost added a third for Atherton minutes later, but Wheeler produced a world class save to tip the forward’s effort that was seemingly destined for the top corner over the bar.
Widnes missed a glorious chance to equalise late on as Towey found the head of the unmarked Brazel six yards out, but the former Runcorn Town man could only nod straight into the grateful gloves of Hartley as Colls held on for an important three points.