Atherton Collieries fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat against Stafford Rangers after a closely-fought encounter at the Skuna Stadium on Tuesday.
In a classic ‘game of two halves’, two first-half strikes from Stafford’s Adam Livingstone and Tom Tonks were enough to secure the win, despite being pegged back by Danny Lafferty’s equaliser.
Colls were on top for much of the second half and in the end were unfortunate not to take at least a draw from the game.
Brad Cooke named an unchanged line-up from his side’s impressive 2-1 turnaround against FC United three days earlier, whereas the visitors went into the game full of confidence on the back of their 4-2 win against Bamber Bridge in their season opener.
The visitors started the game the better of the two teams and dominated the early proceedings as the first chances saw Ethan Stewart twice head over the bar, after a superb tackle from Joel Amado in the box had put the ball behind for a corner.
Stafford’s pressure would tell with the breakthrough for the visitors coming on 20 minutes, Livingstone’s right-footed delivery from the left flank evading everyone and nestling in the far corner of the net before Nico Defreitas-Hansen had chance to react.
The goal spurred Colls into action, with Lafferty’s reply coming just a minute after conceding the goal. Jay Fitzmartin’s whipped-in corner found the skipper at the near post, who powered a trademark header past Cameron Belford to level the scores almost immediately.
From there, Colls enjoyed a short period on top, Fitzmartin’s cross in from the right inches away from the head of Aaron Smith.
The resulting corner dropped to Lafferty at the near post who should have added a second, but lifted his strike narrowly over the bar.
The breathless period of action concluded with Stafford re-taking the lead, Livingstone once against causing problems down the left-hand side and his searching cross to the back post was headed back in to Tonks, who’s side-footed effort crashed in off the bar.
Following the break, Colls emerged with the bit between their teeth and went agonisingly close to an equaliser through Smith. The midfielder rode a couple of challenges in the area before getting the ball out of his feet, his effort taking a slight deflection to nick it wide.
The chances continued to come but with no reward, Amado headed over from a corner before Scott Bakkor skewed a first-time effort off target and forced a sprawling save from Belford after Smith had clipped the ball over the Stafford defence.
There was controversy on the hour-mark as Marcus Cusani’s effort was blocked on the floor by Andrew Burns, the defender appearing to handle as he attempted to get to his feet but the referee was unmoved, despite impassioned appeals from the Colls players and fans alike.
With Colls throwing everything forwards in the late stages, the game became stretched and Stafford almost added a third through Joe Kenton, his low drive flying wide of the post. Substitute Andy Kiyoma also saw a chance to put the game to bed, but sent his effort sailing well over the bar.
Deep into stoppage time, a quick turn of pace from Bakkor saw the forward bearing down on goal, however the visitors’ Luis Morrison was on hand with a last-ditch sliding challenge to shut down Colls’ hopes of taking a point.
Tomorrow, Hyde United visit the Skuna Stadium (3pm).