There’s nothing better than waking up and seeing that sunshine beating through your bedroom window – especially when it’s a Saturday and you know it’s ‘Game-Day’ – so with the visit of our friends from Atherton Town A in prospect, there was every reason to be cheerful today. So far…

We knew going into this that the defeat at home to Eccles United Reserves last time out could cost us later down the line – so there was no room for mistakes here. Sure – we were given the three points as Avenue Reserves couldn’t fulfil the fixture – but we want to play football and ‘earn’ those points so there was no excuse for not working hard. There were several faces missing from this – Robbie Holt, Liam Haycock, Lewis Cook and Spencer Derbyshire to name a few – so we knew that we’d have a patched up side starting here. But patched up or not, there’s enough quality in the ranks to make sure that we at least gave it our all. And as we started arriving at the County Ground, the scene was most definitely set. The weather was glorious. The pitch was freshly cut and neatly lined. Everything was ready. Apart from the opposition who decided to arrive at 1.30pm…

Wayne and Brian put the County lads through their paces and with their muscles as warm as their faces, the starting 11 was announced. It was a debut between the posts for new signing Mitchell and he stood behind skipper for the day Gatesie and Chris. Tyler had felt his knee go during the stretches – so we started with Harry at right-back and in for his first start of the campaign was Rav. Due to the personnel at hand, we switched back to a 4-4-2 shape today – so we had Matty Fearnley and Ste Palin on the flanks with Tom and Jude asked to give us that steel that we’d need in the middle of the park. As expected, Yatesy and Connor started up top and with Tyler joined by Aaron on the bench, we were good to go. It was great to see a tidy little crowd gathering and with the referee pulling the captains together, it wasn’t long before that first whistle went and we were underway…

The opening exchanges saw both sides trying to work each other out – what formation was being deployed, who were going to be the danger-men etc – but within 3 minutes we were behind and there wasn’t much any of us could actually do about it. The ball had bobbled around the midfield area and as a long ball came into our box, we defended it well. But it only dropped to their midfielder about 30 yards from goal and with just enough time and space, he dug out a wonderful strike that arrowed into the top corner of Mitch’s net before he could even react. Sometimes you just have to accept things in football and this was one of those times. 0-1 but we still had plenty of time to turn this around…

As with every week, when we got the ball down and played we were looking good and Wayne had urged his troops to let the ball do the work in this heat – so get it under control and get it moving about the park with pace. We did just that on 9 minutes and lo and behold – the score was level! Great work down our left saw the ball fed into the path of Matty and he dinked in a glorious cross that saw Yatesy beat his man at the near-post and flick his header over their defender. There was Ste striding into the middle of the box and he got up well to nod it over their advancing keeper and into the back of his net. 1-1 and we were back in it! Why can’t we just play football rather than try and run with it all the time?

County were slowly getting on top now and with Tom and Jude working hard in the middle, we were starting to see more of the ball. There were problems when the Atherton wingers came in more centrally and with Jude screaming to let his team-mates know, all we needed was for our wingers to come in with their marker. When we did that, we denied them the space to work and it meant we were the more attacking team. With 15 minutes on the clock, the Atherton No.11 showed his appreciation for Rav – as he hammered him into the air on two successive challenges – but Rav was loving it and was living in their winger’s head rent-free. The temperature was rising and the man in the middle decided to give them all a water-break on 23 minutes – and it was a chance for the coaches to deliver their messages…

Wayne and Brian’s was clear and simple – start doing the right things, squeeze in when their wide-men did and pass the ball rather than run with it. We needed to feed it through the middle so that Connor and Yatesy could run at their defenders and if we did that, we’d see a lot more chances start coming. The drinks were gulped and before we knew it, we were back out there and at it again…

We thought we’d taken the lead not long after the restart when another good cross into the mixer from Matty saw Jude get to it before his marker and tuck it away – but the referee deemed him to be offside and the goal was chalked off. Further proof that we could be dangerous whenever we wanted to be though…

More good work from Tom saw him win the ball in the middle and race past three challenges before spreading his pass out wide to Matty – who burst past his full-back and as it looked like his legs had been taken from under him, he stayed on his feet – but his shot took a wicked deflection and their keeper just about managed to get down in time to push it wide for a corner. That came to nothing and on went the search for the third goal of the afternoon…

In truth Mitch wasn’t being called upon too often – as Gatesie and Chris were winning everything that came their way – but when he was, he was neat and tidy and looked assured in there. All over the park the lads were putting the effort in and it was justly rewarded – because on 33 minutes, we took the lead. Harry had done well to win the ball off their winger and he fed it into the run of Ste. He set off like a whippet and as he dribbled it around his man, he looked up and saw Connor making a darting run through the channel. Inch-perfect, he laid the ball into his path and Mr Robinson done the rest – slamming it past their keeper from about 18 yards and giving him no chance of stopping it. Another class finish and we had the lead. 2-1 and now was the time to push on…

The pace of their left-winger made us swap our full-backs and with Rav now stopping the charging runs and Harry dealing with his man easily, we were starting to get more and more on top. Tom had a great chance on 44 minutes when he beat their line but he could only shoot tamely and their No.1 got down to keep it out. But we not to be thwarted and as the game ticked into stoppage-time at the end of the half, we managed to increase our lead further. A good ball was played through the middle and Yatesy roasted their centre-half for pace. With their keeper coming out to narrow the angle, he needn’t have bothered – because John is not missing from there. He banged his shot expertly towards the bottom corner and he could not have directed it better – as it hit the base of the post before smashing into the back of the net! A great strike and Yatesy’s 5th of the season already. More importantly though – we were now 3-1 to the good and only we could lose this now…

Half-time: BOLTON COUNTY A 3-1 Atherton Town A

It was that warm that we decided to stay out so with the water-bottles filled, the lads sat and rested after a hard graft of 45 minutes – but Wayne was quick to remind them that nothing was won yet. We needed to work just as hard – if not harder – when we restarted and not sit on this. Sure – there was no rush and we had to manage this professionally – but it was about seeing this through now. Aaron came on in place of Matty on the left and we asked the full-backs to ensure that they kept up with their wingers if we wanted to keep their attacks to a minimum. Drinks drunk, we were back out there ready to go again – and all both teams needed now was the man in black to reappear..

But it was though nothing had been listened to because within 53 seconds of the restart, it was 3-2! They played the ball towards our left and this time it was their No.12 who was up against Rav – and he managed to get past him too easily. As he fired it across the six-yard box, it looked like they had at least two men spare and one of them simply slammed the ball past the helpless Mitch and into the back of our net. 3-2 and now it was game on again…

Rather than panic, we kept to our football and we thought we had our two-goal advantage back on 53 minutes when Yatesy managed to turn and smash his shot in one movement from 30 yards straight into the top-corner – but the referee had blown it back for a foul by Stephen that nobody had seen and the goal wasn’t awarded. Shame that as it was a class finish…

All of the good work was being played in the Atherton half and despite things seemingly not clicking, we were still doing enough and on the hour-mark, we saw what could well be the best free-kick of the season put us 4-2 to the good. We won it about 25 yards out on the right-hand side of their penalty-box and as they lined up their wall, up stepped Connor with the ball in his hand. As he placed it, we were all thinking ‘what is a right-footed player gonna do with this?’ Our big lads were congregating towards the left-hand side of the box so it was a cross that was expected to be played in. But oh no! Not our Connor. With a run-up of less than a yard, he nonchalantly curled the ball over their wall and into the top-left corner of their net! A superb finish and with the County fans bouncing, that was well-worthy of a match-winner! 4-2 and surely we wouldn’t let this slip now…

It was great to see all of the County fans gathered behind the fence not only enjoying the weather but also the football on show and as the minutes ticked by, it did look like we had the game by the scruff of the neck. The weather was definitely playing it’s part as legs were starting to tire on both sides and to their credit, the Atherton players were still trying to find a way back into it. But as they had all game, our centre-halves were bossing it and giving them nothing to feed upon. This was good stuff…

There was a funny moment when we gave a free-kick away on 74 minutes and as we set up to defend it, Wayne was heard to shout ‘Remain vigilant lads!’ which seemed to cause a ripple of laughter from the County fans. It was true though – concentration was key here now – so his words of vigilance had to be heeded. Harry then came off to a rapturous round of applause for his efforts on 78 minutes – to be replaced by our Tyler – and we went into the last 10 minutes looking to see this out now…

And we did. Apart from Tom demanding to be brought off due to a mixture of frustration and fatigue, we saw those last minutes out well – keeping the ball and not allowing them a sniff of it up top – so when the whistle went to end the game, we’d kept all three points in Bolton. A good afternoon’s work really…

The handshakes were done with pride and we thank the Atherton Town fans for coming over today. We wish you all the best for the season and a safe trip home. But today was about County and our fans were fantastic this afternoon. We hope that it wasn’t just the weather – and we see you all again next Saturday as we travel over to Astley & Tyldesley Reserves for another big test – as we’re going to need you behind us over there…

Stephen Palin was awarded the PPSL Man of the Match for his dogged determination out there today – but all of the lads can be proud of their efforts in that heat. We need to take this momentum forward now and with lads coming back in, there’s a real strength in depth at the moment. Let’s hope that continues eh?

Another Saturday. Another three points. Keep that going and this could be a really, really good season…

#UpTheCounty!