ATHERTON Collieries completed a double over 1874 Northwich, but they needed a brilliant winner from Ben Hardcastle to do so.

He scored the only goal when the rivals met in February, and was decisive again with a stunning shot from distance to keep the visitors on course to be promoted as North West Counties League champions.

It was perhaps harsh on the home team, who have now won only one of their past five games.

They had taken the lead on 18 minutes when Scott McGowan hammered a loose ball into the net after Sam Hare’s corner had fallen kindly.

After reaching a tally of 20 goals for the campaign, the former Congleton front man was denied another when goalkeeper Adam Reid blocked his attempt.

And 1874 went closer still when leading marksman Tom Bailey’s low drive struck an upright.

Colls, victors in their previous three head-to-heads with Northwich, equalised in the seconds before half time.

Joe Woolley was judged by referee Darren Rogers to have pushed Mark Truffas inside the penalty area, and Mark Battersby converted the spot-kick that followed.

In the second half, Sam Hind fired high and Joe Woolley’s shot was deflected to safety during the opening exchanges.

Gareth Peet then smuggled Hare’s drive off the goal-line.

Reid intervened to parry Hare’s next attempt after McGowan and Hind had combined, then Bailey shot over from the resulting corner.

As they had in the first half, Colls gradually assumed control.

Custodian Greg Hall had to be alert to thwart Truffas, then skipper Ryan Mitchell blocked Brad Cooke’s effort after he had been left unmarked at a set piece.

Northwich were unlucky not to score when Paul Connor’s cross was the catalyst for a goalmouth scramble, while Hall palmed clear another Truffas shot at the other end.

Hardcastle’s moment of magic followed, but there was still enough time remaining for Reid to save smartly when Bailey met Connor’s centre.

1874 | Hall (GK), Connor, Russell, Mitchell, Lever, Hare, Joe Woolley (Bove 65), Lee Jones (Matthew Woolley 79), Bailey, McGowan (Kennerley 86), Hind Subs not used Carey, Whitlock Goal McGowan 18 Booked Hind, Connor, Hare

Colls | Reid (GK), Kenny, Peet, Messer (Mason 55), Lafferty, Forbes, Hardcastle, Cooke, Battersby (Cover 76), Bailey, Truffas (West 88) Subs not used Brookes, Grimshaw Goals Battersby 45 (penalty), Hardcastle 82 Booked Cooke, Messer, Hardcastle

Referee Darren Rogers

Attendance 341

Match report by Garry Clarke