IAN Street’s words, prudent before kick off, had become almost prophetic by the final whistle.
If a win for his side in the return match a fortnight ago hobbled Colls in the race for promotion then this draw leaves 1874 Northwich hoping, needing, those in front to take a tumble.
While falling short of avenging that defeat, Atherton accomplished their mission.
They took the lead with their only notable attempt at goal, then resisted during the closing stages when for the hosts applied prolonged pressure for the first time.
Street was worried they would do so.
Substitute Sakeel Abdullah might have lifted his manager’s post-match mood in stoppage time, only for Colls custodian Phil Priestley to block brilliantly his close range shot.
It would have been more of a reward than the home team’s performance, particularly in the first half, merited.
Their approach was tepid and, a frantic goalmouth scramble from Ryan Stewart’s corner aside, they did not trouble opponents who themselves were invisible in attack.
Only after their guests scored were they less slovenly.
On 53 minutes Kieran Halliwell steered a header, helped on by a teammate, past goalkeeper Matt Conkie from Mark Truffas’ flag kick.
To his credit, Street’s response was swift and decisive.
Abdullah was sent on at the same time as Daley Woods and David Short, forming part of a five-strong front line with Mike Brandon and Matty Ward.
It worked too, for the initiative – if only incrementally – returned to Northwich.
Chances were few though, and Charlie Stoker sounded a warning at the other end when he outsmarted a trap set to catch him offside.
Face-to-face with Conkie, he was denied by a smart parried stop.
Northwich, victors in their past half dozen league matches, were level after 79 minutes.
Ward, withdrawn to a deeper position following the triple change, conjured a pass that carved open Colls’ backline.
It invited Woods to scamper into space behind replacement full back Rob Swanton, from where he delivered a cross redirected into the net by Brandon.
The net was unguarded, but 1874’s leading scorer still had to contort his body to cushion a header its way to up his season goals tally to 30.
Ward’s corner was headed narrowly wide by Brandon as Northwich rallied, fuelled by the knowledge that a draw likely cedes control of their destiny for the campaign’s run-in.
Abdullah almost capped an encouraging cameo with a decisive touch, but Priestley pushed to safety his shot after reacting quickly to the danger in front of him.
“We took too long to get going,” rued Street afterwards.
“It was strange to see us so flat for the first hour, and I’d planned at half time to make the changes if things didn’t improve in the second half.
“I thought we did enough to win the game, if only just, but we’ll have to wait and see how valuable a point it is.”
1874 (4-3-3) Conkie (GK), Mitchell, Thomas, Aston, Duckworth, Bailey (Woods 60), Jones, Stewart (Abdullah 60), Wellstead (Short 60), Brandon, Ward Subs not used Woolley, Lunn Goal Brandon 79 Booked Woods (simulation)
Colls (4-4-2) Priestley (GK), Cringle (Swanton 63), Halliwell, Lawton, Gareth Peet, Mulrooney, Patton, Cooke (Josh Peet 63), Truffas (Leece77), Evans, Stoker Sub not used Hatton Goal Halliwell 53 Booked Cooke (foul), Priestley (wasting time), Patton (foul)
Referee Ian Muncaster (Heywood)