Manchester Central suffered their second defeat in three games after a hard-fought 2-1 loss away at Atherton Town on Saturday.
Atherton opened the scoring courtesy of a corner, with a far post header squeezing its way between the upright and Central goalkeeper Jordan Hadlow’s hand.
Josh Frith converted a penalty a few moments later to restore parity, but a low shot in the 71st minute proved to be enough to earn the home side the three points.
After a minor delay to kick off, both sides came out of the gates at a remarkable pace and asked early questions of their opposite numbers.
Central looked to use their pace and technical ability to create chances, but other than forcing an early dangerous corner Atherton stood up well to the pressure.
That was until the 15th minute, when Central’s top goalscorer Cory Knight met a cross and came close to opening the scoring, watching his header thump against the base of the near post.
Atherton responded with a counterattack but it was marshalled well by the Central defence.
The back-and-forth manner continued for much of the first half, with both sides pushing dangerously but neither being able to find the difference.
In the 23rd minute, Frith fired a free kick in from distance, watching it dip wickedly over the Atherton goalkeeper at the very end and crash against the crossbar.
Central’s Tom Greenfield also felt first hand the battling nature of the match in the same free kick when he was left on the deck afterwards, needing somewhat lengthy treatment to deal with a gashed head.
The game carried on as it had until the 37th minute when Hadlow had to be alert to save well with his feet and deny Atherton a goal. The home side failed to utilise the corner.
As the referee blew the whistle for half-time both sides could reflect on a hard-fought and entertaining first half.
The attacking play didn’t let up from either side, too, when they restarted for the second half – Central’s Greenfield now strapped up with a large blue bandage.
Both sides were evenly matched, but in the 56th minute Atherton found the breakthrough. A corner was played in deep towards the back post and Atherton found their man able to muscle away from his marker and head home just inside the post.
Central responded well to going behind, though, and less than eight minutes later the referee was pointing to the penalty spot as Knight was clipped as he shot.
Frith made no mistake with the spot kick, dispatching it comfortably past Atherton keeper Ashley Whittle to get Central straight back into the match.
However, it wasn’t to last long, as Atherton once again restore their lead when a driving run was cut out and the loose ball rolled to a man in the home side’s yellow and green, right on the edge of Central’s box.
The low shot bobbled past the diving Hadlow, just beyond the Central man’s reach, and into the bottom corner of the net.
Central pushed with all they had from that moment on, but Atherton defended resiliently.
CJ Davies had a chance for the away side late on but his shot was blocked, while substitute Kaine Martin couldn’t get his head to a dangerous ball in the last seconds of the match.
It proved in the end to be Atherton’s day, with the home side taking the three points, but it was a spirited and battling performance from both sides.