West 2-0 Atherton Collieries – West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC

West 2-0 Atherton Collieries

Wednesday 16th March 2022, Lancashire Challenge Trophy semi-final

West 2 (Gabidon 62, Davis 76)
Atherton Collieries 0
Att: 216 (at Lancashire FA County Ground, Leyland)

Two second-half goals propelled West to the Lancashire Challenge Trophy final on a memorable night in Leyland.

Dontai Gabidon and Rhain Davis struck in the space of 14 minutes to see off Atherton Collieries, 50 places above West in the football pyramid, and set up a showpiece against Southport on 27th April.

West had already accounted for two higher-division sides in Ashton Athletic and Prestwich Heys during their run to the County Ground, but this was on another level entirely against the NPL Premier Division Colls. Chris Rowley’s side took time to grow into the game and were indebted to some key saves from Andrew Jones in the first half, but were rewarded for an exceptional display after the break.

Colls, coming into the game on a high after winning at promotion candidates Matlock Town on Saturday, started on the front foot and dominated possession in the early stages. West were resolute as they protected Jones’ goal, with Davis throwing himself in front of a goal-bound shot and Luke Vayro and Marcus Dibble battling with a physical Colls forward line. The task got even tougher just before the half-hour as Dibble was forced off, forcing a reshuffle that saw substitute Billy Matthews at right-back and Matty Cook shifting into the middle.

West were still adjusting when Colls created the clearest chance of the opening period a few moments later – Aaron Smith ran through on goal, but Jones sprang from his line to narrow the angle and block the effort.

Gradually, though, the ball began to spend more time in West’s possession and the game had a more even look about it. The impressive Ezeikel Eme lashed a shot narrowly over the bar, and Liam Delaney nudged a Davis corner wide of the mark in the final action of the half.

The second period was almost a compressed version of the first – Colls starting the brighter, but West finding a foothold and carving out opportunities. Jack Lenehan’s shot was deflected over Jones’ bar not long after the restart, but West were rewarded for their perseverance by taking a stunning lead just after the hour mark. A break resulted in Gabidon collecting the ball on the edge of the box, and he had time to pick out the far corner of the Colls net.

The travelling West support, providing a backdrop of noise that has become the norm this season, then increased the volume even more when their side took a giant step towards the final with 14 minutes remaining.

Joel Swift, introduced shortly before the opening goal, was providing a different problem for the Colls defence to work out and after he had won the ball high up the pitch, Eme’s cross was missed by Gabidon but headed home by the arriving Davis.

Colls threw bodies forward in an attempt to save the game but West – inspired by a talismanic display from Lee Gavin – looked comfortable even as set-pieces and long balls rained down onto their penalty area, and after four minutes of stoppage time could celebrate a truly historic result.

Focus quickly switches back to the league – and Saturday’s South Manchester derby at Maine Road – as West look for six more points to confirm the First Division South title, but a first cup final since 2013 can now be added to the agenda.

West: A. Jones, Cook, Hancock, Delaney, Dibble (Matthews 27), Vayro, Eme, Gavin, Elliott (Swift 61), Davis, Gabidon (Taylor 82). Not used: Heathcote, Ryan.

Eckersley’s Plumbers & Locksmiths Player of the Match: Lee Gavin.

Chris Rowley reaction