GREAT HARWOOD TOWN suffered another severe blow to their promotion ambitions as they fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of a side they beat by the same margin when the teams met at the Showground in October.

It was the second match in succession that had seen Harwood concede three goals and they have now let in 16 goals in their last four games in all competitions-all of them away from home.

It is hardly promotion form and Harwood, leaders of the North West Counties Second Division at Christmas, will certainly have to improve if they are to stay in touch with the leading sides looking for a step up to a higher grade.

On Saturday, against an Atherton side level on points with Harwood before the match, Town boss Malcolm Darling tried a new tactic of playing his assistant Harold Martin as a sweeper in a bid to tighten the defence.

But errors at the back after Harwood had looked fairly solid in defence early on, practically handed a 2-0 lead to the home side and, as was the case at Rossendale on Boxing Day, it proved too much of a task for Harwood to recover from such a deficit.

Harwood did however, have two goals disallowed in the match, the first in the opening quarter of an hour when the scores were still goalless, as Mark Jones had a header from a corner ruled out for an alleged foul and the second midway through the second half when Harwood were already 2-0 down and an effort by Peter McCrae was ruled to be offside.

Also in the early stage, McCrae brought an impressive save from the Atherton ‘keeper with a creditable effort but after 20 minutes the home side took the lead from a penalty which was the result of a mistake by Town full back Simon Vercoe.

A back pass by Vercoe fell short and as an Atherton striker latched onto the ball, Harwood ‘keeper Dave Mottershead brought him down in the 18-yard box and Phil Wright scored from the spot.

Fifteen minutes later, Atherton went 2-0 up as a cross into the Harwood goalmouth which seemed to offer little danger was not cleared properly, both Vercoe and Jones went for the ball and Jim Colloby had an easy task to slot it past Mottershead.

With Atherton having the cushion of a two-goal lead and effectively employing the offside trap, scoring chances for Harwood were few and far between.

Martin, initially employed as sweeper behind the central defence pair of Jones and Paul Brown, who had an impressive game, switched to midfield after the second Atherton goal but the change of formation didn’t bring any reward for the visitors.

If that effort by McCrae that was disallowed midway through the second half for offside had counted, it might have been a different story, but as it was Atherton went onto score a third through Martin Henegan 15 minutes from the end, another fairly soft effort which came from cross the Harwood defence failed to clear.

Mr. Darling, very disappointed with the result, looks set to try and bring back midfielder Brian Foy and full back Shaun Astin after injury in tonight’s Floodlit Cup clash at home to Chorley and if they come through it all right, they could be set for an early return to league action.

“We are going through a very bad run at the moment,” said the Harwood manager,

“Earlier in the season in our away matches we were getting the points even when we didn’t defend that well.

“But now, we are making silly mistakes in defence and getting really punished.

“If we can get a couple of wins under our belt, things should start to get better. It is all a matter of confidence and at the moment, we are letting ourselves down badly.

“We look great in training but when it comes to matches, we look really sluggish.

“Changes to the side may be the answer but with a small squad like ours that is somewhat easier said than done. I was hoping that the sweeper tactic might help us out but when you make silly mistakes, tactics are thrown right out of the window.”

Harwood’s line-up at Atherton was: Mottershead, Vercoe, Jones, P G Brown, Benko, Martin, Blackburn (sub. Goldsborough 80 minutes), Moran, Bennett, Geldard, McCrae.

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©2009 J Fenton