A GOAL in each half saw Atherton Collieries beaten 2-0 by a highly-motivated Radcliffe team in Evo-Stik West, a result that saw Colls surrender top spot in the table.

Runcorn Linnets, who won 3-2 at Ramsbottom United, now lead by two points, increasing the importance of the fixture between the two sides on January 12.

Boro’s win keeps them in the hunt as they now sit two points below Atherton.

Ian Rowlands returned to the Colls starting line-up for his first appearance since September after finally shrugging off a niggling injury and James Kirby made his first start since re-signing for the club from Sandbach United.

Hosts Radcliffe went into the game buoyed by a fine recent run of form and should have taken the lead after just six minutes. Lewis Lacey was afforded a ridiculous amount of space at a set-piece but fortunately for Michael Clegg’s men he nodded wide from Matt Crothers’ corner.

But, minutes later, Boro’s Callum Grogan headed home another Crothers corner from a similar range as the Colls defence did not learn from their earlier let-off.

Jordan Cover then acrobatically overhead kicked a close-range effort over the bar after Ben Hardcastle’s initial effort was blocked.

Elliot Rokka forced Colls keeper Greg Hartley into a smart save before Kirby’s glancing header trickled wide of Boro’s far post, meaning Jon Macken’s team went into the half-time break 1-0 ahead.

The second half started evenly with both teams again carving out half-chances. On 65 minutes Radcliffe grabbed their all-important second goal. Cover was given offside deep in opposition territory much to his bemusement and it sparked a heated reaction from the Colls contingent near to the raised flag.

From the resulting free kick Tunde Owalabi punished a momentary lapse of concentration in the Colls defence when he fired past Hartley.

Clegg’s team tried their hardest to find a way out of their perilous predicament and Tom Bentham’s looping shot was well tipped over by Boro stopper Ollie Martin and Danny Lafferty’s well-struck long-range effort veered narrowly off target at the last moment with members of the Colls faithful prematurely celebrating a possible lifeline.

The home side rightly celebrated with their fans at the end of a competitive derby, while it was a second consecutive blank and defeat for Collieries who surrendered top spot.

The 2-0 reversal may have been a little harsh but full credit went to the victors who took their clear-cut opportunities clinically on a day when only they and Linnets triumphed out of the top six.

It is both tough and tight at the top.

On Saturday Colls aim to bounce back when Newcastle Town are the visitors.

Kick off is 3pm.