DESPITE a number of high-quality additions since their last outing, the illness decimating Atherton Collieries’ squad saw them defeated 2-1 at Basford United.

An outbreak of mumps forced their Lancashire Challenge Trophy to be cancelled last week, and Brad Cooke was forced to travel south with a lighter squad than usual.

Manager Cooke had added five new faces to the squad since their last outing, with Iwan Murray and Cain Noble returning on loan from Chester, Matty Makinson coming in on loan from Colne, Jamal Crawford signing on dual-registration from Curzon Ashton and Danny Taberner returning after three years away.

Basford, second in the BetVictor League, were looking to close the gap on leaders South Shields while Colls were desperate for the points to re-energise their season and start to climb from their second-bottom position.

The high winds certainly had an impact on the game, with the first action coming on 24 minutes.

Gaz Peet’s deep ball should have been a routine clearance for the United defence but Danny O’Brien poached the ball, which was collected by Jordan Cover.

But, in a packed area, he could only poke a finish right into the arms of keeper Kieran Preston.

Although Basford posed a goal threat it was the visitors that opened the scoring on 31 minutes.

Noble marked his return to the black and white stripes with an exquisite finish 25 yards out, with a goal-of-the-season contender.

The midfielder collected the ball after O’Brien’s run and unleashed a ferocious effort that sailed past the helpless Preston and into the back of the net.

The two teams went into the break on equal terms, however. With two minutes to play Matthew Thornhill applied the final touch after a well-crafted move had opened up the Colls defence.

It had been a much-improved performance from Atherton in the first period but, as the game grew older, Basford showed just why they are the side closest to breathing down South Shields’ necks.

The half started brightly enough for Colls and they came agonisingly close to restoring the lead.

A corner was cleared as far as Ashley Dunn and he curled an effort at goal that had Preston beat but Stef Galenski was on the line to launch it to safety.

From that point Basford began to show their class, and it was only resolute defence from the visitors that kept them at bay.

With 20 minutes to play Basford’s Nat Watson let fly with a clean strike at goal, Paddy Wharton making an heroic stop to tip it over the bar.

Half-chances came and went for both sides. A smart Colls move ended with substitute Louis Myers slicing his finish and at the other end Watson headed over from a few yards out.

On 86 minutes though, Atherton hearts were broken as Basford finally took the lead.

Watson finally got the better of the Collieries’ back line as he volleyed home from a lay-off by fellow substitute Rev James.Wharton did well to block James’ run, but Watson was given an open goal to fire into, completing a smart move from the title-chasing side.

There was still time for Colls to fashion chances to grab a share of the points but two Myers efforts were foiled by Preston to ensure his side ran out victors.

This was hard on Atherton who performed extremely well in difficult conditions and gave the whole-hearted response Cooke had demanded after an insipid showing last time out, their 5-1 home defeat by Morpeth.

On another day they could quite easily have travelled home with at least a point in the bag from a quality footballing team who are certain to qualify for the play-offs at the very least.

There are still a mammoth 17 league games on the horizon, starting with a game at home to Matlock Town on Saturday. Kick off at the Skuna Stadium is 3pm.