HAVING secured a place in the NPL Premier Division on a dramatic final day of the season on Saturday, Atherton Collieries took on Southport in their first ever Lancashire Challenge Trophy final, writes Emil Anderson.

But it wasn’t to be for the Black and Whites who slipped to a 5-3 penalty shoot-out defeat after the game at LFA headquarters in Leyland finished goalless.

Cheered on by hundreds of Colls fans who had made the short trip up the M61, it was end-to-end stuff in the first half in a game that both sides wanted to win.

Buoyed by his outrageous strike at Stalybridge Celtic - which helped secure Colls NPL Premier Division status - Marcus Cusani tested the Southport stopper with a dipping shot.

Jay Fitzmartin produced the best chance of the half for Atherton, however. The young forward – who has firmly established himself as a fans’ favourite this season – broke into the box after he latched on to a forward ball.

Cutting inside, he found himself one-on-one with the keeper but his low and hard shot was saved well and cleared away from danger.

A series of solid chances came and went for Brad Cooke’s side. 403 games strong, Gaz Peet drilled a ball across goal which was just inches away from the advancing Clive Smith. And Bailey Thompson, carrying a knock after an earlier clash, curled a tame effort at goal.

With the scores at 0-0, Colls could be proud of an attacking first period the game and for sustaining a bout of Southport pressure towards the half’s conclusion. Mackenzie Chapman made a wonderful save in what was to be his last game on loan at Colls.

Second half and Jesse Ebosele replaced Thompson, Cooke and Co going all-out attack.

Ten minutes in and Hardcastle – a player involved in so many of Colls Lancashire Cup outings in the past – swooped a deep cross into the area. So deep that it had a real danger of hitting the back of the net, only a clearance off the line prevented Atherton taking the lead.

Two minutes later and Colls again a whisker away from bagging an opening goal. Cusani slotted in Fitzmartin who was, quite simply, unstoppable in his forward runs. The striker bamboozled the Southport defenders before another low shot at goal.

Smart goalkeeping saw the effort saved, but the rebound fell straight to Fitzmartin but his follow-up shot struck the bar.

As the game skipped towards the 90 minute mark, Atherton were superb and looked the more likely to take the trophy. Joel Amado went close with an over-head kick and Peet dusted down one of his iconic box-to-box pelts, with his effort met once again by another smart stop.

But having dominated for large periods of the 90 minutes, Colls failed to make the breakthrough and the final went to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.

The first three had been dispatched by both sides – Danny Lafferty, Hardcastle and Peet for the Colls. Southport added a fourth and the weight of the world landed on young Fitzmartin’s shoulders. Unfortunately, the ball sailed just above the bar and Southport knew what they had to do.

Their fifth and final penalty dispatched, the Yellows were Lancashire Challenge Trophy Champions once more.

Fitzmartin, who had been superb throughout the game, found out about the cruelty of a penalty shoot-out but he was quickly embraced by those on the field, as the Colls supporters belted out a chorus of “Super Jay Fitzmartin” off it.

Despite the result, it was one of the highest moments of the Colls campaign - a performance that saw National League North Southport taken to the wire.