Kristian Holt’s injury time goal was enough to settle this tie at Crilly Park on Saturday and send hosts Atherton Laburnum Rovers through to the First Round of the FA Vase competition.
But it was a cruel blow for Shirebrook Town who, despite a performance which was well below par, looked to be taking the tie to a replay at Langwith Road on Tuesday night - although the home side and their supporters would probably have said their win was no more than their overall play deserved.
The North West Counties Division One side had made all the running in the first half and Shirebrook were under early pressure and fortunate not to go behind just two minutes into the game, but Joe McCormack kept Ben Hardcastle’s 20-yard shot out at his right hand post, the keeper having to recover quickly after denying Atherton number nine Thomas Turner seconds earlier in the same attack.
Turner went close again for the home side three minutes later, before Ben Cobley tested Atherton keeper David Moran on 13 minutes, Shirebrook’s first meaningful strike on goal coming from Cobley’s 25-yard free-kick.
But Atherton kept up the pressure and Rob Molyneux, Hardcastle and Turner all fired wide, although Aaron Moxam made Moran work at the other end before Cheshire referee Stephen Eves blew his whistle to signal half-time.
Shirebrook needed to improve and, with the advantage of the slope, they did so after the break, Moxam firing over the Atherton crossbar with a half-volley from 16 yards, just six minutes after the restart.
However, a minute later McCormack was possibly lucky not to see at least a yellow card after racing off his line to clear the ball, only to bring Atherton’s Gareth Shaw down.
In mitigation, Shaw was going away from goal and Shirebrook had a defender close by, but the home contingent weren’t happy that referee Eves took no action other than awarding them a free-kick and lecturing McCormack.
However, when play resumed, Molyneux struck the resulting free-kick sweetly from the corner of the box on the left, before play had to be stopped again after the ball was kicked out of McCormack’s hands. The keeper was left hurt, with a cut above one of his eyes for his trouble.
Nevertheless, McCormack shook that off and he was busy again as the hour approached, denying Turner with a brave dive at the striker’s feet as he chased a ball into the box.
The sides cancelled each other out for the next twenty minutes but, as the game entered the last ten minutes, Atherton had a real chance when a long clearance by keeper Moran caught Shirebrook napping. The home side broke clear with four on one but, instead of laying the ball off, Hardcastle chose to shoot from 18 yards and his shot went way over the top.
That had been a bit of a let-off for Shirebrook and Atherton were almost made to pay a minute later when Cobley hit a dipping 35-yard free-kick that had Moran back-pedalling to tip over his crossbar.
Danny Bacon took the corner, but Shirebrook were once again caught on the break. Hardcastle did lay the ball off this time, but James Brooks spooned his shot over as McCormack came out to close him down.
With that the game looked likely to be heading for a replay but, with one minute gone of the four minutes of time added on at the end, Atherton finally found the back of the Shirebrook net.
The goal came from Nathan Battersby’s throw on the right to Molyneux. No one picked him up and he had all the time in the world to look up and cross the ball onto Holt’s head at the near post.
For a moment it seemed like Shirebrook froze and any one of three Atherton players could have had the ball in the net. Later it was claimed that someone had shouted “keeper”. McCormack said he’d heard it and it wasn’t him who shouted it. And no one knows just what effect that had on the outcome, if any, but referee Eves allowed the goal to stand.
And there was little time left for Shirebrook to get something back, but they very nearly did right on the final whistle when Cobley fired an in-swinging free-kick in from wide on the left. But keeper Moran was alert to the danger in the crowded 6-yard area and he pushed the ball out for a corner, which was to become virtually the last action of the game, and it came to nothing.
Shirebrook Town return to league action on Tuesday and they are back at Langwith Road for the visit of league newcomers Dronfield Town. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
It’s the first of a run of three home league games with Yorkshire Amateur at Langwith Road next Saturday for a 3 o’clock kick-off, followed by Worsbrough Bridge Athletic for a 7.45pm kick-off the Tuesday afterwards.
Atherton Laburnum Rovers: Moran, Battersby, Brooks, Dickinson, Morris (Boothby 54), Ayres, Shaw, Molyneux, Turner (Bentley 81), Holt, Hardcastle. Subs not used: Regan, Cahill, McKillop.
Shirebrook Town: McCormack, Cobley, Claridge, Booth (Wiltshire 63), Wankiewicz, Henshaw, Thompson (Selvam 73), Getliff, Moxam, Shepherd, Bacon. Subs not used: R Camm, Watts, M Camm.
Referee: Stephen Eves (Cheshire)