Warrington Town goalkeeper Dan Atherton says Tuesday’s Pitching In Northern Premier League play-off semi-final against South Shields was the highlight of his career so far.
Away from home against full-time opposition, the Yellows came from behind to book their place in the final, triumphing 6-5 in a dramatic penalty shootout after the scores were level at 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Jordan Buckley’s second half effort cancelled out Darius Osei’s opener as Mark Beesley’s side set up a winner-takes-all clash with Scarborough Athletic on Monday 2 May.
Atherton proved to be the hero of the hour at the 1st Cloud Arena, saving spot-kicks from Will Jenkins and Jordan Hunter – the latter a former team-mate of Atherton’s during their time in the Liverpool youth ranks.
The 22-year-old admits it is hard to put into words just how much Tuesday’s dramatic victory meant on a personal level.
MATCH INFORMATION: NPL play-off final
“It’s a difficult one to describe. I’ve never played in a game like that before,” he said. “It’s definitely the best football game I’ve been involved with; the highlight of my career.
“I can’t remember much after saving the penalty, to be honest; I just started running around and shouting at people! I love the pressure, and I love it when there are loads of fans there.
“You’ve probably watched a million penalty shootouts, and it can always go one way or the other. Thankfully it went our way on the night; the lads did a great job, and we can look forward to a big game on Monday now.”
Buckley’s equaliser – his 19th goal of the season in all competitions – helped send the contest to penalties, and six out of seven successful spot-kicks were enough to seal victory for the Yellows.
They will now travel to the Flamingo Land Stadium on Monday, looking to seal promotion to the Vanarama National League North.
BOOK NOW: Play-off final away travel
Confidence will undoubtedly be high after a fantastic midweek result; something which Atherton believes stands himself and the rest of the squad in good stead.
“As soon as that first goal went in at the start of the second half, we thought to ourselves, ‘right, we can do this’,” he said.
“It was definitely a fight against South Shields and we all had to dig deep, and thankfully we got the job done. The lads did really well, and it’s probably one of our best performances this year.
“We made hard work of it and I reckon we could’ve got a couple more goals, but the main thing is that part one of two is complete, and now we’ve got to kick on and make sure we bring home that promotion.
“It all comes down to the next 90 minutes. There’s one ball and 22 of us on the pitch, and it’s all about who can perform on the day.”
Ahead of Monday’s trip north, Atherton also issued a rallying cry to fans, with a large number of supporters set to travel for the play-off final.
“The supporters will be massive, especially being away from home.
“The fans who made the trip to South Shields were amazing, and we need as many supporters as possible to come down on Monday, cheer the lads on and give us that extra bit of inspiration.
“You can’t argue with a bank holiday weekend away in Scarborough too!
“The only thing I’d say to the supporters is to do whatever it takes to come to the game, and enjoy it as much as possible.
“We’ll play our hearts out for them and make sure they have the best trip possible.”
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