Cottesmore AFC defeat Sileby Town in their Everards Restart Premier Cup match
A last-gasp winner ensured Cottesmore made a winning start to their Everards Restart Premier Cup campaign on Saturday.
Tom Atkins netted the vital strike in the final minute to claim a 2-1 away success at Sileby Town in their opening group match.
Colton Cropper had earlier given Cottesmore the lead before Sileby equalised late on during a contest which saw both teams reduced to 10 men with Danny Barker being dismissed for the Rutland side.
It was Barker's first-ever red card after a flashpoint where tempers boiled over in a match between two sides who were both pushing for Premier Division honours before the campaign was curtailed.
Cottesmore boss Rich Giblin commented: "It was good to be back and the boys were pleased to be playing again.
"But, if I'm being honest, I probably wouldn't have picked an away match at Sileby as our first game back.
"It was eventful but the boys did well because Sileby really wanted to beat us to prove they are the best side in the league.
"It is only a cup competition but, with a possible restructure of the leagues on the horizon, we want to win every game to show that we are the right team if people do start coming to look."
Cottesmore - who were missing Harry Sabberton through work commitments and the injured Aaron Ridout - started the brighter of the two teams on a tricky playing surface.
A fiery opening then saw the contest settle down with Cottesmore hitting the front midway through the first half.
Shaun Dennigan surged forward from defence and picked out Eddie McDonald who spun past his marker and fired in a low cross that Cropper turned home from close range.
Cottesmore now looked to make the most of their dominance and Danny Seals went close to doubling their lead while McDonald rattled the home crossbar with a header as the visitors held the ascendency going into half-time.
Sileby came quickly out of the blocks at the start of the second half and Cottesmore suffered a setback when McDonald was forced off with a heel injury.
This saw the introduction of former Gresley, Coalville, Shepshed and Stratford midfielder Craig Attwood for his Cottesmore debut.
Attwood signed for the Westray Park side last year after moving to the area but, due to the suspension of matches due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was his first outing.
He produced an accomplished performance on his debut as Cottesmore were forced to regroup again shortly after following Barker's sending off along with Sileby's Luke Winfield.
They then lost Cropper to a hamstring injury and Sileby took advantage to seize the initiative going into the latter stages.
Cottesmore goalkeeper Alex Brown was called into action several times as the visitors dug deep to keep Sileby at bay.
However, with five minutes remaining, Tom Bendle was penalised for a clumsy challenge in the box and Sileby levelled from the resultant spot kick.
The hosts then pushed for a winner but Cottesmore weathered the pressure and were rewarded in the final minute.
A free-kick was floated into the Sileby box and Seals won a header with the ball dropping for Atkins to make an unorthodox connection to convert the winning goal with virtually the last kick of the game.
Giblin added: "A draw might have been a fairer result, but we have pulled a win out when we were up against it.
"You have to stay in the games long enough to put yourselves in that position and we earned the right to be there.
"Sileby are a good side so I was pleased for the boys that they battled through and, on the whole, we deserved it."
Cottesmore travel to FC GNG for their next group match on Saturday.
Cottesmore: Brown, Denigan, L Smith, Bendle, Barker, Seals, McDonald (Attwood), Cropper (McJanet), J Smith, Pope, Atkins. Subs not used: Nasser, Stannard, Robson.