Match Report


UniBond Premier League Match,
played on Saturday, 16 August, 2003 at 3p.m.


Altrincham started their season with a deserved point at Alfreton, where referee Mr Grundy was the main talking point. After a bright start by Alty, the home side came into the game before half-time but the second half was marred by some curious decisions which so incensed Alty manager Graham Heathcote that he was dismissed from the touchline and sent to the stand. Worse was to follow when Mark Maddox, already booked for a tackle, was shown the red card for an alleged elbow incident as Alty were taking a free-kick. The ten men held on for a point without too much trouble except that a top-drawer save from Richard Acton was required in the closing minutes from yet another puzzling free-kick awarded, against Rob Matthews, by Mr Grundy.

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    REFEREE: Mr Grundy

    This was only Altrincham's second visit to North Street for a league match. Alty had won 3-0 in 1997/98 season, Alfreton's only previous year in the UniBond Premier Division. The ground has been developed since our last visit in 1997/98 and now has seated accommodation on three sides and, curiously for the UniBond, open-air seating behind one of the goals. The pitch, which slopes slightly, was in excellent condition. The attendance of 511 was the highest of the day in the Division.


    Alfreton have invested heavily in new players over the summer whilst Altrincham have acquired only two new faces; of these, Steve Aspinall started but Rob Matthews was on the bench. Barry Shuttleworth, who was carrying a knock, was also on the bench whilst Chris Adams only played after passing a late fitness test. This meant that the expected back-four played, so Stephen Rose started on the right of midfield. Mattie Hughes was out with a nose injury and Steve Lunt, Paul Glynn and Neil Ryan travelled but did not gain selection.

    Alfreton's leading scorer Mick Godber was on the bench after recovering from an operation. The suspended Carl Bradshaw missed the game but a familiar face wore the Alfreton no.8 shirt, Tony Hemmings, who was briefly at Altrincham but was also at our rivals Northwich Victoria. John Knapper was also known to Alty fans; he played and scored against us for Ilkeston in the FA Trophy a couple of years ago. The home captain was Grant Brown, a recent arrival from Telford United whilst right-winger Ryan France had almost moved to Coventry City in the summer.

    Referee Grundy had not officiated an Altrincham game before (or at least not in the last three seasons).


    ALFRETON TOWN (All red): 1. Lee BUTLER, 2. Ian ROBINSON, 3. Steve CIRCUIT, 4. Mark BLOUNT, 5. Grant BROWN (capt.), 6. John KNAPPER, 7. Ryan FRANCE, 8. Tony HEMMINGS, 9. Mick GODDARD, 10. Emeka NWADIKE, 11. Chris BETTNEY. Subs: 12. Chris DOLBY, 14. Ian ASKEY, 15. Mick GODBER.

    ALTRINCHAM (Sky blue shirts, white shorts, black socks): 1. Richard ACTON, 2. Gary SCOTT, 3. Chris ADAMS, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Steve ASPINALL, 7. Stephen ROSE, 8. Ian CRANEY, 9. Peter BAND, 10. Rod THORNLEY (capt.) 11. Paul ROBERTSON. Subs: 12. Dave GARDNER, 14. Rob MATTHEWS, 15. Barry SHUTTLEWORTH.


    Altrincham started well and Craney earned a corner after just 70 seconds, following an Adams throw. Talbot won the ball from Aspinall's corner, from the left, and found Band who turned but shot well over the bar from six yards when he should have hit the target (2 mins). After Scott and Maddox had seen off an Alfreton move, Band and Thornley soon combined for Alty to win another corner on the left but Talbot's foul on the keeper ended any danger from the flag-kick (5 mins). Thornley was popping up all over the pitch in the Alty attack and he almost got on the end of a perceptive ball from Aspinall, who was arguably to be Alty's man of the match, only for the alert Butler to smother the ball (10 mins),

    Alfreton's best early chance came after Aspinall had been penalised on half-way. Brown's free-kick was cleared to Hemmings, who volleyed over from the edge of the box (11 mins). But another fine ball forward from Aspinall soon had Thornley, this time on the right, winning Alty's third corner (13 mins). Robertson's effort was cleared but then a Thornley cross enabled Band to win another corner, on the Alty right (16 mins), as the visitors dominated the opening stages. This time Robertson's corner went to the keeper. A Hemmings dive failed to fool Mr Grundy but the referee's judgement was more questionable soon afterwards when Acton had to rush out to clear when two Alfreton men had seemed to be offside. Thornley soon threatened again at the other end after beating Circuit, but Butler rushed out to smother the ball (19 mins). Next, a fine clearance from Talbot, who with Maddox, was repelling all that Alfreton threw at the Alty defence, found Thornley but only a throw-in resulted. However, another Alty corner soon followed when Craney chased Aspinall's pass. The keeper tipped this corner away.

    Despite Hemmings's repeated use of his arms to try to gain advantage, Altrincham's defence was looking solid. A rare slip saw Maddox, who was limping, slice out a clearance to give Alfreton a corner (33 mins). Acton just managed to reach the ball but conceded a second corner, this time on the right, to Alfreton. From this, France got in a clear header but directed it over the bar. Play was increasingly broken up by free-kicks, and their awards on occasions baffled both home and away supporters. Next, France earned himself a lecture after conceding a free-kick which Aspinall sent across the face of goal. Hemmings again tried to win a free-kick which did not convince Mr Grundy, who gave offside instead (39 mins). The home side were now enjoying more of the attacking play after their quiet start. Indeed, Alfreton finished the half strongly, winning two corners in succession and, from the latter, Blount headed over the bar (42 mins). The half ended with the score 0-0 and after their strong start, Altrincham had been on the back foot in the latter period of the half.


    There were no changes at half-time. The second half saw Alfreton win a corner straight from the kick-off when Goddard got past Adams and Talbot had to concede the flag-kick. However, Hemmings put the corner into the side netting. Alty then had an excellent chance when Robertson and Craney played a fine interchange but Craney elected not to shoot and the move ended in a tame offside decision instead (48 mins). Another good chance came when Craney played an excellent pass to Band who forced a very good save from Butler which yielded a corner to Alty on their left (53 mins). Both sides now traded attacks which the respective defences saw off. Mr Grundy's puzzling decisions continued when Band was penalised, although apparently sandwiched by two opponents. The ref then booked Maddox who had just made a tackle to win the ball but was presumably judged by Mr Grundy to have used both feet (59 mins).

    Hemmings then missed a glorious chance when Talbot miskicked a back pass beyond Acton but the Alfreton man rolled his shot from left of goal wide of the far post (62 mins). Play was then disrupted when Maddox was again penalised and a melee developed from which the outcome was that Band was booked (64 mins), much to the annoyance of the Alty manager, Graham Heathcote. Before play could resume after the booking, the linesman called over Mr Grundy who sent the Alty manager away from the dugout and into the nearby stand. Soon, Band was penalised for a push and from the free-kick Hemmings fed Price, whose half-hit shot went narrowly wide of Acton's left post (66 mins).

    Alfreton were now penning Alty back and the visitors were restricted to attempted breakaways. From one of these Band, Thornley, Robertson and Craney combined well but Aspinall's final shot from 20 yards was badly sliced wide (68 mins). At this point Alfreton brought on Mick Godber, their leading scorer last season, who was returning from injury; he replaced Goddard up front (68 mins).

    A fine surge by Aspinall soon set up a shot for Craney but this was well saved and as Thornley went for the rebound, a goalkick resulted. Alty soon won a freekick when Craney was pushed over some 40 yards out on the Alty right. Adams took the freekick and Talbot got on the end of it but headed over the bar. However, Mr Grundy immediately stopped play and sent off Mark Maddox for reasons which baffled most of the crowd who had been following the freekick's trajectory. It later emerged that Maddox had allegedly elbowed an opponent who was holding him inside the Alfreton box (73 mins). Rose immediately went to centre-back to replace Maddox. The freekick was retaken but Thornley was penalised from it. However, for the second time in the game, Alfreton's full-back, Robinson, unnecessarily touched a ball as it was going out of play to give Alty a corner, on the left. Talbot won the ball from Robertson's kick and when the ball was cleared back to him, the Alty centre-back got in a forceful second header which found the side netting.

    Alty now brought on Gardner for Thornley (76 mins). Presumably Rod is not yet fully fit for he would normally be first choice to play the lone striker's role in a ten-man side. Rose showed good reading of the game to see off a couple of Alfreton's attacks before Barry Shuttleworth replaced Robertson for Altrincham (80 mins) and Alfreton brought on Dolby for Hemmings (81 mins). Scott soon got in a good block as Dolby found himself in a shooting position on the edge of the box. After Craney lost possession, Bettney then threatened but he played an aimless pass into the box which was cleared. Alty now brought on Matthews for Craney, who had had a fairly quiet game by his standards (83 mins). Soon Dolby found himself in a shooting position again but this time he shot over the bar (85 mins). Altrincham's ten men were looking fairly secure however, though Gardner was getting little change up front from the solid home defence. Soon after 3 minutes of added time had been announced, Matthews was curiously penalised just outside his own box in a fairly central position. Godber took an excellent free-kick which Acton saved superbly, tipping the ball out brilliantly from his top left-hand corner. The resulting corner was cleared.

    The final whistle arrived soon afterwards with the spoils deservedly shared. Alty will have rued not capitalising on their dominance of the early stages when they won six corners inside 30 minutes. However, the two defences both played well and after conceding 12 goals in their first three games of last season, Alty will take some pleasure in recording a clean sheet. Sadly, at the other end, after scoring in each of their 10 pre-season games, the goals dried up today.