SOUTHPORT (1) 2
ALTRINCHAM (2) 2
UniBond League Premier Division Match,
played on Tuesday, 23 September, 2003 at 7.45p.m.
The floodlights failed at Haig Avenue just six minutes after kick-off causing the players to leave the pitch and a delay of 44 minutes resulted before a sub-station fault was rectified and the match could resume. Alty then took a two-goal lead with finely struck efforts from Rod Thornley (18 and 39 minutes) from telling passes by Ian Craney. However, from their first corner, at the start of stoppage time in the first half, Southport's debutant centre-back Hallam headed firmly home. Southport then dominated for 20 minutes and equalised when Mulvaney was played in by Ashcroft on the hour and the Southport man rounded Alty's new loan-keeper, Ben Williams, with ease to score. Both sides went for a winner in an exciting finale but the game ended in Alty's seventh draw in ten league matches this season and they dropped to second bottom in the league.
REFEREE: Mr J.T. Taylor.
Both sides came into the game on the back of an indifferent spell of form which had seen Southport lose five of their previous six games, whilst Altrincham had won only once all season, but with six draws, had only lost twice.
Southport were relegated from the Conference last season and continue to apply crowd segregation, which is unusual at this level.
There were debuts on both sides. Altrincham used their fourth keeper of the season (or the fifth if you include Chris Adams who played 50 minutes in goal at Harrogate), with on-loan Manchester United reserve keeper Ben Williams coming into the side in preparation for the FA Cup tie next Saturday. Also making his first appearance was experienced Australian left-back Jason van Blerk, whose inclusion required the versatile Adams to start in an unaccustomed role on the left of midfield. Chris has now played in goal, at left-back, centre-back and in midfield this season. Peter Band played at centre-back so it was Ian Craney who partnered Rod Thornley at the front end. Mark Maddox was still out, injured, but so too was new signing Michael Reynolds who has an Achilles problem.
Southport brought into their side 20 year-old ex-Preston NE trainee Tony Hallam, a centre-back, who has arrived on loan at Haig Avenue. The Port also had a newly signed ex-professional in their ranks in the shape of Graeme Atkinson, another ex-PNE player, signed recently from Spennymoor United and playing his second game for Southport tonight. Paul Byrne resumed at the back, after injury. Amongst familiar faces to Alty fans in the Port squad were keeper Steve Dickinson whom we originally encountered at Guiseley in our first spell in the UniBond, ex-Stalybridge man Steve Pickford, Mark Beesley - on loan from Chester City, and on the bench, Andy Whittaker, Paul Haddow and Peter Thomson, all ex-Lancaster City players brought in by Tony Hesketh, who was the Lancaster manager but is now the assistant at Haig Avenue. Winger Peter Wright was at Burscough last season.
SOUTHPORT (Yellow shirts with black trim, black shorts and socks): 1. Steve DICKINSON, 2. James WILLIAMS, 3. Paul BYRNE, 4. Neil WHITWORTH, 5. Tony HALLAM, 6. Steve PICKFORD (capt.), 7. Peter WRIGHT, 8. Graeme ATKINSON, 9. Lee ASHCROFT, 10. Mark BEESLEY, 11. Lee MULVANEY. Subs: 12. Paul HADDOW, 14. Peter THOMSON, 15. Andy WHITTAKER.
ALTRINCHAM (Red & white striped shirts, white shorts, red socks): 1. Ben WILLIAMS, 2. Gary SCOTT, 3. Jason van BLERK, 4. Stephen ROSE, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Steve ASPINALL, 7. Dave GARDNER, 8. Ian CRANEY, 9. Peter BAND, 10. Rod THORNLEY (capt.), 11. Chris ADAMS. Subs: 12. Robert MATTHEWS, 14. Nick WELTON, 15. Danny HOOPER.
Altrincham had an early chance when a pass from a Southport player to an Altrincham one, Dave Gardner, was relayed on to Ian Craney. As Ian surged through the middle he was forced to shoot with his right foot but his effort was only narrowly wide of the upright as Dickinson moved across to his right to cover it (2 mins). A lively opening period, in which play switched from end to end, was dramatically curtailed in the sixth minute when about a third of the floodlights went out, the midfield area on the side away from the main stand being the worst affected area. Referee Taylor had no alternative but to take the players off. A number of them emerged in the gloom to keep warmed up as the crowd was kept well informed of developments via the tannoy and a deadline of 8.30pm was set for resumption by the referee. After a couple of periods of near total darkness as all of the floodlights were switched off for repair purposes, the full floodlights came back on at 8.25pm. The fault was ascribed to a sub-station problem, which appeared only to affect the ground as local houses and street-lamps seemed to be unaffected. Play resumed some ten minutes later after a warm-up.
Play re-started with a free-kick by Dickinson for reasons which most of the crowd had forgotten during the preceding 45 minutes of darkness. Soon, an error by Whitworth, one of a surprisingly large number of unforced mistakes by Southport tonight, saw Thornley advance to win a corner on the left (7 mins). Gardner's corner was short and low so caused no problems. Next, after Hallam had fouled Craney, Rose fed Thornley, whose cross was headed out by Atkinson for another Alty corner on the left (10 mins). The danger was cleared after a subsequent up-and-under from Aspinall had seen Band caught offside.
A Southport punt upfield now saw Williams race out to the right front edge of his box but he had to put on the brakes to avoid handling outside his area and this allowed Beesley to get in a good shot from the left which only just went wide as it sped across the face of goal. Williams's subsequent goal-kick was mis-hit but the ball soon came back for him to retrieve on the outer edge of his box. After Scott and Gardner had combined well, the latter's cross skimmed off Thornley's head. Ian Craney then surged into the box but was eventually crowded out (16 mins). A fine interception by Rose followed by a neat interchange between Band, Craney and Thornley underlined Altrincham's bright opening. Another Southport error saw van Blerk, who had a good start to the game, intercept and find Craney. An excellent ball forward then set Thornley running up the inside-left channel with a defender chasing him. Just as Rod was clattered by the tackle he drove the ball with the outside of his foot into the corner of the net, to Dickinson's right, to record only the second first-half goal scored by Altrincham this season (18 mins).
Southport's moves were still tending to breakdown with misplaced passes. Next, a late challenge on van Blerk saw the Alty debutant in need of lengthy treatment but the culprit, Pickford was booked. Alty had a scare when Band mis-kicked in his own box but Scott's alert header back to Williams saved the day (23 mins). Southport then went up the left but Byrne's cross came off Talbot to Ashcroft who could not turn it in to a goal chance. Aspinall then got a lecture for some niggling play before Beesley curled in a shot from the left which Williams held comfortably (30 mins). Southport were now pressing for an equaliser but the nearest they came was when Atkinson's free-kick led to a cross from the right by Mulvaney which Beesley headed at Williams (37 mins). At the other end, Dickinson had to step outside the box to catch a ball, as Craney chased it, but the keeper kept his hands inside his penalty area. Soon, Scott got the ball to Craney who went past Hallam and Pickford before delivering another telling forward pass for Thornley who sent a superb diagonal shot into the top of the net, to the keeper's left, from a position just inside the box, to the left of goal (39 mins). After his interrupted early season, Alty's captain was looking back to his best; as well as his two excellent goals, he was chasing the ball with great energy.
Alty held onto their two-goal lead till Southport won their first corner of the game, on the left, after an attack by Mulvaney and Atkinson. Atkinson took the corner and found the head of Hallam who had timed his run perfectly to bullet a header, unchallenged, past Williams from the middle of the box. The goal coincided with the fourth official displaying the "2 minutes of added time" board. It was a pity that Altrincham had not been able to keep Southport scoreless till the interval as the goal would no doubt encourage the hosts to a step up their game in the second half.
|Half-Time: SOUTHPORT 1 ALTRINCHAM 2|
Indeed, the second half started with a couple of good tackles, from Rose and van Blerk, as Southport came at Altrincham but still the Southport play was peppered with passing errors as Williams now gave the ball to Thornley, to prompt an Alty attack which only yielded a throw-in. A shot from Mulvaney was then blocked by Band before a firm shot from Beesley, on the left, went well wide (49 mins). Gardner was now rather harshly booked for a fairly minor foul in the centre of the pitch (51 mins). Next, van Blerk found Thornley, who was fouled, but Aspinall's freekick was disappointing. Adams then played the ball into the box where Dickinson dropped it but it was scrambled clear before Scott had to concede a corner to Southport (55 mins) and soon afterwards another followed, on their right, after Williams's weak punch had dealt with a Mulvaney throw from the left. Another Southport corner soon followed as van Blerk covered the lively Wright on Southport's right wing. Altrincham were now penned back by Port and from this corner Craney sliced the ball across his own penalty area before Gardner cleared the lines. A foul on Thornley by Jimmy Williams gave some respite but Dickinson caught van Blerk's freekick off the head of Talbot (58 mins). Southport continued to press and the inevitable equaliser arrived when Ashcroft played a good ball forward from some 35 yards out which found Mulvaney running across the pitch from left to right just outside the box. He collected the ball and took it round Williams to find himself with an empty net, which he did not miss (60 mins).
Altrincham were now under the cosh and a Beesley shot hit Band to earn another corner (63 mins). Gardner was being forced to play deep and at times all the Alty players were in their own half. However, Altrincham showed character and got themselves back into the game when Band moved forward well and exchanged passes with Craney. Though Dickinson looked the favourite to gather the 50-50 pass from Craney, Band's determination saw him get to it first but under the keeper's challenge his shot went narrowly wide of the keeper's right post, having deflected off the keeper for a corner. Dickinson injured himself in the incident and need treatment near the front edge of his penalty area (67 mins). Nick Welton was being prepared to come on for Alty but, after getting ready, he had to sit down and wait a bit longer for his curtain call.
When Thornley was given the ball by Wright, he was pulled down round the waist by Pickford who, already booked, was lucky to escape without further punishment than a freekick, especially as he was arguably the last man. Williams then had to make a good save when Beesley got the better of van Blerk (69 mins) but Altrincham were now holding their own after Southport's strong period after the interval.
Eventually Welton got onto the pitch, replacing Gardner (73 mins). When Hallam was "all over" Welton immediately afterwards, a free-kick was awarded 30 yards out. From this, taken by Aspinall, Adams got in a fine cross from the left to Welton at the back post but the tall striker was too near the cross bar to keep his header down and a good chance had gone begging (75 mins).
Welton was soon involved again when Whitworth's misheader to him was relayed to Craney whose curling shot was well caught by Dickinson (75 mins). In the next Alty attack it was Chris Adams who unaccustomedly found himself the most advanced Alty player in the box. Play was now end to end and Scott did well to clear the next attack by Southport. Thomson, a striker, then came on for Beesley. Thomson had been at Lancaster before being signed for an appreciable fee by NAC Breda of Holland and then returning to the English game. The action continued to switch from one goalmouth to the other, with Talbot breaking up an attack before Thornley advanced at the other end.
A poor pass by Wright set Welton chasing the loose ball but he was body checked by Whitworth, unseen by the referee. Wright then had a chance to settle the match when he was allowed to fire in a 20-yard left foot shot, as he cut in from the right wing, which went narrowly past Williams's right upright (87 mins). Then Thomson screwed an effort very wide before a Welton shot went narrowly wide for Altrincham (89 mins). There was a late scare for Alty when Adams was judged to have handled the ball 22 yards out in a central position but the free-kick was poorly struck.
Having gained a two-goal lead, it was disappointing for Altrincham only to come away with a point. Nevertheless there were many pluses tonight, not least the way the team came back after Southport's post-interval onslaught. Rod Thornley looked to be back to nearly his best and debutant Jason van Blerk had a solid game in a defence which generally played well. New keeper, Williams, had relatively little to do but once or twice looked a little hesitant but he will no doubt soon establish a good rapport with his new team-mates. Ian Craney had a particularly good first half in which Dave Gardner also had his moments, whilst Stephen Rose contributed a number of excellent tackles in midfield. If the form shown tonight can be repeated at the Giant Axe on Saturday, Altrincham should give a good account of themselves in the FA Cup against Lancaster.
|Full-Time: SOUTHPORT 2 ALTRINCHAM 2|