STALYBRIDGE CELTIC (1) 1
ALTRINCHAM (0) 0
UniBond Premier Division Match,
played on Thursday, 1 January, 2004
Altrincham went down to a Chris Denham-inspired Stalybridge, who recorded their first home win in ten games and their first clean sheet in the league for almost three months. However, it had been the Robins who were much the better side in the opening stages when only the crossbar deprived Ian Craney of a fine goal. However, Denham put his side ahead after 18 minutes and when Alty lost Chris Adams after 35 minutes to a recurrence of the shoulder injury which he suffered on Boxing Day, the back-four, which already lacked Maddox and Aspinall, was further disrupted. Holt should have levelled after 39 minutes but in the second half, apart from a wide Hallows header early on, Altrincham rarely threatened and Coburn made a couple of excellent saves to keep Alty in contention. A bizarre tantrum from Celtic's Kenny Mayers when he was being substituted almost reduced his side to ten men but Alty were also fortunate that Shuttleworth was not sent off when he pulled down Denham after already being booked.
REFEREE: Mr A. Rawcliffe (Failsworth)
After the 3-3 draw between the sides at Moss Lane on Boxing Day, Altrincham were looking to break their losing sequence in matches at the Bower Fold which goes back to 1994. Stalybridge had their own bad runs to break - before today they had gone for nine home games without a win and had managed no clean-sheet in the league since 7 October.
The suspension of Steve Aspinall saw Gary Scott revert to his right-back berth, whilst Keiran Lugsden came into the squad. Manager Graham Heathcote chose Stephen Rose rather than Peter Band to partner Gary Talbot at the heart of the defence, whilst Steve Lunt started on the left with Ian Craney on the right. Barry Shuttleworth and Peter Band were the new central midfield pairing. whilst the on-loan duo of Marcus Hallows and David Holt continued up-front.
Celtic recalled Craig Dootson in goal, after an absence of four games, and David German at right-back, whilst Kevin Parr replaced Ross Clegg, as Celtic's injury crisis eased. Former Lancaster City captain and stopper, Kenny Mayers, made his first Celtic start in five games and was to make a controversial exit. In all there were five new Celtic starters compared with the Moss Lane game on Boxing Day - Dootson, German, Fitzgerald, Parr and Mayers.
STALYBRIDGE CELTIC (All blue): 1. Craig DOOTSON, 2. Dave GERMAN, 3. Jerome FITZGERALD, 4. Barrie KEELING, 5. Greg PEARCE, 6. Nathan WHARTON (capt.), 7. Darren BOWMAN, 8. Kevin PARR, 9. Kenny MAYERS, 10. Phil EASTWOOD, 11. Chris DENHAM. Subs: 12. Andy HEALD, 14. Lee TODD, 15. Ben SMITH.
ALTRINCHAM (Red & white striped shirts, white shorts and red socks): 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. Gary SCOTT, 3. Chris ADAMS, 4. Peter BAND, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Stephen ROSE, 7. Steve LUNT, 8. Ian CRANEY (capt.), 9. Marcus HALLOWS, 10. David HOLT, 11. Barry SHUTTLEWORTH. Subs: 12. Niell HARDY, 14. Stuart WRIGHT, 15. Kieran LUGSDEN.
After a sharp frost on Wednesday morning and heavy rain on Wednesday night, the Bower Fold pitch was in remarkably good condition for this New Year's Day (Thursday) clash. After changing ends, Altrincham kicked off towards the Joe Jackson Stand on a dull afternoon on which the floodlights were needed throughout the game. Steve Lunt won his side a first-minute corner on the left. Shuttleworth played this, low, to the unmarked Ian Craney who made a late run from the centre circle to get in a firm, but misdirected, effort from 22 yards, which easily cleared the bar (2 mins). There was an early and ominous stoppage to treat Chris Adams, who seemed to be troubled by his right shoulder, which was injured on Boxing Day. However, Chris resumed and Alty continued to play well. Holt, Shuttleworth and Rose then fed the ball to Hallows on the right and he did well to find Scott. Scott set Craney running to the by-line, right of goal, where his shot towards the near post was well kept out by Dootson's feet, at the cost of a corner on the Alty right (8 mins). Next, a Holt cross was deflected by a Celtic defender rather fortunately into Dootson's arms (11 mins). Celtic's first threat came when Denham passed Adams and found Parr at the back post, and his shot forced a good, low save by Coburn, to his right (13 mins). Then, a slick interchange between Hallows and Craney saw the Alty captain curl a fine shot onto Dootson's cross bar from the edge of the box (15 mins). Next, after the combative Wharton had needlessly pushed Craney over on the touchline, the Alty captain reacted and both players were booked by Mr Rawcliffe (17 mins).
Against the run of play Celtic took the lead when Denham advanced on the right. His cross found both Wharton and Mayers slackly marked inside the box and each player in turn made a hash of getting in a shot before the ball came rather fortuitously back to Denham. He made no mistake, crashing in a shot from about 15 yards, right of goal, to give his side the lead (18 mins). Nevertheless, Holt soon won Alty's third corner of the afternoon (20 mins) before a fine tackle from Rose saw off Denham at the other end, after Hallows had lost possession. This gave Celtic a corner which was cleared but the home side, buoyed by their lead, were now coming back into the game but neither side got a clear sight of goal in the next ten minutes. Adams then went down again and was unable to continue with the injury to his right shoulder and his arm was later placed in a sling. As Alty briefly played on with ten men, Coburn was forced to make a good stop, low to his right from Eastwood, following a freekick by Wharton which was relayed to him by Parr (34 mins). Stuart Wright now came on to replace Adams and this forced another positional shake-up (35 mins). With Stuart Coburn and Gary Talbot now the only two regular members of the back five on the pitch, Barry Shuttleworth moved to left-back as Wright slotted into midfield. An overhit cross from Shuttleworth was lucky to produce an Alty corner off Parr. This was cleared and then Lunt's obstruction gave Stalybridge a free-kick in midfield.
Stalybridge now pressed forward without creating too much danger before David Holt was presented with a clear chance to equalise. After Scott had fed Wright, the substitute's long ball from his own half down the middle evaded Keeling and left Holt running in on Dootson. But the on-loan youngster from Stockport County screwed his effort wide of Dootson's left post when he should at least have hit the target from 12 yards (39 mins). Then, after good work from Wright and Hallows, Craney tried a 25 yarder which was both very wide and underhit (41 mins). Talbot and Rose continued to see off the Celtic threat before play stopped for referee Rawcliffe to lecture Alty manager Graham Heathcote, who had directed a series of comments towards the linesman on the main stand side of the pitch (43 mins). Graham had more cause for annoyance when Craney ghosted past two opponents before Parr fouled the Alty captain. Parr escaped with just a free-kick. Alty then won a late corner, their fifth of the half, but their 5-1 lead in flag-kicks was to no avail as they trailed by a goal to nil at the interval.
|Half-Time: STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 1 ALTRINCHAM 0|
Stalybridge kicked off the second half but, as in the first period, Altrincham won an early corner, this time through Hallows after a good pass from Rose (46 mins). Lunt soon won a second corner of the half and from Shuttleworth's well flighted kick Hallows headed badly wide from an unmarked position towards the back post (47 mins). Craney then did well but the move ended with a blocked shot from Lunt as Alty again made the better start of the two sides (48 mins).
But it was Stalybridge who had the best chance of the half so far when Denham's cross from the left eventually came out to Wharton who forced a fine save, diving to his left, from Coburn, to give Celtic a corner on their right (53 mins). Shuttleworth cleared this but Celtic were soon back with Mayers feeding Fitzgerald who produced another good save from Coburn, from 20 yards. Celtic threatened to get on top as another chance soon arose but Bowman dithered in the box and the ball was forced away from goal only to come back to Wharton who produced a third fine save from Coburn, to his left, to concede another corner as Alty remained under the cosh (53 mins).
Shuttleworth was then booked after Denham made a bit of show of going down on the right wing but generally the Alty number eleven did a good job against his Celtic counterpart, the clear man of the match. Shuttleworth, in fact, soon got forward to put in a good cross which was just reached by Dootson ahead of the incoming Hallows at the back post (57 mins). Alty now brought on Niell Hardy, who had taken no part in the half-time warm-up, to replace Lunt (57 mins) to give Alty three strikers. However, Stalybridge continued to have the upper hand. Wright, on the flank, was showing some urgency but his overhit cross from the right undid his earlier good work (61 mins). Alty did induce Dootson to punch clear nervily when he should have caught a cross but they were otherwise posing relatively little threat at this stage. When Eastwood found Wharton advancing into space on the left, the Celtic captain went on to win a corner (65 mins).
After his impressive first half, Alty captain Ian Craney was having a less happy second half and his toe-poke from 25 yards went very wide of goal (67 mins). Stalybridge won another corner which Scott cleared but there was little of great note until Denham got himself booked for timewasting by refusing to hand over the ball to the opposition (73 mins). A foul throw by Shuttleworth led Graham Heathcote to berate the officials once again before his side won themselves a corner when Holt's low cross deflected off Keeling. Rose then had to make an important tackle on Mayers, who tried to win a free-kick with an exaggerated dive. The Celtic number nine soon found himself presented with a clear scoring opportunity when Fitzgerald got behind Rose on the left but Mayers made poor contact and the ball ran gently to Coburn (76 mins). Shortly afterwards Mayers kicked the ball away but inexplicably avoided the booking which Denham had got earlier for a much less blatant piece of time-wasting.
Alty now brought on Kieran Lugsden with Marcus Hallows being the player withdrawn to the surprise of some of the spectators (77 mins). There was then another case of inconsistency which went Altrincham's way when Shuttleworth clearly pulled back Denham, as he advanced towards the edge of the penalty area in a central position. The referee gave the free-kick but did not even admonish the Alty man, who was fortunate to escape a red card. There soon followed a most bizarre incident as the Stalybridge bench held up the no.9 card to bring on Andy Heald in Mayers's place. A huge cheer went up from the Jackson Stand at this proposed change to which Mayers reacted by pulling off his shirt, throwing it to the ground, gesturing to the crowd and then stomping off, topless, past a bemused linesman into the tunnel without going through the substitution formalities at the half-way line. The linesman flagged and the referee consulted him but just when Alty fans thought they might see Mayers red-carded in his absence, Mr Rawcliffe elected to allow the substitution to take place and the game to continue (81 mins). Mayers, it seems, is not the fans' favourite and it will be interesting to see how the club deal with his show of petulance today.
Stalybridge soon won a corner as they continued to have the better of the second half. However, Kieran Lugsden then won Altrincham a corner at the other end. This was cleared and from Scott's clearing header Denham set up Heald who forced another very good save from Coburn, who pushed the ball round his right upright for a corner (84 mins). Talbot headed the corner clear as Denham was rightly announced as man of the match for his excellent wing-play on the right. Although Craney had another very wide pot from 30 yards, Stalybridge continued to hold the upper hand even when Band went forward to augment the Alty front line. In the four minutes of added time Altrincham did not really threaten Stalybridge's first clean sheet in the League since October 7th.
Without Aspinall and Maddox at the back, and with the loss of Adams during the game, and with Rod Thornley still recuperating from his operation and Niell Hardy still not fully fit, this was always going to be a hard game for Altrincham at a ground where they rarely win. After a promising start to the game, Altrincham deserved to be at least level at the interval. However, Celtic had much the better of the second period and left Altrincham still struggling to reach the elusive thirteenth place which would qualify them for the Alliance North next season. Once again wastefulness in front of goal cost Altrincham dear.
|Full-Time: STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 1 ALTRINCHAM 0|