ALTRINCHAM (1) 2 HUCKNALL TOWN (1) 3
UniBond League Premier Division Match,
played on Monday, 5 April, 2004
After an excellent opening period of fast, end to end football during which Jamie Baguley's lob from fully 40 yards over on the left touchline hit the Hucknall crossbar, Alty lost two players in two minutes to injury. First to go was Steve Aspinall, who was hurt when Kielty underhit a pass to him and he had to make a 50/50 challenge from which he emerged injured. He was replaced by Rose who, just two minutes later, was victim of a very late tackle by McSweeney who amazingly escaped a booking. Rose was stretchered off and left the ground on crutches (21 mins). Bacon then fired Hucknall ahead (31 mins) before Matt Bailey kept his balance to poke home an equaliser (36 mins). Two uncharacteristic defensive lapses cost Alty the game. Firstly Maddox's misplaced header set up a scrambled goal which ended up being attributed to Barry Shuttleworth as an own goal (58 mins) and then Maddox and Talbot seemed to get in each other's way and allow a cross to drop to Todd who converted easily (85 mins). In between these two goals Alty had a lot of the ball but could not score until three minutes from the end of normal time when Craney finished off a pass from Hallows, from a good ball forward by Baguley. Hucknall were reduced to blatant timewasting through the closing minutes. To compound Alty's woe, Bailey also had to go off injured.
REFEREE: Mr D W Stewart
Hucknall Town arrived at Moss Lane as more or less certain champions of the UniBond Premier Division but they yet to win a game or score a goal at Moss Lane in three previous attempts. However, they had narrowly beaten Altrincham 2-1 earlier this season at Watnall Road. After a draw at Frickley and narow defeat at Lancaster, Alty were still seeking more points towards their target of 60 for qualification for the Alliance North next season.
Alty brought in Matt Bailey up front with Stephen Rose moving to the bench.
ALTRINCHAM (Red & white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks): 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. Steve ASPINALL, 3. Barry SHUTTLEWORTH, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Ged KIELTY, 7. Peter BAND, 8. Ian CRANEY (capt.), 9. Marcus HALLOWS, 10. Matt BAILEY, 11. Jamie BAGULEY. Subs: 12. Stephen ROSE, 14. Ryan HUTCHINSON, 15. Stuart WRIGHT.
HUCKNALL TOWN (Blue shirts with yellow & white trim, white shorts, yellow socks): 1. Paul PETTINGER, 2. Alistair ASHER, 3. Dean BARRICK, 4. Karl COLLEY, 5. Roy HUNTER, 6. Nathan WINDER, 7. Danny MAYMAN, 8. Leon McSWEENY, 9. Gary RICKETTS, 10. Danny BACON, 11. Andrew TODD. Subs: 12. Mark WARD, 14. Chris DAVIES, 15. Carl ADAMS.
On a windy night, punctuated by heavy showers, the sides switched ends before Altrincham kicked off towards the 20/20 End with the wind behind them. With the championship in sight, Hucknall had brought far more away support than previously to Moss Lane and soon both sets of fans were treated to an excellent opening phase of the match, with end to end attacking and a good pace to the game.
Alty won an early corner when Coburn's punt clear was deflected out on the Alty right. Baguley's corner was cleared out to Aspinall who, in turn, found Bailey. His measured curling shot from just outside the box was, unfortunately, comfortably wide (3 mins). Then, following Maddox's clearing header the ball came via Kielty, Shuttleworth and Baguley to Ian Craney whose firm, low shot from 25 yards was held at the second attempt by Pettinger (6 mins). Band then did well to stop Ricketts on the edge of the Alty box but soon afterwards Maddox was penalised 35 yards out on the Hucknall left. Talbot cleared the freekick before a ball back into the box from Asher was punched firmly clear by Coburn (8 mins). At the other end Shuttleworth's long through-ball forced Pettinger out of his box to head clear. Before the Hucknall keeper could regain his ground, Baguley picked up the clearance on the far left touchline. From 40 yards out Baguley's firm lob sailed goalwards past the stranded keeper but the Alty left-winger was robbed of a superb goal by the crossbar (9 mins).
Soon afterwards, Baguley and Hallows combined on the left and forced a corner off Colley. Aspinall took this, short, to Baguley whose low, right-footed shot forced the keeper to make a good save, down to his right (10 mins). The flowing play continued, with Altrincham looking a match for the league leaders. Next, a six-pass move ended with Craney finding Baguley who got past Asher to locate Kielty. Kielty slipped his marker inside the box but slightly mis-hit his shot, which trundled just wide of the keeper's left post (11 mins).
But things started to go wrong for Alty when an underhit pass to his right from Kielty left Aspinall having to stretch into a 50/50 challenge on the half-way line from which he emerged injured (12 mins). As Aspinall hobbled on, Bailey was obstructed by Colley, the former Halifax and Frickley man, but the referee saw it otherwise and play continued despite Graham Heathcote's protests. Alty then had a scare when Coburn rushed to the edge of the area and slid down to gather the ball, but did not hold it. Talbot covered well behind him to see off the danger. Alty then won their third corner when Baguley's left-wing cross came off Colley, on the Alty right. Talbot headed Baguley's flag-kick just wide (16 mins). Rain was now lashing down forcing the spectators in the open end to scurry for cover. With Aspinall wincing as he emerged from a fine tackle on McSweeny, Alty had to replace him at right-back with Stephen Rose (19 mins). Less than two minutes after coming on, Rose was caught very late by a tackle from McSweeny, some 35 yards from the Alty goal, on the right. It was immediately clear that he had a serious injury and the Hucknall physio rushed on to assist as Alty's physio Gary Thompson was tending to Aspinall in the changing rooms. He was called back and after lengthy treatment by both physios, Rose was carried off on a stretcher (21 mins). Although it was probably a badly mis-timed rather than malicious tackle, McSweeny was very fortunate not to be booked. Alty brought on Ryan Hutchinson for only his second start for Altrincham and he took over on the right flank as Peter Band moved to the blighted right-back position. The versatile and whole-hearted Band has now played in every outfield position this season except, I think, left-back. From the freekick which restarted the game, Hutchinson put the ball into the wall.
With the home crowd already riled by the tackle that had ended Rose's participation in the game, Asher committed a two-footed lunge at Baguley on the Popular Side of the pitch and was rightly booked (28 mins). Fired up by adversity, Altrincham continued to take the game to the league leaders but it was Hucknall who soon went ahead. McSweeny advanced powerfully up the middle, past Kielty, and fed Bacon who finished well from a central position (31 mins).
After Barrick had earned jeers from the Alty supporters for a dramatic collapse and equally dramatic recovery after a brush with Bailey, the tall Alty striker almost levelled with a 20 yarder which went narrowly wide of Pettinger's left post (36 mins). But two minutes later, from Craney's feed, Bailey got free in the box and, despite slipping on the soft surface, kept his feet to hook the ball into the corner of the net just beyond a retreating defender's lunge (36 mins).
Soon after the restart there was the first of two bizarre instances in this game of Ricketts lying on the ground with ball deliberately wedged between his legs as Alty players tried to kick it free. On this occasion, Mr. Lewis opted to play a bounce-up. Then Alty won a corner when Hallows got on the end of Shuttleworth's cross. Band, who seemed to be all over the pitch, then did more sterling work to clear an attack before Alty pressed forward again. Craney almost got onto a ball in the box but Pettinger smothered it before Hutchinson played a fine ball for Bailey, who once again had found space on the right. His cross found Hallows who could only knock the ball wide of goal (44 mins). But Altrincham were playing well, despite their two enforced changes in the first half. Four minutes of time were added for the injuries during which Hallows's lob from 35 yards dropped only just wide of the angle of upright and bar. Then Alty won another corner of the half when Pettinger could not hold Colley's misplaced header. Half-time came with the scores level but Alty leading the corner count 5-0.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 HUCKNALL TOWN 1|
Hucknall immediately won their first corner at the start of the second period and went on to have the better of the opening stages as Alty now contended with the wind against them and lashing rain, which had restarted at half-time. However, Craney and Hutchinson soon fed Bailey, whose shot from 25 yards went across goal from the right and wide of the post (49 mins). Talbot then made a fine headed interception before Ricketts caught Coburn as he gathered a ball but offside had been given anyway (52 mins). The second half was not initially as flowing as the excellent first period and play soon stopped for Talbot to be lectured for blocking the path of Mayman, 25 yards out. Talbot himself then cleared the next attack before Band sliced an awkward ball out for a corner to Hucknall which should have been avoided. The corner, on the left, was taken short and from the resulting cross Maddox misheaded the ball to his left across the penalty area. As two Hucknall players attempted to score the ball crept into the corner to Coburn's right with Shuttleworth later being credited with an own goal in the melee (58 mins).
Altrincham were now having trouble getting out of their own half as Hucknall enjoyed their best period of the game. A couple of misplaced passes from Craney epitomised Alty's predicament at this point. But when Hallows battled with Bailey against Colley the ball broke for Hutchinson whose shot from the right was blocked (63 mins). Then, following a fine curling free-kick by Baguley, the ball came out to Kielty but he hooked his shot from 25 yards over the terrace roof into Golf Road (65 mins). Coburn then had to deal with a Hucknall cross followed by an underhit backpass from Gary Talbot as the rain stopped. Alty were now taking the game to Hucknall and from Hutchinson's pass Craney's shot hit a defender and looped into the air but dropped kindly for the keeper. Shuttleworth’s fine tackle then saw off Hucknall at the other end before Colley climbed all over Bailey, prompting McSweeny to protest for some reason against the clearest of offences.
Hucknall's defence stood firm as Alty came back at them but although they enjoyed a lot of the ball and of territory, they could not get a clear opening. Hucknall's best effort at this stage was a very wide shot from Bacon (83 mins). Following a header by Bailey from a Hutchinson cross, which Pettinger fielded, Hucknall won a freekick on the left, 30 yards or more from goal. Having awarded the freekick, the linesman called over the ref and after a consultation Peter Band was booked (84 mins). Band would normally now be suspended but, fortunately, UniBond rules mean that suspensions for accumulated bookings do not apply at this stage of the season. But another form of punishment was to come as the freekick came into the centre of the Alty box. Maddox and Talbot seemed to get in each other's way and the ball dropped to the unmarked Todd, some 12 yards out to the right of the penalty spot. The former Worksop man picked his spot and drove the ball past Coburn to make it 3-1 to the visitors (85 mins).
Alty immediately brought on Stuart Wright for the now limping Bailey. From the re-start Band, now playing further forward, won a corner for his side. Pettinger caught the corner cleanly to underline a confident performance by the Hucknall number one. But Alty soon got past him when a good ball up the centre from Baguley found Hallows running across the box towards the left. Hallows did well to get the ball back to Craney who finished smartly from 15 yards or so to make it 2-3 (87 mins).
There then followed some unedifying time-wasting by Hucknall. First Ricketts repeated his earlier trick of lying on the ground with the ball held deliberately between his legs. With a choice before him of penalising Ricketts for time-wasting, ungentlemanly conduct or obstruction, the referee allowed the big striker to retain the ball in his prostrate position before awarding the Hucknall man a free-kick! Hucknall followed this up with more negative time-wasting play in the corner of the pitch which belied their deserved status as champions elect. The final whistle eventually came to confirm Hucknall as the new champions, barring an unbeaten run-in and a mathematical miracle by Droylsden. They have clearly merited the title for their consistent play throughout the season and all at Altrincham congratulate them on their achievement.
Ian Craney was awarded the Man of the Match but Peter Band would also have been a popular choice. His 100% effort in whichever position he plays is a quality which the whole team will need to repeat in the remaining games of the season as they aim for the Alliance North. Although Altrincham have taken just a point from the last three games, their performances at Lancaster and tonight deserved more and hopefully will be repeated with greater reward in the remaining matches. It is to be hoped that the injuries to Rose, Aspinall and Bailey turn out not to be too serious but manager Graham Heathcote may yet be thankful that he bolstered his small squad before last week's transfer deadline with the signing of Trafford's left-back Liam Ralph and striker Andy Lundy. There was some good news amongst tonight's disappointment, however, in that Stockport have extended the loans of Jamie Baguley and Matt Bailey to us to the end of the season. Both youngsters have done well at Moss Lane.
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 2 HUCKNALL TOWN 3|