STAFFORD RANGERS (0) 0
ALTRINCHAM (0) 1
Nationwide North game,
played on Sunday, 26 December, 2004
On a tricky, snow-covered surface, Altrincham ended Stafford's unbeaten home record with a goal, deflected into the net from a free-kick taken, from a central position 20 yards out, by Colin Little. The ball entered the net, low and just inside the keeper's right-hand post (65 mins). The difficult conditions limited the amount of fluid football for the 1,033 fans but Alty adapted well, created more chances and deserved their win.
REFEREE: Mr R.A. Vaughan (Weston)
Alty and Stafford had not been in the same division since 1994/95 when both were in the Conference and Alty's win at Marston Road had condemned Rangers to relegation. This season Alty had already played every other side in Nationwide North in either the league or cup so Stafford were something of an unknown quantity.
The game had been in doubt after overnight snowfall but after a 9am inspection the Marston Road pitch was passed fit to play. However, after a journey delayed by a multiple car crash on the M6, Alty arrived to find the pitch still largely covered by snow, though the centre circle and the pitch markings had been cleared.
Marcus Hallows's bruised foot ruled him out but both Peter Wright and Steve Torpey were fit enough to return to the bench after their recent absences.
A familiar name in the Rangers' squad, but almost unrecognisable with his new shaven-headed look, was Jamie Phoenix, who had enjoyed the briefest of careers at Altrincham, a couple of seasons ago.
STAFFORD RANGERS (Black and white striped shirts, black shorts and socks) : 1. Stuart TOMLINSON, 2. Craig McAUGHTRIE, 3. Dennis PEARCE, 4. Craig SMITH, 5. Wayne DANIEL (capt.), 6. Craig LOVATT, 7. Lee DOWNES, 8. Robert HEATH, 9. Neil GRAYSON, 10. Nathan TALBOTT, 11. Robin GIBSON. Subs: 12 Craig WILDING, 14. Danny EDWARDS, 15. Richard BEALE, 16. Alan DODD, 17. Jamie PHOENIX.
ALTRINCHAM (All yellow) : 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. Steve ASPINALL, 3. Chris ADAMS, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Eddie HUSSIN, 7. Colin POTTS, 8. Val OWEN, 9. Colin LITTLE, 10. Rod THORNLEY, 11. Gary SCOTT. Subs: 12. Kieran LUGSDEN, 14. Peter WRIGHT, 15. Steve TORPEY, 16. Sean SMITH, 17. George MELLING.
After changing ends, Altrincham kicked off with Stuart Coburn, without a cap, facing the low sun and, unlike his counterpart Tomlinson, not wearing his tracksuit bottoms on the wintry surface. Within 10 seconds of kick-off, Thornley had been clattered uncompromisngly from behind by Smith. In fact, the opening minutes were littered with free-kicks as the players strove to come to terms with the snowy surface. Then, after an error by Talbot, Heath fed Gibson whose shot was deflected for a Stafford corner (5 mins). But it was Alty who came the closest to an early goal when Owen found Thornley who, in turn, set up Little for a shot from the left front corner of the box but his well-hit shot flashed across goal and just wide (9 mins).
L. to R. Gary Talbot, Colin Little, Val Owen, Steve Aspinall, Eddie Hussin and Gary Scott await a throw-in at Marston Road, whilst Stuart Coburn appears to be exchanging pleasantries with Stafford fans behind the goal.
Referee Vaughan did not allow Eddie Hussin any benefit of the doubt when he harshly booked him for committing a foul of less severity than Smith's in the opening seconds (11 mins). Despite plenty of endeavour, the next shot of note did not come till the 20th minute when Tomlinson caught Hussin's 20-yarder. Almost immediately, at the other end, Coburn alertly came out to the edge of the box to smother the ball in the snow. Alty then went close when Hussin and Little found Thornley whose well-taken, dipping shot just cleared the angle of bar and post from 25 yards.
After a Maddox headed clearance had fallen to Talbott, the former Vics' left-back Pearce got in a cross from the left which Coburn caught comfortably (22 mins). However, Alty continued to create the better openings as Hussin fed Little and, from his pass, Thornley curled a shot only narrowly wide of the target (24 mins). Indeed, Rod is looking nearer to his best with every game since his recent return from long-term injury. The visitors went close again when Potts's cross from the right, from a Scott feed, was only just gathered by Tomlinson in front of the arriving Little (26 mins). Potts was soon causing further problems but although referee Vaughan had allowed advantage for one foul on the Alty winger, he had no choice but to halt play for an Alty free kick when Talbott held him for a second time. Sadly, Little's freekick curled easily to the keeper (28 mins).
The combative Gibson then fouled Owen and a minor fracas between the two followed which the referee defused with a lecture for both players and an Alty freekick on the edge of Altrincham's penalty area (30 mins). Little and Thornley than combined and from Daniel's sliced clearance, the ball went for an Alty corner on the right. Tomlinson made a hash of his attempted punch clear from Adams's corner and the ball came to Talbot, near the penalty spot, but his shot was blocked (33 mins). Tomlinson did better to save a Thornley effort soon afterwards but the linesman's flag gave the hosts a free-kick in any case. Thornley was then caught narrowly offside as Alty adapted the better to the difficult surface (34 mins). But Maddox conceded a freekick for holding just outside the front edge of the Alty box, left of goal. However, Gibson hit the freekick miles wide of the far post (36 mins).
When Potts fed Thornley, there was a clear push on the Alty striker inside the box but the referee ignored the offence as Thornley went down. The loose ball came out to Scott who shot well over the bar. McAughtrie now had to leave the pitch for treatment to a face wound and also to change his blood-stained shirt for a numberless replacement, though the timing of his charging return onto the pitch seemed to be more dictated by his choice rather than the referee's, as a throw was being taken. Alty soon had another crack at goal but Little sliced wide Scott's feed (40 mins).
When Lovatt then got to the by-line, right of the Alty goal, the visitors spurned a chance to clear the ball and this led to a cross from the impressive McAughtrie which Coburn missed but for which he won a freekick from Grayson's challenge (42 mins). There was then a potentially nasty incident as Gibson and Owen again had a difference of opinion, with the players standing literally head to head. Curiously, the referee chose only to lecture the players but both could easily have been booked, or worse (45 mins). Two minutes of added time were announced but four were actually played, during which Maddox conceded a corner from which another foul on Coburn yielded an Alty freekick.
Half-time arrived with the teams having put on a good performance despite the slippery and snowy surface. Altrincham had created the better chances but the goalless scoreline underlined that two of the best defences in the league were on display.
|Half-Time: STAFFORD RANGERS 0 ALTRINCHAM 0|
With the floodlights now on, Stafford kicked off but the second half got off to a scrappy start with a series of throw-ins. Then Owen, Hussin and Thornley contrived to get Potts to the by-line right of goal but his inviting low cross evaded all his colleagues as it crossed the box (48 mins). Both sets of fans were singing well as Marston Road hosted its largest league gate of the season. Next, Alty won a corner which Adams wasted by hitting the ball behind the goal and then Tomlinson got to a ball aimed for Thornley just before the Alty striker (54 mins).
A fine ball from Potts then found Little but his lay-off went astray. Stafford then replaced Talbott by Wilding, who joined Grayson up front (58 mins). Stafford now pressed forward but Scott made an important interception. Soon Potts's right-wing cross produced an Alty corner which came out to Aspinall whose well hit, low, goalbound shot was blocked by a defender. Adams then saw off a Stafford thrust before Coburn caught a header by Gibson from a good cross from the left by Downes (60 mins). Next, a good Alty moved ended with Scott's pass from the left to Thornley, whose shot hit a defender (62 mins).
Above: Eddie Hussin is the Alty player nearest the ball in this shot of the match at snowy Stafford.
When Owen was held by Wilding, Alty were awarded a freekick 23 yards out in a central position. With three Alty men standing over the dead ball, Little's low shot took a deflection and the ball skidded into the bottom of the net, just inside the wrong-footed keeper's right post to give Alty the lead (65 mins). The re-start was delayed as Stuart Coburn was snowballed by the Stafford fans behind his goal. When play resumed a late challenge by Grayson on Adams gave Alty a freekick. After the Alty goal, Stafford had had the better of the attacking play but the Alty back four continued to see off Stafford's attacks and Rangers got very few sights of Coburn's goal. Jamie Phoenix came on to replace Downes (74 mins). Heath was then fortunate not to be booked when he bowled over Adams. Following the free-kick Little's cross was intercepted but great persistence from Thornley won back the ball though ultimately to no avail. Thornley then forced Tomlinson into a quick clearance before a misplaced clearance from Owen gave McAughtrie a long range sight of goal which he sliced badly, high and wide of goal, from 20 yards (78 mins).
A foul on Potts yielded a freekick on the right and after Scott had been pushed by Gibson, Alty won another freekick. At this point Lugsden came on for Thornley (82 mins). Soon Kieran was racing on to a Little pass but the keeper made a good save. Shortly after, the young Alty substitute was again looking lively as he forced another save from Tomlinson from 18 yards, following Little's feed (85 mins). With Grayson rather surprisingly named as Stafford's Man of the Match - Daniel or McAughtrie arguably looked better bets for the award - time ticked by, with Altrincham looking fairly comfortable with their narrow lead. Scott now put in a fine tackle to stop Gibson before a neat, headed flick by Lugsden set Potts running 40 yards up the middle and his cross, overhit from the right, found Little to the left of goal. After the ball had come to Scott, possession was lost. Following more than two minutes of added time, the whistle went to secure Alty's third away win of the season and, as in the previous two, the score was 1-0. The Robins have now gone their last five league games without defeat and have risen to fourth in the league, albeit on a day when only four fixtures escaped the snow sufficiently to be played.
Altrincham were good value for their win and once again had put in a fine all-round team performance. As the supporters' coach prepared to return through its second M6 motorway jam of the day, Alty manager Graham Heathcote made a much appreciated gesture by leaving his celebrating players to board the coach and thank the fans for their support throughout the season to date.
|Full-Time: STAFFORD RANGERS 0 ALTRINCHAM 1|