HUCKNALL TOWN (1) 4
ALTRINCHAM (2) 2
Nationwide North Match
played on Saturday, 30 April, 2005 at 3p.m.
Despite losing today for the first time in eight games and conceding four goals for the first time in the league since March 2003, Alty qualified for the play-offs. By half-time, Alty had established a deserved 2-1 lead. Their opening goal was a penalty by Little (16 mins) after Owen had been upended by keeper Smith. Hucknall equalised, following a penalty, when Coburn brought down Ricketts. Despite a magnificent save by Coburn from Hunter's spot-kick, Hunter knocked in the rebound as the Alty players were slow to react (39 mins). A great shot into the top corner by Scott from 20 yards put Alty 2-1 up (45 mins).
Knowing that Harrogate and Kettering were losing, Alty started slowly in the second half. They also made 3 substitutions before the 70th minute mark, possibly in some cases with an eye to resting players for the play-offs. Indeed, Hucknall levelled after 57 minutes, and their goal may have had something to do with the substitution of Gary Talbot immediately before it. The goal came after Coburn had saved well from Todd only for Bacon to net the rebound. The third penalty of the game, conceded by Maddox, led to Hunter beating Coburn from the spot (83 mins).
Former Alty captain Chris Timons controversially made it 4-2 when his goal was allowed to stand despite an offside flag (87 mins). Soon after this, manager Graham Heathcote was sent off for protesting.
But, as Graham Heathcote said after the game, it was the team's achievement in reaching the play-offs over 42 games and not today's defeat which should be remembered. Alty have punched well above their financial weight this season and whatever lies in store in the play-offs, the players and management are to be applauded. By finishing 5th, Alty now travel to Nuneaton Borough on Tuesday night for a play-off semi-final. The other semi will be Droylsden v Kettering Town, on Monday 2nd May at 3pm.
REFEREE: Mr A H Greenwood
This was the last scheduled league game of the season for both sides but Alty harboured hopes of qualifying for the play-offs whilst Hucknall had a Trophy Final date three weeks today, against Grays Athletic, our conquerors in that competition. Because of their fixture backlog, Hucknall had played 11 games already in April. They had lost the last four games on the trot, without scoring in any of them - so it was just the day for the best defence in the league to be breached!
Watnall Road was in festive mood with many fans in fancy dress; indeed, a red-robed "cardinal" took our entrance money at the turnstiles! Chairman Brain Holmes had also entered into the spirit of the day wearing a bright yellow outfit. Hucknall made Alty's large following very welcome and Mr Holmes even found time to chat to the visiting Alty fans, outlining to them how important their Trophy success had been for their finances this season. For their part, Altrincham had brought strong support which added greatly to the atmosphere.
At kick off, fourth-placed Alty needed a win to be certain of a place in the play-offs but could also qualify even if they lost if Harrogate did not win. The mobile phones were busy throughout the game as scores were sought from Harrogate v Southport and also from Droylsden v Worksop and Nuneaton v Kettering. The tannoy also did a great job of keeping everyone up-to-date with developments elsewhere.
There was bad news for Alty before kick-off with captain Eddie Hussin not being fit after his injury early in last Saturday's game. Also, striker Rod Thornley was a surprise non-starter, though he was on the bench, after a bad night with his new-born child. Also unfit to start were Colin Potts, Steve Aspinall and Kirk Hilton who, with Kieran Lugsden, gave Alty a strong bench at least in name if not in 100% fitness for all concerned.
Whereas Hucknall had fielded teams of variable strength to get through their backlog of games, notably last Monday at Stalybridge, today they were at full strength with only one starter from the Celtic game starting today (Harding).
HUCKNALL TOWN: (Yellow shirts, black shorts, yellow socks): 1. Greg SMITH, 2. Alistair ASHER, 3. Dean BARRICK, 4. Roy HUNTER, 5. Chris TIMONS (capt), 6. Russell COOKE, 7. Mark SMITH, 8. Junior HARDING, 9. Gary RICKETTS, 10. Danny BACON, 11. Andy TODD. Subs: 12. Mark WARD, 14. Michael PLUMMER, 15. Simon BROWN, 16. Nathan WINDER, 17. Azizjon KHOSHIMOV.
ALTRINCHAM: (Red and white striped shirts, white shorts, red socks): 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. George MELLING, 3. Chris ADAMS, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Gary TALBOT (capt), 6. Richard NORRIS, 7. Gary SCOTT, 8. Val OWEN, 9. Jonathan MITTEN, 10. Colin LITTLE, 11. Lewis CHALMERS. Subs: 12. Colin POTTS, 14. Kieran LUGSDEN, 15. Rod THORNLEY, 16. Steve ASPINALL, 17. Kirk HILTON.
On the final day of the season when all matches are supposed to start at the same time, it was a surprise to see Mr Greenwood get the game going two minutes early. Alty started well and after five minutes had the first real chance of the day. This came when Little turned well, to the left of goal and sent over a cross to the back post but Scott had not read Little's intentions and did not get on the end of it (5 mins). Alty again went close when a foul on Chalmers yielded a freekick in the centre circle. Adams's kick was nodded on by Talbot to Mitten and his header was saved by Smith at the cost of a corner on the Alty right (9 mins).
Little was showing some good early skill as Alty continued to have slightly the better of the opening stages. Owen too was impressing in midfield as the travelling fans gave Alty good vocal support. On the negative side, George Melling was limping noticeably but played on. An excellent dribble from Little saw him feed Owen, to his right, and when Owen went down under goalkeeper Smith's challenge on the right-edge of the box, referee Greenwood gave Alty a penalty which some referees would have not. However, he took no further action against the keeper. In the absence of normal penalty taker, Steve Aspinall, Colin Little strode up to score comfortably from the spot - it was his 38th goal of the season and Alty's ninth successful penalty in all competitions this season (16 mins).
A foul by Mitten gave Hucknall a freekick, 40 yards out, from which Coburn fumbled the ball but as he had been fouled, a freekick was awarded (18 mins). At this point, news came that Droylsden were losing and Harrogate drawing with Southport. As things stood, Alty would be in the playoffs, away at Droylsden on Monday.
But Hucknall threatened when a defence splitting pass up the middle from Hunter just reached Coburn before Mark Smith could pounce (22 mins). As news that Southport had scored gave the Alty fans reason to cheer, Alty won a fortuitous corner when a sliced ball towards goal from Owen was fumbled by Greg Smith and went out of play. Adams's corner from the right was met by a superb downward header from Lewis Chalmers which Smith saved well at the foot of his right post (28 mins). The lively Bacon got in a shot at Coburn from 22 yards but he saved this comfortably (32 mins). Owen then earned a lecture for a trip on Harding as Hucknall came back into the game a bit more. In fact, when Ricketts jumped prodigiously to beat Coburn to a cross, Alty were fortunate to see him nod the ball over the keeper's hands and the bar (35 mins). Jonathan Mitten was now booked for an alleged elbow, though there seemed no malice in it (35 mins). Soon afterwards, Adams made a fine tackle to stop Bacon but Alty replied with a neat passing move which ended with Mitten's header to goalkeeper Smith (38 mins). Now, news of Nuneaton taking the lead against Kettering added to the Alty fans' well-being as both of their play-off rivals were now losing.
But before this good news could really sink in, Hucknall won a penalty. Ricketts got past Maddox into the front of the Alty box on the Hucknall left. Coburn dived at his feet and the big striker went down. As with the Alty penalty, it was not the most clear-cut penalty that you would ever see, but Mr Greenwood again pointed to the spot. Hunter's kick, low, to the keeper's right was brilliantly saved by Coburn - his third penalty save in a month - but this time his luck ran out for his colleagues were slow to respond and allowed Hunter time to go to his left to gather the rebound and compose himself before firing the ball into the net to make it 1-1 (39 mins). Stuart was not best pleased with his team-mates!
The match continued with Hucknall looking more lively than in the game's opening stages as news came of Southport's second goal. But out of nothing Altrincham took the lead in this game with what turned out to be the only clear-cut goal from open play in the whole game. Norris fed Scott and from 22 yards or so, Gary Scott fired a shot, with the outside of his right foot, into the top right corner of the net. Despite the keeper's dive to his left, he was unable to get near it (45+1 mins). All was looking good once more for a play-off at Droylsden on Monday. But Alty had a warning before the first half's added time was completed when Barrick and Mark Smith did well on the left and the latter's cross came back to Ricketts whose low shot was brilliantly saved, one-handed, by Coburn, going to his right with Melling completing the clearance (45+2 mins). News of Southport's third goal at Harrogate more or less ensured that Alty would be in the playoffs regardless of the result here at Hucknall.
|Half-Time: HUCKNALL TOWN 1 ALTRINCHAM 2 /font>|
Whether the news of scores elsewhere affected Alty or not, they did not get started in the opening stages of the second half. Indeed, Alty had an early warning when Todd got past Adams and fed Bacon on the right towards the by-line. His great cross found Ricketts's head and he powered his effort across goal where it cannoned back into the play off the upper inside of Coburn's post, with the keeper beaten (48 mins). But Alty responded by winning a corner through Chalmers's efforts.
Melling was still limping for Alty and Hucknall threatened to exploit this as they attacked up their left side. From a long throw on the left the ball came to Bacon, who turned superbly and drove a shot goalwards which Coburn, once again, saved magnificently, pushing the ball over the bar for a corner (52 mins). A second corner immediately followed off Melling, following which Hunter sliced a shot high and wide from outside the box (53 mins). Though a fine pass from Scott to Owen was relayed to Little, he was seen off by Timons, the former Alty captain. Soon Hucknall threatened again as Ricketts drove a low cross across the goalmouth from the right. At this point Alty removed Gary Talbot,a player not normally substituted, and brought on Colin Potts. The removal of the centre-back prompted a reorganisation with Melling moving to the vacated centre-back position, Maddox assuming the captaincy and Scott moving to right back with Potts replacing him in right midfield. But before Alty could reorganise properly, a corner from Hucknall came in from Hunter and was cleared out to the Hucknall right by Scott. Todd got the ball and lashed it low at goal where Coburn made another good save, but could not hold the ball and Bacon converted the rebound in the crowded goalmouth (57 mins).
Potts and Chalmers soon combined for Alty to win a corner, which Potts himself overhit for a goalkick. Now Hucknall replaced Harding by Winder (60 mins). Although the immediate outcome of the Alty substitution had been for the Robins to concede a goal, it now produced a more positive effect. Norris fed Mitten and his cross from the left came back to Norris, whose astute pass found Potts, whose well hit shot forced a great save from Smith which yielded a corner to the visitors.
With the benefit of an undetected handball, Ricketts then prompted a move by Hucknall which won them a corner at the other end, which Coburn punched clear. Alty again went close when a long throw from Chalmers led to Mitten's nod across the goalmouth. But the end to end play continued as Town won another corner off Maddox. Barrick's inswinger from the right was met by Ricketts and it took a fine clearmce off the line at the back post by Norris to keep the ball out of the net (68 mins). After 70 minutes came news that Souhtport were five-up at Harrogate ensuring that Alty were in the play-offs beyond any doubt. At this point, Alty made a double change, Lugsden and Aspinall repalcing Owen and Chalmers. Lugsden went out on the left as Mitten and Little, who had a much quieter second half than first, stayed up front (70 mins). Aspinall joined Norris in central midfield. Potts was playing quite deeply for Altrincham and he broke up a Hucknall attack well but it was the home side who were now taking the initative even though Alty had a chance after 77 minutes when Lugsden could not find the target with a header from Mitten's cross. After Hunter had shot high and wide, there was a stoppage for treatment to Adams, who appeared to have been caught by an elbow in the ribs. Hucknall now brought on Ward for Mark Smith (80 mins). After Norris had lost possession, Bacon fired in a shot which Coburn again saved well only for Todd's follow up to look goalbound till Maddox cleared off the line. But the respite was short. With just seven minutes of normal time left and Alty seemingly heading for fourth place and a play-off at Droylsen on Monday, their plans were turned upside down.
The transformation came when Todd fed Bacon, who was clearly brought down in the front right of the box by Maddox's lunge. So,the game's third penalty was awarded. This time Hunter fooled Coburn and sent him the wrong way to make it 3-2 to Hucknall. The Hucknall pressure continued and two corners followed. But when Hucknall scored again, it was a controversial strike. Timons was allowed time to gather himself just outside the box and he shot low, but not with enormous venom, into the unsighted Coburn's right-hand corner. With a Hucknall player just in front of the Alty keeper, it was surprising that offside was not given and Coburn rushed to complain to the referee (87 mins). What had been an excellent Alty performance was turning into a disappointing end, though a play-off place was still in the bag. Alty won a corner and Hucknall brought on Simon Brown for Timons (88 mins) before Alty had a glorious chance to claw back a goal. Potts got the ball to Little at the back post and he in turn delivered the ball into the centre where the unmarked Lugsden headed over from close range. This seemed to be the final straw for Grahamn Heathcote for the referee stopped the game and went over to send off the Alty manager who was clearly still incensed at the failure to give offside for Timons's goal. There was still time for Lugsden to shoot wide as the game went into added time but the final whistle soon went to confirm Alty's first loss in eight games but, much more importantly, a place in the play-offs. The final seven minutes when Hucknall had scored twice now meant that Alty's opponents would be Nuneaton Borough on Tuesday night rather than Droylsden on Monday afternoon.
As the two supporters' coaches left the ground, manager Graham Heathcote came on board to say that whilst the outcome today had not been the way he would have liked to qualify for the play-offs, it was important to recognise the great achievement of the team over the full 42-game season - and no one would argue with that. Given their club's financial plight, Alty fans are only too aware of the magnificent job that has been done by the players and management, not to mention the Board, in getting into the play-offs. Anything can happen now but whatever the outcome, Altrincham have had a season to be proud of.
As a gesture of appreciation, Graham also gave a number of signed Alty shirts to the supporters and a draw was held on the coach to distribute these.
And finally... good luck to Hucknall in the Trophy Final!
|Full-Time: HUCKNALL TOWN 4 ALTRINCHAM 2|