ALTRINCHAM (0) 2
EASTBOURNE BOROUGH (0) 1
Nationwide Promotion Play-Off Final Match
played on Sunday, 15 May, 2005 at 1p.m.
Above: The scenes after the award of the medals and play-off trophy.
Altrincham returned to the national division of the Conference after an absence of 5 years with a well deserved victory over Eastbourne Borough at The Britannia Stadium, Stoke in the Promotion Play-Off this afternoon.
Despite having the better of the first half, the score remained goalless at the interval. But two goals in three minutes early in the second half settled the match. Thornley got the first when he drove home the loose ball from 12 yards after Aspinall's well-hit shot was deflected to him, following a Potts corner (52 mins). The second goal came when Owen headed home from Little's chip (55 mins).
Eccentric refereeing saw four Alty men booked and none from Eastbourne and Mr Scarr further upset the Alty fans when he awarded a penalty against Maddox when Odubade went down easily, not for the first time, inside the box (90 mins). Ramsay converted the spot-kick but Alty rode out added time to spark delirious scenes amongst the Alty players and supporters. Val Owen was named Man of the Match. A crowd of 2,839 watched the game, with both sets of fans giving great support to their sides.
Alty will find only Northwich, Scarborough, Morecambe, Hereford, Stevenage and Woking have remained in the Conference National division since they were relegated in 2000 but Southport and Kidderminster will also be making a return, along with Alty in 2005-06.
Finally, a word of commiseration for Eastbourne; to have got so close to Conference National football must be hugely disappointing but hopefully they will get there next season.
REFEREE: Mr Ian Scarr (West Midlands)
Both sides had reached the inaugural Promotion Play Off for a place in the national division of the Conference by finishing fifth in Nationwide North and South respectively and by winning their two away play-off matches. Alty and Borough had never met before, with the Sussex side having progressed to Nationwide South from the Sussex County League in less than five years. Unfortunately this match was segregated, so there was little chance to mix with the Eastbourne supporters which was a great pity as both our clubs are friendly set-ups. However, Stoke City hosted the game well with none of the petty officiousness that is sometimes encountered at new stadia such as at Rushden and Diamonds. The Borough fans were allocated the top tier of the John Smith's Stand whilst Alty had the lower level and with their drum, the Sussex supporters gave as good as they got from the vocal Altrincham supporters. Although the crowd was given as 2,839, it seemed larger than that. The game was played in bright sunshine throughout.
Steve Aspinall returned to Alty's starting line-up after injury, with George Melling dropping to the bench. Mark Maddox had recovered from his head injury but played with his head bandaged over the stitches he had inserted at Kettering last Saturday.
ALTRINCHAM: (Red & white striped shirts, black shirts, red socks): 1. Stuart COBURN, 2. Steve ASPINALL, 3. Chris ADAMS, 4. Mark MADDOX, 5. Gary TALBOT, 6. Eddie HUSSIN (capt), 7. Colin POTTS, 8. Val OWEN, 9. Colin LITTLE, 10. Rod THORNLEY, 11. Gary SCOTT. Subs: 12. Lewis CHALMERS, 13. Richard ACTON, 14. George MELLING, 15. Kieran LUGSDEN, 16, Jonathan MITTEN.
EASTBOURNE BOROUGH: (All Yellow): 1. Lee HOOK, 2. Danny CHAPMAN, 3. Stuart TUCK, 4. Matt SMART, 5. Stuart PLAYFORD, 6. Ben AUSTIN, 7. Yemi ODUBADE, 8. Matt CRABB, 9. Scott RAMSAY, 10. Danny SIMMONDS, 11 Andy ATKIN. Subs: 12. Loui FAZAKERLY, 13 Dean LIGHTWOOD, 14. Ollie ROWLAND, 15. Danny WILLIAMS, 16. Darren SMITH.
Above: Celebrations after the final whistle.
Eastbourne kicked off, facing the sun and within 20 seconds Mark Maddox had upended Ramsay to concede a freekick only 22 yards out. The freekick by Simmonds was met by Atkin's header which required an alert tip over the bar, for a corner, by Coburn. After the corner had been dealt with, Thornley got free on the Alty left and found Scott but his cross from the left was cleared (3 mins). A good Alty move started by Adams ended with Scott's cross from which Talbot forced a corner on the Alty right. Potts took this, short, to Aspinall and after seven more Alty passes, Little got past Austin to shoot at goal but his effort was saved (11 mins). However, Alty were getting on top and soon won a freekick on the right following a foul on Potts. From Potts's freekick near the right corner, Little got the ball to Talbot at the back post and the keeper's fumble gave Alty a corner (12 mins). Alty were now on top and, soon, a Potts cross was headed out to Hussin who, in turn, found Little but after turning well, Alty's leading scorer lashed the ball over the bar. A foul on Owen gave Alty another freekick, following which Thornley did well to find Scott in space near the penalty spot with his pass from the left. But, though Scott hit the ball well, it rose narrowly over the bar (14 mins). Soon afterwards a good flick from Little fed Potts inside the left of the box, and as he jinked inside he was brought down but the referee waved play on - something he did not do in very similar circumstances in the final minute of this game (17 mins).
Altrincham won two corners in quick succession to underline their dominance at this stage and from the second, by Potts, the ball came out to Aspinall whose excellent, low shot was not held by Hook and Little nipped in to put the ball in the net - but offside ruled out the goal (20 mins). Chapman's foul on Little yielded a freekick. But Eastbourne responded when Simmonds swept the ball to the left where they advanced past Aspinall and Potts before a cross was headed goalward by Ramsay but well saved by Coburn. Another Eastbourne foul, on Little, gave Aspinall a freekick from 40 yards out which Talbot won magnificently but his header just dropped onto the roof of the net (24 mins). Alty continued to play well and a good chase by Thornley of a 50-50 ball won his side a corner off Austin. Thornley casually knocked the ball towards Potts from the corner intending his colleague to take the kick but referee Scarr considered that Thornley had actually taken the corner kick and allowed an Eastbourne player to nip in and clear the ball! A double foul - one against Scott and then an immediate late challenge by Austin on Thornley confirmed that Eastbourne were taking no prisoners but, in the light of the referee's booking policy later in the game, it was surprising that he took no action against Eastbourne at this stage (26 mins).
After Thornley had won a throw, the same Alty player shot wide from 19 yards from a feed by Adams from the left. Simmonds then hit a freekick straight at Coburn following a foul on Odubade, who was proving a peripheral figure despite his scoring burst since joining The Sports from Yeovil Town. Following another freekick won by Odubade on the edge of the box, Coburn punched clear but from the follow up, Crabb shot well over the bar (32 mins). Considering what the referee had allowed to go unpunished earlier in the game, Adams was then booked for his challenge on Simmonds (34 mins). An Eastbourne clearance to Eddie Hussin saw the Alty captain feed Gary Scott, who made a great turn and fired in a shot which just cleared the bar. Scott, whose best position is probably right-back, was putting in a hardworking performance on the left of midfield which personified the team's character this season (36 mins). Thornley's running then won Alty another corner but Hook cleared Potts's flag-kick.
Alty physio Sean Riley arrived on the touchline at this point, having missed the earlier proceedings as he had to attend a christening. Odubade then earned boos from the Alty fans as once more he went down too easily under a challenge but this time he did not convince even the referee. After a few undistinguished minutes, Scott found Little but he mishit his shot and it ran easily to Hook (43 mins). After Eastbourne had advanced up their left Coburn gathered a cross well as the game entered two minutes of added time. In that time, Owen became the second Altrincham booking for a late challenge but the interval arrived with Altrincham having been unable to make their dominance tell with a goal.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 0 EASTBOURNE BOROUGH 0|
Alty kicked off the second period and Hussin was soon pulled up for an alleged foul. From the freekick, 22 yards out, Crabb comfortably cleared the Alty bar (47 mins). After an Adams clearance, Hussin lost the ball to Atkin but from 35 yards his shot was as near to the corner flag as the net (49 mins). A fine ball forward from Maddox then found Thornley but his cross hit a defender from the right. Little now won a freekick on the left front corner of the box. Potts went for goal from the freekick and forced a good save from Hook, who tipped the ball over his bar for a corner on the right. Potts himself took this diagonally to Aspinall whose well-struck, low drive struck a defender and ran loose to Thornley. From about twelve yards, slightly right of centre, Thornley gathered the ball and drove it past Hook to make it 1-0. As usual the Manchester United and England masseur celebrated his goal with his trademark cartwheel (52 mins).
A side is often vulnerable just after scoring and Alty almost proved so when Eastbourne went to the other end and the ball came out of defence to Smart, whose low shot was well saved at the foot of his left upright by Coburn at the cost of a corner, as Odubade elected to let it go out rather than capitalise on the loose ball. The corner was cleared and shortly afterwards Alty had doubled their lead. From Potts's short corner, the ball came to Little from the right and he clipped it forward to Owen whose diving header was half-stopped by Hook but powered beyond him into the net for the midfielder's third goal in the last two play-off matches (55 mins). After this goal, Alty's concentration did not lapse as Maddox made a great tackle on Smart as he was about to shoot at Coburn. Scott then picked up his first booking in a league match this season for a foul on Crabb. But when Aspinall was tripped moments later the referee's inconsistency was revealed once again as no card was shown.
The Sports then removed Crabb, who had looked to be one of their best players, and brought on Rowland, who also went on to have a good game on the left (59 mins). Thornley then put in a tame shot before Rowland began to impress by winning a freekick. Ramsay nodded a header at Coburn before Maddox earned a lecture for a trip on Chapman. From Simmonds's freekick, an Eastbourne man nodded over the bar. Alty now brought on teenager Lewis Chalmers for the limping Aspinall, who has been troubled by an ankle injury for several weeks. The versatile Scott moved to right back as Chalmers occupied the left flank (63 mins). Hussin's foul on Odubade earned the Alty captain his side's fourth yellow card (64 mins). Eastbourne then won a corner after Coburn dropped the ball under a firm challenge. Alty were now being pushed onto the defensive as Eastbourne tried to get back into the game.
After a Coburn punt had been fielded by an opponent, the ball was lost to Thornley who was clear of the defence but his chip over the advancing keeper cleared Hook but went wide of the keeper's left post (68 mins). A Smart shot was deflected over at the other end for a corner following which Odubade dived in the box to no avail. As The Sports continued to press, Coburn gathered a cross from the lively Rowland. Little won his side a corner. From Potts's corner, Talbot won the ball and found Little whose header was cleared off the line by a defender. Alty then appealed for handball in the box but nothing was given (71 mins).
Chalmers's long throw caught Eastbourne unaware and Little gathered it at the by-line but the chance was cleared. When Owen was felled by Smart, the Alty midfielder reacted but Mr Scarr opted for a word with both the players and no booking (72 mins). Each side made a change after 73 minutes with Fazakerly replacing Playford for the Borough and Lugsden coming on for the limping Hussin. Talbot took over as Alty captain. From Adams's freekick Chalmers leapt well to win the bal but Little could not turn the ball in. Alty had a scare when Smart found Simmonds in space on the right and his effort was tipped onto the bar by Coburn (76 mins). Eastbourne were now pressing forward but Alty were holding firm.
As Eastbourne won a corner, striker Jonathan Mitten got ready to come on, presumably for Thornley, but the manager Heathcote changed his mind and decided to bring on defender Melling instead. The young defender duly replaced Colin Potts (82 mins). Though Eastbourne were having their best spell of the game, the Alty defence was coping well but The Sports made their final change after 85 minutes when Williams replaced Atkin. Alty manager Graham Heathcote turned to the supporters to ask for a final wave of vocal support from the spectators. Again Eastbourne failed to pick up Chalmers's long throw and from this, Thornley flicked the ball narrowly wide (87 mins). Adams was then lectured for a foul on Rowland and a couple of minutes later the Borough won a freekick which was headed over the bar (89 mins). With the Alty fans singing "Going up!" - a song last heard at Guiseley in 1999, after Alty had won the Northern Premier League to return to the Conference, four minutes of added time were announced. In the first of these, Odubade jinked into the box from the right and went down under a challenge from Maddox. Ramsay sent Coburn the wrong way to make it 2-1 (90+1 mins). Alty held Eastbourne at bay until Smart shot wildly over the bar in the fourth added minute. The whistle then went to signal Alty's promotion to the Conference National division for the third time in their history. After being ever present in the Alliance/Conference from its foundation in 1979/80 till 1996/97, they enjoyed a further season there in 1999/2000.
Despite having twice won the Alliance/Conference and having knocked out more league clubs from the FA Cup than any other current non-league club, this victory was arguably an even greater achievement for having been won on a shoestring budget with a small squad riddled by injuries. Playing in the Conference as a part-time side next season will not be easy but with that division expanding to 24 clubs the following season, survival could be that bit easier than usual next season. And one thing is for sure, the guile of manager Graham Heathcote and his assistant Dalton Steele, together with the character of the team, will mean that Alty will be no pushovers for anyone next season- as the banner at today's game said, "The Alty are back"!
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 2 EASTBOURNE BOROUGH 1|