ALTRINCHAM (2) 2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH (0) 1
Nationwide Conference National Division
played on Saturday, 12 August 2006, at 3pm.
Above: Steve Aspinall (no. 2) nets Alty's second, from the spot.
At the eleventh attempt Alty recorded a win against Stevenage Borough and it was well deserved. After surviving a couple of early scares, Alty went ahead when Little superbly volleyed home a corner from the right by Peyton (14 mins). Then Joe O'Neill chased a lost cause to the left of goal, won the ball and ran into the box where Oliver brought him down to concede a penalty. Although Colin Little had already put the ball into the net, the spot-kick had to be taken instead but justice was done as Aspinall comprehensively beat Potter to make it 2-0 (40 mins). Early in the second half an excellent effort from Peyton came back off the inside of the post but referee Collin's catalogue of bewildering decisions reached its crescendo when he allowed Thorpe to juggle the ball along his forearm to feed Boyd, who scored past an irate Alty defence (51 mins). Alty more than held their own until Stevenage applied pressure in the closing stages, forcing a couple of stupendous saves from Coburn, but the home side thoroughly deserved the three points. After the final whistle there was skirmish on the pitch in which Stevenage's defender Henry seemed to play a central role, throwing water over Altrincham players at one stage before being wrestled down the tunnel. Val Owen was named as Alty's Man of the Match in a day when there were many candidates for the award from an excellent team performance.
REFEREE: Mr. J. Collin
In the 15 weeks of the close season Altrincham had been put through the mill by the administrators as they took the punishment of an 18-point deduction for Accrington's failure to get international clearance for James Robinson before his transfer to Moss Lane. So there was a heighteend sense of pleasure to remain at the national level as Alty welcomed one of the title favourites, Stevenage Borough, a side they had been drawn against in the last three opening games of their Conference seasons.
Borough were under new management after Graham Westley had been replaced by former Grays manager Mark Stimson, who had brought in a host of new players, including Danny Potter, the Canvey Island goalkeeper, who won the Man of the Match award when Canvey played at Moss Lane last season. Potter played in place of Alan Julian, who is recovering from injury. Other new faces were John Nutter, the left-back who followed the manager from Grays Athletic and has played for the England National Game XI. Other new faces for Boro were Tony Thorpe, an experienced striker who joined this summer from Colchester United, and the speedy Craig Dobson, a winger who arrived from Cambridge City and Barry Fuller, a former Charlton trainee defender. Also new to the club was Santos Gaia, a Brazilian defender who played against Alty for Exeter City last season.
For their part Alty included three summer signings. In midfield Steve Bushell captained the side after his move from Halifax Town, whilst Robbie Lawton made his debut in a competitive match after moving from Vauxhall Motors. Up front, the third new man, Joe O’Neill partnered Colin Little. Of the other two new signings, Peter Thomson was still injured whilst Justin Bowler was not selected. On the bench, Lee Hendley's six goals in pre season earned him the nod ahead of Kieran Lugsden and Pat McFadden.
Compared with the side which played the last game of last season, Alty included seven of the same starting line-up, with the other four being Maddox and Murphy who have left Moss Lane, Potts who is injured and Munroe who was on the bench.
ALTRINCHAM (Red & white striped shirts, black shorts, red socks.) 1. Stuart COBURN; 2. Steve ASPINALL, 4. Peter BAND, 5. Gary TALBOT, 3. Gary SCOTT; 7. Robbie LAWTON, 8. Val OWEN, 6. Steve BUSHELL, 11. Warren PEYTON; 9. Colin LITTLE, 12. Joe O'NEILL. Subs: 10. Rod THORNLEY, 14. Lewis CHALMERS, 17. Karl MUNROE, 19. Lee HENDLEY, 20. Stephen ROSE.
STEVENAGE BOROUGH (All blue): 16. Danny POTTER; 25. Ronnie HENRY, 4. Luke OLIVER (capt), 6.Márcio dos Santos GAIA, 3. John NUTTER; 22. Craig DOBSON, 10. Adam MILLER, 2. Barry FULLER, 11. George BOYD; 24. Darryn STAMP, 8. Tony THORPE. Subs: 1. Alan JULIAN (gk), 7. Dannie BULMAN, 9. Jon NURSE, 15. David HICKS, 18. Chris SULLIVAN.
Joe O'Neill kicked off for Alty, towards their supporters in the Golf Road End on a dry but cloudy afternoon, in front of a crowd of 1,035 which almost matched Alty's average for last season, despite the dip in crowds normally caused at this time of year by the school holiday period. International friendlies at nearby Manchester City and United today also did not help the gate.
After an early foul by Henry on Scott, which yielded a freekick, Alty were soon on the defensive as the pacey Dobson got past Peyton on the Alty left but his shot was deflected to Coburn (2 mins). Dobson threatened again moments later but from his cross, Stamp fortunately miskicked and the ball ran to Coburn. Then came a neat Alty build up in which Henry handled for Borough but as Alty retained the advantage play continued till Gaia stopped Little (3 mins). The game had got off to a good tempo and play was end to end with next Stamp heading at Coburn when he had plenty of time and space to have done better. Even more worryingly for Alty, soon afterwards, a ball over Band caused danger till Coburn just managed to block Thorpe. A further danger sign for Alty came when the impressive Dobson again ran at the defence, up the middle, but his shot was poor. However, gradually Alty settled with Talbot and Band going on to have excellent games in central defence.
After 13 minutes Alty won their first corner through Lawton, on the right. Peyton gave a hand signal before taking a left-footed corner kick which Little, who must have used this to time his run perfectly from near the penalty spot and volley home crisply, left-footed, from about 12 yards out, left-centre of the goalmouth to give Alty the lead (14 mins). As the Alty fans taunted the visitors with chants of "Top of the league, you're having a laugh", Scott got in a superb tackle to see off another Dobson incursion before Lawton threatened at the other end. But Stevenage now won two corners in a minute. Before the first could be taken the referee had to have words with Stamp for jostling Coburn but when at the second kick, Stamp pushed over the Alty keeper, Alty got a freekick but Stamp amazingly escaped a card (18 mins).
O’Neill was covering vast tracts of the pitch as he chased the ball, and all over the pitch were Alty men having good games. A body check by Gaia on Little earned him a lecture and from the resulting freekick Aspinall found Peyton and then Lawton but the ball was cleared (22 mins). Colin Little, too, was showing great skill and application as Alty belied the supposed gulf between supposed part-time relegation fodder and full-time title contenders. After a good Aspinall clearance, the Alty right back was soon in trouble for a blatant push on Boyd which earned him a deserved lecture. Talbot continued to eat up most of the aerial threats to Altrincham whilst Owen and Bushell were impressing in midfield, proving that experience can be worth more than youthful energy. After great work by Little, O'Neill was felled by Oliver, the giant defender's third foul of the game, but apart from a freekick 25 yards out he suffered no punishment. The crowd was being well entertained as both sides went at each other, but after Band had seen off one attack, another attack saw Thorpe's cross cum shot go narrowly over the far post (31 mins).
Of the numerous handballs which referee Collin decided not to punish in this game, the one against a Stevenage defender in the Borough box which occurred after 32 minutes was one which was a correct decision as the ball bounced against the player’s hand inadvertently. Soon after this, another Talbot clearance saw Lawton cross the ball from the right and only just clear the far Stevenage upright (32 mins). An excellent move by Alty, who were showing far more attacking verve than last season, then saw Lawton and Bushell feed O'Neill, right of goal, and his intended pass to Peyton was only just cut out by Henry but an Alty corner followed. Though the busy Peyton's corner went straight to Potter, the best response form Borough at this stage was a very wide shot from Henry (37 mins). Alty's attitude was summed up in the build up to their second goal. O’Neill seemed to have no hope at all of getting to a ball from Aspinall, which looked destined to be shepherded behind the by-line, to the left of the Boro goal but nevertheless Joe gave chase and as Henry tried to let the ball run out, O'Neill nicked it and ran along the by-line into the box. But his first touch sent the ball further ahead of him than he wished and gave Oliver the chance to intercept. But as both O’Neill and Oliver went for the ball, the tall defender upended the Alty striker. However, the ball went loose to Little, who smashed it into the net past Potter, only for the referee to stop play and award a penalty, booking Oliver in the process. However, Aspinall sent Potter the wrong way to record his fourteenth successive penalty conversion (discounting other successes in shootouts) for Alty (40 mins).
Owen continued to excel in midfield but the whole team was playing exceptionally well and had little trouble in seeing out the remaining minutes of the first half with their two-goal, lead intact.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 0|
Stevenage started the second half into a breeze but with conditions now having brightened up. However, Alty almost put the game beyond the visitors just sixty seconds into the half. Val Owen picked up a clearance from Stevenage and via O'Neill the ball came to Peyton 20 yards out. Peyton did well to drive the awkwardly bouncing ball into the ground and saw it bounce up past Potter but come out off the inside of the keeper’s left upright (46 mins). Alty maintained the pressure as Little fed Owen for a shot which was deflected out for a corner. Though this came to nothing, Alty maintained the upper hand with a poor cross over Coburn’s goal being the visitors’ best effort as the game passed 50 minutes. Then from Coburn’s goalkick, Peyton controlled the ball well and fed Little whose fierce shot forced a fine save from Potter. Play now switched to the other end but as a ball came to the advancing Thorpe he quite clearly controlled it, not once, but twice, with his right forearm, the ball running the full length of his arm. Amazingly the referee and linesman saw nothing and Thorpe was allowed to feed Boyd who planted the ball past Coburn for a goal that should never have stood (51 mins). Graham Heathcote made sure that his views on the referee’s decision were taken on board by the referee's assessor
Another curious decision by Mr. Collin saw him penalise Aspinall soon afterwards but Alty had another good chance to wrap the game up soon afterwards. It came when Potter rushed out to kick clear as O'Neill and a defender went for the loose ball as well. the keeper’s kick cannoned off one or other of O'Neill or the defender and left the Alty striker with an open goal but from 25 yards out, O'Neil curled his shot wide of the vacant net (57 mins). Alty continued to do well but when Alty won a freekick play was halted as the referee intervened when Henry repeatedly jostled Little in the goalmouth. Soon afterwards Alty won a corner after Potter had caught the ball over the by-line and then thrown it petulantly back towards the corner when the decision was given that it was a corner. Borough were winning few friends for their sportsmanship today. From the corner, Lawton headed Peyton's kick wide.
Mark Stimson introduced his first sub after 62 minutes when Nurse, who had recently scored a pre-season hat-trick replaced Thorpe up front for Stevenage (62 mins) And the change almost had an instant effect as a low cross from the right just evaded the incoming Boyd in front of the Alty goal. Mr. Collin than chose to overlook events when Nurse jumped at Coburn as he gathered an aerial ball and then the Stevenage sub had a go at Band, without Mr. Collin taking any action. Alty won another corner from which Lawton won the ball but was penalised for some misdemeanour. Stevenage gained a corner when Owen sliced the ball out from 20 yards in front of goal but Coburn punched half clear under a challenge and from the loose ball Stevenage clearly won a corner but Mr. Collin gave a goalkick. Alty were now on the back foot as Stevenage sought an equaliser. A Stevenage corner was seen off before Alty brought on 19 year-old Lee Hendley for Joe O'Neill up front and the former York striker left to a well deserved round of applause. At the same time, Sullivan replaced Stamp for Borough (75 mins). Problems with the electronic board seemed to hold up the substitution. Soon afterwards Hendley threatened to break through a gap only to be blatantly blocked off by the already booked Oliver but the referee chose to ignore the offence completely.
Soon, a fine Alty move ended with Bushell arriving on the edge of the box to firegoalwards and win a corner from a deflection but soon Stevenage won a flag kick at the other end at which Talbot was fouled and won a freekick. As the game entered the last ten minutes, Coburn became villain and hero in a matter of seconds as he spilled a swerving shot from Sullivan to leave Nurse with a seemingly certain goal chance. But the Alty keeper made a blinding reaction save, low to his left to keep the ball out. Chalmers now came on for the hobbling Lawton for Alty with the fourth official resorting to the time honoured and more visible cards to indicate who was replacingn whom as his electronic gadget seemed to have packed up (82 mins). Talbot was the penalised for closing off Miller's advance just outside the box in a central position. From the freekick Coburn made another astounding save, pushing Miller's shot onto the framework of the goal (84 mins). Borough continued to press but Alty got some relief when Coburn's goalkick led to a corner for his side off Nutter (89 mins). In a half which saw no trainers on the pitch, Mr. Collin found three minutes of added time and as these started Coburn was out smartly to block an attack. A minute into added time a double foul, a trip and a push, by Fuller on Little earned him a yellow card, only the second of the match (90+1 mins). Hendley kept the Stevenage defence on his guard as his lightning pace threatened them in the closing stages but the final whistle arrived with Alty deserved winners 2-1 , their first win in 11 attempts against Stevenage. But the after match scene was then blotted as a melee occurred near the centre line in which Ronnie Henry was a protagonist, the Stevenage defender at one point throwing water over his opponents and having to be dragged off towards the tunnel. Others got involved before the scene was calmed. The travelling Stevenage fans had behaved well, mixing with home supporters in the bar beforehand, but it was a pity that the good spirit of both sets of supporters on the terraces was not mirrored on the pitch after the game.
After a mixed pre-season, Alty manager Graham Heathcote had again showed his guile in putting out a side which more than matched its more illustrious opponents. The new men, Bushell, Lawton and O'Neill all had very good debuts whilst the established players yet again showed the spirit that was seen so often last season. This year it is good to see more attacking options and despite not keeping a clean sheet in preseason, the defence would not have been breached today if the officials had seen the double handball in the build up to Borough's goal.
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1|