ALTRINCHAM (1) 1 EXETER CITY (0) 4
Right: Robbie Lawton battles for possession against Exeter. The final score conceals the fact that until the final quarter of the game Alty led Exeter. But two Exeter goals in three minutes turned the game midway through the second half. And, finally, a combination of tired legs, pressing for an equaliser and a decision of linesman Mr Grundy allowed The Grecians two soft goals in the 90th and 92nd minutes to give the score an imbalance that was hard on Altrincham. Alty had played very well in the first half and deservedly went ahead from Munroe's excellent near post header from Sedgemore's corner from the left (31 mins).
They should actually have gone ahead three minutes earlier when Little powered a free header wide of the target. But in the second half Exeter levelled with a scrappy goal poked home by Matt Taylor from a corner on the Exeter left (66 mins). Then Logan put his side ahead with a stooping header from Stansfield's cross from the right (69 mins).
With Alty unable to threaten much in the second half 2-1 might have been a fair result but then substitute Basham was allowed to score from what looked a clearly offside position with his first kick of the match, after Elam had been allowed to run past defenders into the box The fourth goal came two minutes into added time when Stansfield was allowed to advance up the middle and he fed Elam who scored
REFEREE: Mr Craig PAWSON
Alty had acquired eight new members in their 21-man squad for 2007-08, though two of these did play for some part of last season - the returning Colin Potts had done so as an Alty player whilst Chris Senior spent some weeks with us on loan from Halifax Town. The Robins had lost six players over the summer, with Peter Band opting to drop down to Hyde United, Lewis Chalmers moving to full-time football at Aldershot Town, Steve Bushell preferring to return to Halifax, Justin Bowler being released after failing to make the grade and experienced defenders Andy Scott and Gary Talbot being released.
For Alty, Warren Peyton, Val Owen and Jake Sedgemore all sat out the last pre-season game but only Peyton was unfit to start today, the Alty left-back having suffered a setback in training this week when ligament damage suffered in pre-season surfaced again. So, Steve Aspinall switched to left-back. For 28 year-old Chris Lane, the match marked both his Alty competitive debut, following his arrival from Southport this summer, and his 300th Conference-level match, which makes him the most experienced player at that level in this season's Blue Square Premier.
Apart from Sedgemore and Lane, other debutants for Altrincham today were Darren Tinson and Gareth Whalley, whilst on the bench were Chris Senior (previously only a loan player at Alty), and Matt Berkeley. Cavell Coo was missing as he had spent the week on a training course for his new career in insurance and had therefore missed training. Instead Cavell, along with Pat McFadden, played today for Leek Town in their 2-2 draw against Alsager Town in a pre-season friendly. With Whalley on the left and Lawton on the right, Little and O'Neill were the strike partnership.
Exeter were without suspended midfielder Matt Gill and fellow midfield players Wayne Carlisle, Neil Saunders and Bertie Cozic were all injured. 18 year-old loan player Frankie Artus from Bristol City started in midfield as manager Paul Tisdale started with a three-man strike force in the shape of Jamie Mackie, Richard Logan and Adam Stansfield. Watching and giving instructions from the directors' box was former Spurs' midfielder Steve Perryman, who would remember Alty from their FA Cup exploits against him at White Hart Lane.
When Alty drew 0-0 with Aldershot at Moss Lane on 28 April, the result seemingly condemned them to relegation to Conference (Blue Square) North. But the financial goings-on at Boston United saved the Robins to fight another campaign in the top flight of non-league football. Nevertheless, Altrincham are the second most experienced club in the current Blue Square Premier, this being their 22nd season in the top flight of non-league. Only our fellow Cheshire club, Northwich Vics have had more seasons at that level - but we have at least won the title twice whilst the Vics' best finish was fourth, in 1981.
Today's referee, Craig Pawson, had last officiated at Moss Lane for the home defeat by Gravesend last Easter.
ALTRINCHAM:(Red & white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks) 1. Stuart COBURN; 15. Chris LANE, 4. Karl MUNROE, 5. Darren TINSON (capt), 2. Steve ASPINALL; 7. Robbie LAWTON, 6. Jake SEDGEMORE, 8. Val OWEN, 21. Gareth WHALLEY; 9. Colin LITTLE, 12. Joe O'NEILL. Subs: 10. Rod THORNLEY, 14. Stephen ROSE, 17. Colin POTTS, 19. Chris SENIOR, 20. Matthew BERKELEY.
EXETER CITY: (All blue). 1. Andy MARRIOTT; 2. Steve TULLY, 16. Matt TAYLOR, 15. Rob EDWARDS, 3. Graeme FRIEND; 7. Andy TAYLOR (capt), 29. Frank ARTUS, 21. Dean MOXEY; 20. Richard LOGAN, 9. Adam STANSFIELD, 8. Jamie MACKIE. Subs: 11. Lee ELAM, 12. Steve BASHAM, 19. Jon RICHARDSON, 22. Liam SERCOMBE, 27. Paul JONES.
In bright sunshine, Altrincham kicked off towards the newly named Carole Nash & Family End, formerly the 20/20 End, the Chequers End and the Hale End, where a good showing of their spectators were basking in warm sunshine. Altrincham started the better and in the second minute debutant Gareth Whalley saw his shot deflected out but the referee awarded an Exeter goalkick. Indeed, Whalley showed some good early touches which reflected his Premiership pedigree, having played for Bradford City at the highest level of English football. Play stopped after six minutes when Andy Taylor went down off the ball and after treatment he limped off for further attention on the Popular Side (6 mins). Four minutes later the Exeter captain was substituted by Sercombe (10 mins) as Friend assumed the captaincy of the Devon side.
Exeter were mispassing the ball with a regularity not to be expected form last season's play-off club. For Alty, though playing out of position, Steve Aspinall was looking calm at left-back whilst Darren Tinson was performing well in the centre of the defence. A superb pass forward from Whalley set Little running towards goal but he was seen off by a covering defender (17 mins) as the home side continued to build on their useful start. Two minutes later, Logan did get in a fierce shot at the Alty goal from 20 yards but it was straight at Coburn and then, after some extravagant stepovers by Mackie, Exeter won the game's first corner off Munroe. Coburn was bundled over at the corner to gain his side a freekick.
Another dubious corner kick decision went against Alty when a further shrewd pass from Whalley set Little free to the left of goal and, though keeper Marriott appeared to carry the striker's shot over the by-line, Mr Pawson awarded a goalkick (24 mins). Chris Lane was impressing for Alty at the back with assured defending on his 300th Conference-level appearance. Up front, however, Joe O'Neill was not getting much of a look in against the solid visiting defenders. A neat Exeter move then ended with Mackie sidefooting an effort over the bar before Alty had a glorious chance to go ahead when, from a superb cross from the right by Lane, the unmarked Little headed the ball firmly, but wide of the keeper's left post (28 mins).
Soon afterwards an excellent cross form Sedgemore was almost reached by O'Neill but, nevertheless, Alty gained a corner on the left. Taken by Sedgemore, Munroe timed his run to the near post perfectly and reached the ball ahead of keeper Marriott, angling a header expertly into the back of the net to give Alty a deserved lead (31 mins). From the restart Exeter almost equalised as Mackie advanced up the middle and got past Aspinall but Tinson executed an excellent covering tackle. Exeter continued to press for an equaliser but Owen, who was his usual combative self in the Alty midfield, cleared the next attack. But then Alty conceded a corner when Coburn was unable to keep Tinson's back header in play but Tinson himself headed the corner clear. After a foul by Logan on Little, Lane's well taken freekick from the right was met by Little's header which went to the keeper (38 mins).,
After Mackie saw a shot deflected over for a corner which Tinson cleared, Coburn then had to punch away a freekick from Sercombe (40 mins). And Exeter's pressure intensified as half-time approached with Tully crossing from the right. Tinson slipped and the ball fell for Logan but Coburn did superbly to beat out his shot. However, the loose bell fell for Mackie who seemed odds-on to score but scooped his close range effort badly over the bar (43 mins). Moxey was then lucky to escape censure when he pushed over Lane, off the ball, to concede a freekick (45 mins). A minute of added time was played but Altrincham reached the half-time break with their lead intact after more than matching their fancied opponents over the forty-five minutes.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 EXETER CITY 0|
There were no changes of personnel at the interval and Exeter had the first chance when Logan took advantage of space on the right but he shot wide (49 mins). But when Sercombe tripped O'Neill, Sedgemore's freekick won Alty a corner following which Little fed O'Neill, who twisted well but turned the ball over the bar (51 mins). After an Exeter corner had been seen off, Coburn then saved a Logan header, low down (54 mins). Altrincham were still holding their own but were soon being penned back as Stansfield got in a volley from the right which went wide of the far post (57 mins). Exeter were now exerting more pressure and won a further corner soon afterwards off Sedgemore. Moxey took a short corner to Sercombe but Tinson yet again cleared the danger. The visitors were now keeping Altrincham back in their own half and forced another corner after 65 minutes, on their left.
The Alty defence allowed the corner-ball to bounce in the goal area and though Friend's stab at goal was kept out the ball fell for Matt Taylor who tapped the ball home from close range to level the scores (66 mins). Manager Graham Heathcote was irate though whether at his defence or the officials was not clear. But, whatever the cause, it was a scrappy goal to concede. Alty swiftly went to the other end and Little went down under a challenge from Marriott but referee Pawson saw no reason to award Alty the penalty for which they appealed. (68 mins).
That was to be a turning point for within sixty seconds Exeter had taken the lead. But before then Sercombe caught Whalley very late near half-way to concede a freekick. Aspinall's freekick found Little but Exeter gained possession and Stansfield was put clear to the right of goal. His cross was met by a stooping header into the net from Logan as Lane vainly attempted to close him down (69 mins).
The two goals in three minutes knocked the stuffing out of Altrincham and reinforcements were called up; firstly in the shape of Chris Senior who came on for Whalley (74 mins). After a sharp exchange between manager Graham Heathcote and an Alty fan who had shouted something from the Golf Road End, Alty conceded a freekick and then a corner. Alty now made another change as Potts came on for O'Neill, who had got little change from his markers (77 mins). However, the changes could not produce an equalising opportunity before Exeter brought on Lee Elam, who was returning from injury. He replaced Mackie (81 mins). Two minutes later, Matty Berkeley, Alty's ex-Gretna striker made his debut, replacing Colin Little (83 mins). Potts then won Alty a corner as hopes of a later equaliser rose but, even though another Alty corner soon followed, Exeter saw off the danger.
With a minute left Exeter brought on striker Steve Basham for Richard Logan (89 mins), Owen then lost possession and Tully fed Stansfield and, after Artus had fed Elam, the blond substitute went past a couple of token challenges and advanced to the right into the Alty box. He then crossed or scuffed a shot to his left, across goal, where Basham, looking comfortably offside tapped the ball into the net, unmarked at the back post, to make it 3-1 (90 mins).
As Logan for Exeter and Tinson for Alty were named Men of the Match over the tannoy, three minutes of added time were displayed on the fourth official's digital board. With Graham Heathcote and linesman Mr Grundy indulging in a slanging match over the decision which had allowed the third goal to stand, Stansfield made an unchallenged run up the middle of the pitch before finding Elam to his right and the substitute made it 4-1 - a harsh blow to Altrincham who did not deserve to lose by three goals (90+2 mins).
There was still time for the Alty defence, which must now have been exhausted, to allow Stansfield another charge upfield but this time he was bodychecked by Aspinall at the cost of a freekick. With the visiting fans ecstatic, the final whistle went to condemn Alty to a defeat which looked far worse on paper than it had been for 89 minutes on the pitch. There were some positives in the promising debuts of Tinson, Lane, Sedgemore and Whalley and in an excellent first-half team performance but it promises to be every bit as tough a campaign as last season.
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 EXETER CITY 4|