HALIFAX TOWN (2) 2 ALTRINCHAM (2) 2
Above: Chris Lane takes a throw-in against the backdrop of The Shay's still unfinished stand.
Altrincham deservedly gained their first point of the season in a game packed with incident. With Chris Senior preferred up front to Joe O'Neill for Alty, it was Halifax who, nevertheless, set the pace and moved into a two-goal lead after little more than twenty minutes of play had passed. With just eight minutes on the clock, Alty centre-back Darren Tinson got under a header to set Halifax's Andy Campbell free and he finished well, beating the advancing Coburn from ten yards. Campbell scored again after 22 minutes when he netted with a free header from Daryl Taylor's cross, after the former Tamworth man had been set free on the right by Darryn Stamp's astute pass. But the defensive errors then spread to the other end as Halifax captain Adam Quinn failed to get the ball back to his keeper, Craig Mawson and Colin Little nipped in to chip the ball home to make it 2-1 after 33 minutes. A couple of minutes later the Shaymen's captain and keeper got in another tangle which resulted in Mawson handling the ball outside his area. After a lengthy consultation between referee Brown and his assistant, the keeper was very fortunate to be shown only a yellow card. But Alty exacted a harsher punishment as Whalley feigned to take the freekick and, instead, Jake Sedgemore drove the ball into the net (37mins). With the injured Whalley replaced by Joe O'Neill at the interval, Alty had the better of the opening stages of the second half before Halifax gradually raised their game in front of an increasingly critical home crowd. And when Robbie Lawton was sent off for a second cautionable offence with two minutes of normal time to play, Alty had to ride out that period and four additional minutes of constant pressure before reaching the final whistle. In a hard-working team performance, they will have been grateful to keeper Stuart Coburn for three superb saves during the course of the match.
REFEREE: Mr M BROWN (Hull)
Alty were without the injured Warren Peyton and Gary Scott, both of whom were neverthless fit enough to run up and down the pitch before the game. Former Shayman, Chris Senior, was preferred in the starting line-up to Joe O'Neill, whilst Cavell Coo came into the squad for Matthew Berkeley, who is off to help St Kitts under-23s qualify for the Olympics. Steve Aspinall continued in the left-back slot in the absence of Warren Peyton.
Although 'Fax striker Darryn Stamp and keeper Craig Mawson, who suffered a blow to the head on Saturday were both doubtful, they started the match. Halifax included four new signings in Rob Scott, Daryl Taylor, Cortez Belle and the returning Steve Bushell who, of course, spent last season at Moss Lane.
Both teams had lost their opening games of the season on Saturday.
The pitch was wet and a little slippery after sustained rain earlier in the day but the game itself was played in or more or less dry conditions. The Shay is shared with the Halifax rugby league team so the pitch showed some signs of wear, especially just outside the away-end penalty area.
HALIFAX TOWN: (Blue shirts and socks, white shorts). 1. Craig MAWSON, 2. Rob SCOTT, 18. Cortez BELLE, 5. Adam QUINN (capt), 3. Matt DOUGHTY; 17. Daryl TAYLOR, 4. Steve BUSHELL, 6. Tom KEARNEY, 10. Lewis KILLEEN; 9. Darryn STAMP, 8. Andy CAMPBELL. Subs: 7. Danny FORREST, 12. Ryan TOULSON, 14. Jake WRIGHT, 20. Steve TORPEY, 21. Russell FRY.
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, 19. Chris SENIOR, Subs: 10. Rod THORNLEY, 12. Joe O'NEILL, 14. Stephen ROSE, 16. Cavell COO, 17. Colin POTTS.
Against a backdrop of strong vocal support from the travelling fans, Chris Senior kicked off against his former club, with Alty attacking the home end. Halifax had the better of the opening stages and after 5 minutes Stuart Coburn soon had to be out smartly to head the ball out of play. A foul by Aspinall on Taylor increased the pressure on the visitors as Halifax gained a freekick, 25 yards out. But both sides were having some difficulty with the slippery surface.
The first real effort on goal arrived on 7 minutes when Munroe's clearing header fell kindly for Killeen, who volleyed narrowly over the bar. But, in their next attack, a long ball up the Halifax inside-left channel saw Tinson get under the ball and succeed only in heading it back over his own head to the advancing Andy Campbell. As Coburn rushed out of his goal, Campbell, from left of goal, neatly slotted the ball into the net, off the inside of the far post to give his side an early lead (8 mins).
Campbell should have scored again a minute later when he was played in behind the defence, slightly right of centre, but the ball ran off his knee and Coburn was able to smother it (9 mins). But Alty then did get to the other end and, though Little slipped as Aspinall's cross from the left came in to the goalmouth, the ball was worked back to the Alty striker by Lawton. Little got back into the box but elected to go alone rather than find Senior and he was dispossessed before he could shoot. There was then a collector's item as Senior, conceding about seven inches in height to Quinn, won an aerial challenge against the big centre-back.
Alty had another scare moments later when Tinson slipped as the ball failed to bounce as predicted but Coburn rushed out and dived to the edge of his box to cuff the ball away amidst claims of having handled outside the penalty area, which the well-placed referee correctly waved away, for which he received a cheery thumbs-up from the Alty number one. A harsh challenge by Bushell then left Whalley in a heap but play continued with the Alty midfielder injured. After treatment on, and then off, the pitch from physio Sean Riley, Whalley eventually resumed but somewhat gingerly (15 mins).
Alty won the game's first corner, which Sedgemore whipped in under the bar to the near post but Quinn got it away. For Alty, Chris Lane was again impressing at the back with his calm and efficient defending and careful distribution. Indeed, Alty as a team were now settling after their slow start to the game. But with the rain now having stopped, they suffered a blow which was later to prove costly when Lawton was booked rather harshly for a foul on Killeen (21 mins). Moments later it got worse as Halifax made it 2-0. The goal came as Stamp clipped the ball to his right, over the back-pedalling Aspinall, to the feet of Taylor on the right wing. The former Tamworth man advanced towards the by-line before delivering a perfect cross for the unmarked Campbell to head home (22 mins). This was the sixth goal that Alty had conceded in their last 46 minutes of Blue Square football!
Halifax then kept up the pressure by winning a corner. With all eleven Alty players inside their own box it was no surprise when the visitors' clearance came straight back into the Alty area and a second corner was conceded. Eventually Alty got to the other end where Whalley's freekick came to Aspinall but his cross drifted out for a goalkick (28 mins). On their forays into the Halifax half Alty were to be caught offside on several occasions but when Senior's goalbound volley from Aspinall's cross deflected off a defender, they did gain another corner kick. But another offside decision soon followed against the visitors.
Alty got back into the match courtesy of an error by Halifax captain Quinn, from Aspinall's long ball. The defender failed to get the ball back to Mawson and allowed Little to steal in and chip it accurately over the keeper from left of goal to make it 2-1 (33 mins). Barely two minutes later Quinn was again involved as hesitation once more in the front-centre of the home side's penalty area led Mawson to swat the ball away whilst his hands were outside the box. The referee immediately blew his whistle but then curiously felt the need for a long discussion with his assistant. Mr Brown eventually confirmed his decision that Mawson had handled outside the box and awarded Alty a free kick in the penalty "D" but then only produced a yellow card for Mawson who, from the NL Paper's account, had also narrowly escaped a sending-off last Saturday at Weymouth as well. But some degree of justice was done from the freekick. As Whalley lined it up for a left-footed curler, he stepped over the ball allowing Sedgemore, to his left, to drive the ball right-footed into the bottom of the net to the keeper's right for a very well taken goal (37 mins). All four goals had arisen to varying degrees from mistakes in central defence.
Having looked likely to be on the end of a heavy defeat after 22 minutes, Alty had regained parity. Halifax immediately withdrew Taylor and brought on Forrest. The combative Bushell then clattered his friend and former team-mate Colin Little and from Sedgemore's resulting freekick, Mawson got the ball away with an unconvincing flap to Lawton on the Alty right. Lawton elected not try an immediate chip over the stranded keeper and the chance disappeared. But Alty now had their tails up whilst Halifax seemed deflated by letting their lead slip. The former Chester and Llanelli defender, Belle, was looking a good acquisition at the back for the home side, however, but Mawson still seemed less than convincing when he punched weakly clear from Lawton's centre, as half-time approached. Three added minutes were played, during which Bushell came off worse in a collision with Tinson but the whistle sounded soon afterwards to conclude a very eventful half.
|Half-Time: HALIFAX TOWN 2 ALTRINCHAM 2|
After the interval, Whalley, who had taken a knock from Steve Bushell in the first half, did not appear. He was replaced by Joe O'Neill who initially operated in the same left-flank position. Chris Senior continued to cause Halifax concerns with his direct running and when Little played an excellent ball for him it took prompt action from Mawson to get to the ball marginally first. Soon afterwards Little was caught late by Forrest and the Halifax player was booked (51 mins). Two minutes later Senior followed him into the ref's book for a foul near halfway (53 mins). The home side now went through a barren spell, their passes finding the stands rather than colleagues with a regularity which had the unforgiving crowd getting on their backs. Indeed Altrincham were enjoying a lot of possession themselves without seriously threatening to score, and the visiting supporters continued in good voice.
Former Alty winger Steve Torpey then came on to replace Stamp for Halifax (57 mins) but the home side continued to misfire. Play drifted on past the hour mark and slowly improved in quality with the impetus switching from end to end by the time that Alty made another change. This was when Cavell Coo came on, making his Alty debut, to replace Chris Senior (67 mins). Coo, who operated as a left-back for Crewe Alexandra but also played in midfield for Alty in pre-season, surprisingly assumed the role of striker. As a youngster he had been a prolific scorer in junior football so this was perhaps not as odd a move as it seemed at first.
Alty were grateful to Coburn after 70 minutes when Belle's ball forward found Campbell and the Alty keeper made a great save from the striker’s shot, to concede a corner. Coburn then touched the corner to concede a second flagkick but this came to nothing. After Aspinall had gone upfield to take a freekick, Killeen exploited the space to find Campbell but as the striker advanced into the right of the box, Lane made an excellent covering tackle, though he made clear to the linesman that he felt the Halifax man was offside in any case. By this stage, Coo had swapped positions with O'Neill but both looked on as Owen was lectured for protesting about being penalised when even the Halifax fans in the main stand felt that his opponent had simply lost his own footing. O'Neill was soon involved when he tried to get on the end of Lawton's cross from the right but his flying header only diverted the ball well away from goal (76 mins). For Halifax, Torpey threatened a couple of times on the left but his crosses were poor.
Though playing out of position, Aspinall got in some excellent challenges at left-back, none more so than on Campbell as the game went into the final ten minutes. Alty made their final change after 83 minutes when Potts came on for Little, and assumed the role of lone striker rather than playing on the right wing as usual. Altrincham seemed to be reasonably comfortable at this stage but that all changed in the 88th minute when Lawton jumped in with a two-footed tackle on a Halifax player on the edge of the pitch, 20 yards from the Alty goal. Having been booked in the first half, referee Brown now produced a second yellow card, followed by a red, to reduce Alty to ten men. Lawton, who had started every Altrincham league game since joining last summer, will now have to sit out the next match. He left the field pointing angrily at the linesman who had flagged the incident, which occurred right in front of him. After another excellent Aspinall tackle had seen off an attack, the referee signalled a surprisingly long four minutes of added time. At the start of this Quinn nodded a ball forward for Torpey whose well-hit shot was met by another of Coburn's magnificent saves and though Halifax laid siege to the Alty goal for the remainder of the added time, the visitors held firm to clinch their first point of the season. They will have been far happier with the point than the Halifax team, some of whose supporters showed their displeasure with half-hearted booing at the final whistle.
A draw was probably a fair result but both sides will have concerns over their first-half defensive lapses. Alty boss Graham Heathcote must be particularly bemused by a defence which, so far this season, has kept a clean sheet for 66 minutes (last Saturday), then conceded six goals in 46 minutes (Saturday and tonight), only to go on and keep another clean sheet for 68 minutes (tonight). This was ultimately a good team effort by Altrincham but had there been a Man of the Match award, Chris Lane would have been a leading contender, along with Stuart Coburn for his magnificent saves.
|Full-Time: HALIFAX TOWN 2 ALTRINCHAM 2|