ALTRINCHAM (0) 0 GRAYS ATHLETIC (0) 1
Above: Richard Acton saves Kedwell's penalty.
Altrincham remain without a league win this season as Grays took the points thanks to a headed goal by Jon Ashton from Charley Hearn's freekick, which Alty defended poorly, in the 54th minute. Alty had had a goal ruled out after just 90 seconds of the first half for offside but, for much of a generally scrappy match, Alty lacked the guile to unlock the Grays defence. Richard Acton kept Alty in the game when he saved Kedwell's penalty folowing a trip by O'Neill on Barnard (62 mins). The Robins' unhappy afternoon was compounded when Colin Little was shown a red card after an incident which was reminiscent of his dismissal against Northwich last season (86 mins). The striker had been blocked off as he entered the box by Ashton who had spent most of the afternoon pushing Joe O'Neill with impunity. Little foolishly reacted to the situation and though Ashton very clearly then pushed Little with both hands, the Grays man escaped any censure from the referee, Mr Merchant who was roundly booed off at the end.
REFEREE: Mr R Merchant
Stuart Coburn was absent at a wedding so Richard Acton made his first start of the season in goal. Robbie Lawton returned after suspension and Gary Scott also got his first start of the campaign at left-back, allowing Warren Peyton to push on to his favoured position in left midfield. Jake Sedgemore had failed a fitness test whilst Chris Senior was on the bench as Joe O'Neill partnered Colin Little up front.
Grays had Danny Kedwell up front after his hat-trick against Kidderminster.
Grays are always welcome at Moss Lane after chairman Mick Woodward helped out Alty over their 18-point deduction last season,. With the likes of Kightly and McLean having moved up into the League and with several changes of manager in recent seasons, the Essex side has a new look under current manager Justin Edinburgh.
ALTRINCHAM:(Red & white striped shirts, balck shorts and red socks) 1. Richard ACTON; 15.Chris LANE, 4. Karl MUNROE, 5. Darren TINSON (capt), 3. Gary SCOTT; 7. Robbie LAWTON, 8. Val OWEN, 21. Gareth WHALLEY, 11. Warren PEYTON; 12. Joe O'NEILL; 9. Colin LITTLE. Subs: 2. Stephen ASPINALL, 10. Rod THORNLEY, 14. Stephen ROSE, 17. Colin POTTS, 19. Chris SENIOR.
GRAYS ATHLETIC (All yellow): 1. Ross FLITNEY; 2. Andy SAMBROOK, 14. Jon ASHTON, 4.Jamie STUART (capt), 21. Ernie COOKSEY; 30. James LAWSON, 20. Donny BARNARD, 16. Charley HEARN, 7. Dennis OLI; 10. Danny KEDWELL, 18. Ben WATSON. Subs: 3. Adam GROSS, 8. Aaron O'CONNOR, 9. Craig McALLISTER, 12. Danny KNOWLES, 15. Jamie DAY.
Moss Lane had an unusual atmosphere today as the Popular Side was unpopulated, on health and safety grounds, due to the work on the new floodlights. Indeed, before the game, the spectators were entertained by the sight of one of the folding pylons having its lights fitted and being winched up into position. Currently all four of the pylons on that side of the pitch are in place but only three have their lights fitted at the top.
Right: From foreground to background, Whalley, Owen and Lawton compete in the Alty midfield.
On an overcast but fairly warm afternoon, Alty kicked off towards the Golf Road End and inside ninety seconds they had the ball in the net after Lawton's cross had found Peyton and his wayward shot had fortuitously fallen nicely for O'Neill to poke home, but offside was given. Otherwise, both sides made faltering starts to the game and when Grays won an early free kick Alty got all eleven behind the ball to signal their intentions of tightening up at the back for the afternoon after conceding nine goals in their three previous matches. There was a curious incident when O'Neill was penalised for handball only for the freekick to be instantly handled by a Grays player but this was about as good as it got for the first ten minutes. Hearn then volleyed a shot very wide as Alty boss Graham Heathcote shouted to his side to "Get switched on" (12 mins).
Grays slowly began to look the slightly better of two average sides and when Munroe was caught not concentrating and allowing Grays to advance up the right, the Alty boss justifiably went ballistic at his central defender but Alty got away with only conceding a throw-in. But this throw led to the first decent shot of the game as Kedwell forced a good save from Acton at the near post which gave Grays a corner on their right (18 mins). With Joe O'Neill getting no protection from the referee as Ashton repeatedly held him, Altrincham were having difficulty keeping the ball upfield.
However, Gary Scott was doing well out of position at left-back but striker Colin Little had to keep coming very deep to get the ball. Meanwhile, in midfield Val Owen was having a quiet game and Gareth Whalley was struggling to find his men consistently. Lawton was energetic but his passing, too, was erratic and the stuttering performance continued as O'Neill was booked for a foul on Knowles in the centre circle (26 mins). But O'Neill was soon involved further upfield when a good Alty move ended with the striker's header hitting a defender amidst appeals for handball in the box (28 mins). Then Alty threatened again when Lane's cross found Peyton but he shot wide (31 mins). At the other end Kedwell volleyed wide from a cross from the Grays' left.
The atmosphere was all a bit flat as the game drifted past the half hour mark but Grays then won a corner off Tinson. Hearn's kick flashed across the goalmouth and a few minutes later Alty won a corner themselves, which was taken short and, following which, Flitney dropped a cross leaving Peyton to attempt a lob from the left which went wide and although the ball came back to Owen the threat came to nothing (36 mins). The impressive Lawson then cut in from the Grays left and fired a curling shot just past Acton's right post (38 mins). As half time approached Grays netted but had the effort ruled out for offside (44 mins) and in the one added minute of the half Gary Scott injured himself when kicking the ball and had to hobble to the interval whistle. Half time duly arrived with Alty having recorded a creditable clean sheet against a side which had hit five in its last game but without looking too threatening themselves at the other end of the pitch.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 0 GRAYS ATHLETIC 0|
As an innovation Altrincham came out early for the second half and indulged in a brief game of passing the ball whilst in a circle. Coincidentally or as a consequence of this new routine, they then started the second period quite promisingly. After Little had miskicked a shot, it fell to Peyton who then scuffed his effort wide from left of goal (48 mins). With Ashton continuing to hold O'Neill every time the ball was played forward to the target man, Mr Merchant continued to fail to act. Alty now replaced Scott, who had been crocked before half-time and Aspinall took his place (49 mins). With Lane his unflappable self at right back Alty continued to have the better of the second half but they were feeling aggrieved at some of the officials' decisions and none more so than when linesman Yates signalled a throw to Grays when he was behind Lawton and could not see that the ball had been kept in play. But when Lawton conceded a freekick to Grays 25 yards on the left touchline, it was the defining moment of the game. Hearn's freekick from the left was nothing out of the ordinary in either pace or guile but the Alty central defence did not move and allowed Ashton a clear header which he despatched past Acton to give Grays the lead against the second-half run of play (54 mins).
Two minutes later Alty won a freekick on the "D" of the penalty area but Whalley's effort curled over the bar. Grays then forced Acton to make a good save at the second attempt from another Hearn freekick, following which Lane was booked for a foul on Oli (60 mins). At this point Grays brought on the former Gresley striker Aaron O'Connor for Ben Watson up front. From the freekick the Alty defence again froze and Kedwell's header forced a fine save from Acton at the cost of a corner. This was half cleared but O'Neill then tripped Barnard just inside the front of the Alty box and referee Merchant pointed to the spot. Kedwell drove the penalty to Acton's right but the Alty keeper made an excellent low save, grabbing the ball at the second attempt.
But with Alty now looking less than threatening they nevertheless persisted with the same eleven as Grays won two more corners before the 70th minute and held off Alty quite comfortably when they attempted to go forward. Finally Colin Potts came on for Whalley after 75 minutes. But after a disappointing cross from Lawton, Grays won two more corners before Rod Thornley joined the game in place of O'Neill (77 mins). Alty continued to work hard but with no real threat being created to the Grays' goal as the game went into the final ten minutes. But with Acton's penalty save having kept them in the game, there was still the hope of salvaging a point. With six minutes left Little chased towards the edge of the Grays' box but was impeded by Ashton who seemed more intent on blocking the Alty man than playing the ball. The Alty striker took exception and Ashton retaliated with as clear a two-handed push as you will ever see. In almost a replay of a similar incident on virtually the same spot of the pitch last year against Northwich Victoria, it was Little who was shown the red card whilst Ashton escaped with no punishment at all. In the ninetieth minute Grays brought on Gross for Lawson before four minutes of added time started. The referee continued to annoy the home support as Peyton was felled but no freekick was given but though Mr Merchant gave Altrincham few benefits today, the reality was that Grays had shown the better attacking movement and defending even if their only goal had owed as much to Alty's defensive shortcomings as to their own skills.
Although Alty remain third from bottom above the pointless Stafford Rangers and Crawley Town (assuming the Sussex outfit's six points deduction is actually enforced), all the teams at the bottom clubs failed to win today as the BSP table already began to split into the haves and have-nots. But with just four games gone, a win in the Bank Holiday clash with Stafford on Monday could lift Alty up half a dozen places and give them a launching pad for climbing the table. To do that they will need to improve on today's performance and, in particular, show more spark in midfield and pace up front where today they showed minimal threat to a Grays defence which itself looked competent rather than world class.
Goalkeeper Richard Acton was a deserving Altrincham Man of the Match but his reward is likely to be his replacement by the regular number one, Stuart Coburn on Monday at Stafford.
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 0 GRAYS ATHLETIC 1|