Nantwich Town, three rungs below Altrincham in the non-league pyramid, deservedly beat the Robins 5-3 on penalties in the Cheshire Senior Cup Final on Tuesday night, after the sides had been level 3-3 at the end of extra time. A hat-trick from the Dabber's Slovakian ex-Crewe and Stafford substitute, Pawel Suhaj, was the key to their success, after Altrincham had taken the lead in the 33rd minute through Chris Senior, following good work from Colin Little. But Alty were second best for much of the game, with passes frequently misplaced and, though the surface was poor, that was no excuse for their defeat. The 6ft 4inch Suhaj came off the bench in the 68th minute and within three minutes had levelled the scores, converting a left-sided corner. Three minutes from the end of normal time he put his side ahead only for Ryan Shotton, pushed up front for the final minutes, to equalize in the first of three added minutes. Alty twice could have snatched the Cup in the remaining minutes before extra time arrived. Suhaj then was allowed an eternity to turn and score his hat-trick goal three minutes into the first period of extra-time, only for Shotton to grab another late equalizer, chesting down Lawton's cross before scoring, two minutes into the second period of extra-time. In the penalty shoot-out Nantwich converted all five spot-kicks confidently but Alty's first, by substitute Jake Sedgemore, was saved, allowing the Dabbers to run out 5-3 winners from the penalty spot. Alty can point to the absence of seven of their first-team squad (Lynch, Tansey, Turnbull, Roca and Battersby were ineligible and both King and Owen were injured, though the latter warmed the bench), but their performance was simply not good enough and will need to be much improved if they are to keep their BSP status in the coming weeks
REFEREE: Mr. D W Stewart (Wallasey)
Alty were without seven of their first-team squad (Lynch, Tansey, Turnbull, Roca and Battersby) who were ineligible either because they had not signed before the semi-final stage or had played for another club in the competition, and both Liam King and Val Owen were injured, although Val warmed the bench). However, Alty started with many regular first teamers (Coburn, Tinson, Lawton, Young, Peyton, Lane, Shotton, O'Neill) whilst recent fringe players such as Jake Sedgemore and Pat McFadden remained on the bench. Manager Graham Heathcote was also absent, as he was sizing up his team's next opponents, Kidderminster Harriers. Ryan Shotton moved to left-back with Chris Lane taking the right-back berth.
Nantwich arrived in a strong position near the top of the UniBond First Division South whilst Altrincham had been enduring a season of struggle against better resourced Blue Square premier outfits. So the Robins were in the rare position tonight of being favourites against a club three steps lower than them in the non-League pyramid.
ALTRINCHAM (Red & white striped shirts shirts, black shorts and red socks) 1. Stuart COBURN; 15. Chris LANE, 5. Darren TINSON (capt), 10. Greg YOUNG, 16. Ryan SHOTTON; 19. Chris SENIOR, 23. Ryan TOULSON, 7. Robbie LAWTON, 11. Warren PEYTON; 9. Colin LITTLE, 12. Joe O'NEILL. Subs: 2. Steve ASPINALL, 3. Gary SCOTT, 6. Jake SEDGEMORE, 8. Val OWEN, 18. Pat MCFADDEN.
NANTWICH TOWN : 1. Lee JONES, 2. Paul DONNELLY, 3. Gyorgy KISS, 4. Richard SMITH, 5. Paul TAYLOR, 6. Phil PARKINSON, 7. Ashley CARTER, 8. Glyn BLACKHURST, 9. Andy KINSEY, 10. Adam BEASLEY, 11. Danny GRIGGS. Subs: 12. Pawel SUHAJ, 14. Ryan DICKER, 15. Nick LINFORD, 16. Nathan SOUTHERN, 17. Mark FITTON.
Nantwich brought strong support with them as they faced an Altrincham side playing their third CSC tie this season at Wincham Park, having already beaten both Runcorn Linnets and Witton Albion at this stadium, which they ground-share. Alty kicked off in dry but breezy conditions on a fairly bare and bobbly playing surface. Nantwich began the better and won the first corner. They also produced the first decent shot of the game when Carter got clear up the right and though his cross seemed to be aided by a handball from Blackhurst, Griggs got in a low shot which Coburn saved (6 mins). Altrincham rallied to win a corner themselves but Peyton's corner was cleared. Coburn then comfortably dealt with another Nantwich effort (10 mins) before play went through a scrappy few minutes. When Taylor clattered O'Neill from behind, the Dabbers' defender became the first player to be booked (17 mins). But Nantwich continued to be the better side as Kiss got past Toulson and forced another save from Coburn (19 mins).
Soon afterwards, however, Altrincham had a decent effort when Lane’s well-hit shot from 30 yards went narrowly wide (20 mins). But Altrincham continued to labour, finding it hard to keep possession as they gave the ball away repeatedly with poor passes. Coburn then had to be alert to save a 30-yard half-volley by Blackhurst that moved in the air (25 mins). It was the Dabbers who continued to get shots in at the Alty goal rather than vice versa as now Kinsey relayed a goalkeeping clearance to Beasley. He fed the lively Griggs who fired over the bar (27 mins). Coburn had to make another save, albeit routine, after 31 minutes but it underlined that the impetus was with the UniBond League side. But then Alty went close when Peyton's cross was cleverly headed on by Little but it went narrowly wide (32 mins). Next, against the run of play, Altrincham took the lead. The goal came when Little did well on the left and from his cross Senior drove the ball home from 12 yards or so (33 mins). It was the Alty striker's first goal in 2008.
But Nantwich stuck to their task and it took a fine tackle by Shotton to stop another attack. But then Alty won a corner through Little but Peyton's corner kick was poor, curling it into the sidenetting at the near post (40 mins). Play was fairly even as half-time approached and indeed Altrincham enjoyed their best spell of the game so far. But in added time an unnecessary foul by Shotton gave Nantwich a freekick just outside the box and though Griggs' kick was heading for the top corner, Coburn covered it well to catch the ball (45+1 mins).
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 NANTWICH TOWN 0|
At the interval striker Joe O'Neill was replaced by midfielder Jake Sedgemore. Alty started shakily with Coburn putting three kicks into touch in the opening ten minutes. In the meantime Altrincham had a good chance to wrap the game up when Beasley played a suicidal back pass (known to Alty fans as "doing a Logan") which Chris Senior intercepted. But driven wide, Senior was unable to find a team-mate with his low cross from the right of the six-yard box (49 mins). Coburn soon had to save from Kinsey before Little’s half volley from the edge of the box ran comfortably to Jones in the Nantwich goal (51 mins). Nantwich's Donnelly was then booked for a foul on Senior in the "D" of the penalty area which led to lengthy treatment to Senior before Sedgemore's freekick went over the top as it was deflected for a corner (55 mins).
Altrincham's Shotton became his side's first player to be cautioned when he committed a foul near the middle of the pitch. As another Alty move broke down after just a couple of passes, the three-divisions gap between the side was far from evident. Soon Lawton was lectured for a foul on Beasley (60 mins) Then Kinsey had a shot blocked before Young surged upfield but lost the ball just inside the Nantwich half. Town won the game's next corner for which Altrincham showed the ultimate respect by bringing back all ten outfield players (65 mins). When Nantwich won another corner in the 68th minute they made their first substitution, bringing on 6ft 4inch Pawel Suhaj, a Slovakian forward who had been released last season by Crewe Alexandra. He replaced Beasley (68 mins). Coburn caught the corner at the second attempt before Suhaj went close within a minute of his introduction, his shot going just wide of the post (69 mins). But the big striker did not have to wait long to score. A cross from the right glanced off the Slovak's head to Blackhurst, whose fierce shot from left of goal was blocked at the near post by Coburn at the cost of a corner on the Nantwich left. From the corner Suhaj scored to make it 1-1 and even Altrincham could not complain at the levelling of the scores (71 mins).
Alty continued to labour as Coburn fielded a shot from Nantwich’s Hungarian defender, Kiss. Then Chris Lane saw a yellow card for a foul on Griggs. With ten minutes left to play, Ryan Toulson was replaced by Gary Scott for Alty, the new man going to left back. When Lane got in a cross from the right, goalkeeper Jones caught it comfortably and seemed to strain himself in the process but he managed to play on. Next Sedgemore fed Little but he mishit his shot weakly to the keeper (81 mins). Alty then won a corner after a foul on Little had given them a freekick (85 mins). After this Little advanced on the right and fed Peyton but his shot went badly wide. A minute later and Alty fell behind as Kinsey relayed a ball up the middle to Suhaj who fired it past Coburn to make it 2-1 (87 mins). It looked to be all over for Altrincham as added time was announced as being three minutes . But when Lane got in a cross in the first of those minutes, Shotton, now pushed forward, used his physique to win the ball near the edge of the box, before driving it firmly into the bottom corner of the net to the keeper’s left to maintain Alty's toehold in the match (90+1 mins). Indeed, Altrincham could then have stolen the trophy as Senior advanced to the right of goal but his shot was beaten out. Added time ended with a Coburn save (90+3 mins).
|90 mins: ALTRINCHAM 2 NANTWICH TOWN 2|
The second period of extra time started badly for Robbie Lawton with two poor passes but he then made amends with the run and cross from the right which found Ryan Shotton, who chested the ball down before netting his second goal of the night to make it 3-3 (107 mins). Now Pat McFadden made a belated appearance on the left wing in place of Peyton (108 mins), and Nantwich brought on Linford for their captain Parkinson. After Little had shot wide Nantwich's star man, Suhaj went down, and after treatment it was clear he could not last out. After hobbling around for a minute or two, he was substituted by Southern (112 mins). He has only played 44 minutes but had hit three goals in that short time. Alty had a decent chance to win the game four minutes from the end when Sedgemore fed Little for a volley but he mishit it. Nantwich showed no signs of fatigue as the game progressed towards the final whistle which arrived after one minute of added time.
So, a penalty shoot out was called for, with Nantwich winning the toss for the first spot-kick:
Nantwich Town were worthy winners of the Cheshire Senior Cup and will go back to their games in the UniBond League with renewed confidence of promotion. Altrincham, on the contrary, will need to forget about this lacklustre display as the cup-tied players return this Saturday for a vital league match at Kidderminster. April Fools' Day it may have been, but this was no laughing matter for Altrincham.
|After Extra-Time: ALTRINCHAM 3 NANTWICH TOWN 3|
Nantwich Town win 5-3 on penalties.