Stevenage would have counted themselves fortunate had they taken just one point from this match but for them to take all three, with a goal deep into stoppage time, was very hard on Altrincham. The hosts had taken the lead after 22 minutes when Colin Little converted a penalty after he had been brought down inside the box after being played into the box by Robbie Lawton. It was a lead Altrincham deservedly held until the 71st minute when Coburn came for an aerial cross, was unable to get the ball, and Drury looped a header over a defender on the line to equalize. Altrincham continued to play well but in the third of five added minutes at the end of the game a freekick from 35 yards out led to the ball coming to the ex-Northwich defender Roberts, who lashed the ball home from the edge of the box. It was extremely tough on an Altrincham side which had made the play-off chasing visitors look very ordinary. James Smith was Alty's man of the match.
REFEREE: Mr I. Smedley
Whilst Altrincham had taken seven points from their last three unbeaten home games, Stevenage were even more of an in-form side. They had gone 15 games without defeat in all competitions, scoring 37 goals in the process.
Before the game there was an unusual episode when referee Smedley judged the goalposts at the Carole Nash end to be out of the perpendicular. This prompted hurried remedial work before the players took to the field. But those who game were to be treated to an entertaining game.
With loan players Jordan Hadfield and Jody Banim having played their last games for Altrincham, manager Graham Heathcote had just 16 fit players available including two keepers. Chris Lane was deprived of his 350th Conference apperance by illness, whilst Robbie Lawton only played after recovering from an ankle injury suffered in training. After suspension, Stuart Coburn returned to the starting line up in place of Richard Acton
Stevenage were without defenders Ronnie Henry and Eddie Anacalet but goalkeeper Chris Day had recovered from illness to replace veteran Ashley Bayes. Former Northwich boss Dino Maamria was in the Stevenage technical area, where he was later joined by manager Graham westley.
ALTRINCHAM (Red and white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks): 1. Stuart COBURN; 22. James SMITH, 4. Mark McGREGOR, 5. Greg YOUNG, 3. Matt DOUGHTY; 21. Shaun DENSMORE, 7. Robbie LAWTON, 16. Anthony DANYLYK; 14. Dale JOHNSON, 19. Chris SENIOR, 9. Colin LITTLE. Subs: 12. Joe O'NEILL, 11. Warren PEYTON, 18. Michael WELCH, 23. Richard ACTON, 10. Chris DENHAM.
STEVENAGE BOROUGH (Blue shirts, with white and yellow trim, blue shorts and, socks): 16. Chris DAY, 5. Jon ASHTON, 6. Mark ALBRIGHTON, 14. Mark ROBERTS, 3. Scott LAIRD, 23. Andy DRURY, 18. David BRIDGES, 24. Michael BOSTWICK, 21. Mitchell COLE, 10. Lee BOYLAN, 20. Steve MORISON. SUBS 1. Ashley BAYES, 2. Lawrie WILSON 19. Callum WILLOCK, 8. Gary MILLS, 30. Peter VINCENTI
Altrincham kicked off towards the away end but it was the visitors who had the better of the opening exchanges, gaining a corner in the third minute but only because Mr Smedley wrongly judged that a cross from the right, which evaded both Coburn and Smith had been deflected out by the defender. Whether he realised his error or not, Mr Smedley blew for an Alty freekick as soon as the corner came over from the visitors' left. Soon afterwards Dale Johnson's flick-on set Senior completely free but he was given offside but his shot was, in any case, saved by Day (4 mins). Twice in the early stages Ashton got up the right wing for Stevenage, towards the corner flag, and got in a cross. From the second of these, the referee awarded a Stevenage corner.
Following the corner, Matt Doughty cleared of the line at the back post (7 mins). Stevenage continued to have the better of things as Bostwick's finely struck 25-yarder was well held, low down, by Coburn (8 mins). As last week against Woking, Altrincham were not getting much help from the officials who again chose to ignore a number of tugs, holds and pushes off the ball, with Johnson being the main victim. Altrincham then did well as Little got past a couple of men to the by-line, left of goal and when Chris Senior won back possession, he was felled for a freekick.
Doughty's low freekick was then spilled by Day but unfortunately no one was on hand to tap the ball into the empty net and a defender toe-poked it away. Altrincham were now more than holding their own as Stevenage failed to make any clear openings. Indeed, Morison, who scored almost a goal a game in his 15 outings was well controlled by the Alty defence throughout the game. From a Doughty throw, on the left, Little - who was looking much sharper than in his limited recent appearances - lashed a superb 25-yard shot at goal which Day did very well to turn away for a corner on the left.
A couple of minutes later play continued as Johnson was laid low by a foul but it worked to Alty's advantage as Doughty fed Lawton and, from the left, he laid the ball into Little’s path inside the outer reaches of the penalty area. The Alty striker was clearly brought down by Roberts, the former Northwich defender, and Mr Smedley pointed to the spot. Colin Little prepared to take it, having missed twice recently from the spot. This time, he beat the keeper though not altogether convincingly, as the ball seemed to go through Day's legs into the net - as pictured, right (22 mins).
Right: Goalkeeper Day almost sits on the ball as it goes through him into the net from Colin Little's penalty kick
Johnson continued to get little change out of Mr Smedley as he endured more off the ball interference from his markers but the home side were now getting the upper hand. When Johnson battled his way through a couple of challenges, Day made a fine save to tip the ball away for a corner. From this, Greg Young seemed to collide with Drury who, in turn, collided with the post and needed treatment (32 mins). Stevenage's Ashton also seem out of sorts as he came to the bench to discuss an apparent neck injury. Johnson soon excelled again as he burst powerfully into the box once more, past a couple of challenges, only to see his shot blocked. But Altrincham were well on top now and it took a brilliant tip over the bar from Day to deny Little from his excellent 30-yard dipping shot. Doughty's resulting corner was caught by Day (33 mins).
Densmore too was impressing with some sharp challenges and, throughout the team, Altrincham were working hard to close down Borough. Stevenage eventually got Wilson on to the pitch to replace the ailing Ashton, their first attempt having been thwarted by the fourth official not being ready to show his electronic board sufficiently quickly (36 mins). Next, the former Canvey Island striker Lee Boylan found himself booked for a crude challenge on Smith (39 mins). Johnson and Densmore then combined well with Senior, only for the latter to see his effort cleared off the line. From the resulting corner Young had a clear header but put it over the bar to underline his side's inability to finish off opponents. The Robins have scored a single goal in each of their last six league games but have only scored twice in a game on one occasion in their last ten outings. So, half -time arrived with just a single-goal advantage to Altrincham.
|Half-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 0|
Altrincham started the second half well with Johnson and Senior linking well but the resulting shot by Little was mishit (46 mins). Little then had a half-chance which he put wide (48 mins). Stevenage were looking far from a side which had such a tremendous unbeaten run behind them and this impression continued as they failed to create any real chances in the early part of the second half. Play then stopped for treatment to Cole and soon afterwards McGregor was booked as he brought down Morison as the striker span past him on the right wing, 40 yards from goal. Doughty then had to be alert to get the ball just ahead of Cole inside the Alty box (58 mins). But, at the other end, Johnson again impressed, getting to the by-line to win a corner and soon afterwards his hooked shot at goal yielded another corner kick for Altrincham.
Drury was now booked following a foul on Danylyk (62 mins) as Altrincham looked fairly comfortable with their lead. A Stevenage corner came and went (65 mins) before a foul by Albrighton on Senior earned him a booking (66 mins). From Doughty’s freekick Little hit an underpowered shot at goal as Stevenage manager Graham Westley gave substitute Vincenti detailed written instructions as he prepared to come on. Vincenti finally replaced the booked Albrighton who petulantly threw down his water bottle as he sat down on the bench (70 mins).
Following a foul, Little got a ticking off for apparently blocking the taking of the freekick. Coburn came out to deal with the freekick, from about 40 yards out, but he was unable to get past an opponent to punch the ball clear and it fell to Drury whose header from 15 yards looped over an Alty defender on the line and into the corner of the net to level the scores (72 mins). Stevenage soon won a corner as their levelling the scores had lifted their previously very moderate performance. Following this corner, a bullet-shot from Bostwick was brilliantly beaten out by Coburn for another corner. From this Vincenti tamely headed to Coburn.
Stevenage continued to press as the game entered the final 15 minutes. Welch came on for Senior in the 77th minute and Alty reverted to 4-4-2, with Densmore dropping into the back four with Welch, Young and McGregor, whilst Doughty and Smith moved into midfield.
Each side then won a corner apiece before Johnson needed treatment from Alty's stand-in physio. Next Joe O’Neill came on for Johnson (82 mins). The game's outcome remained on the balance as the two sides each went for a win. As the ninety minutes ended and five added minutes were signalled, Peyton replaced Doughty for Altrincham and Boylan gave way to Willock for the Borough (90 mins). Just after Smith and Day had been named as the respective men of the match, Stevenage stole the points. The goal came after Lawton had conceded a freekick against Laird, 25 yards out. The kick was half-cleared but fell to the unmarked Roberts on the edge of the box. The defender fired a firm shot into the net to secure the three points which his side barely merited (90+3 mins).
In the fifth added minute, Welch got into the box and the ball seemed to be handled by a defender. Mr Smedley waved away the strong penalty appeals and Borough reached the final whistle with a win which was very tough on Altrincham. The part-timers had more than matched their opponents and their fine performance deserved something more than it got from the game.
|Full-Time: ALTRINCHAM 1 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 2|