If the Cheshire Senior Cup quarter final against Runcorn Linnets, from four steps lower in the non-League Pyramid, was an opportunity for Altrincham to build confidence, it was not one that they took, as they three times failed to hold onto a lead before clinching the tie. It took Alty 120 minutes to overcome the hardworking Vodkat League side by the narrowest of margins, 4-3.
The evening had started well with a well-taken goal from the edge of the box by Mark Beesley in the 10th minute. But when Runcorn got to the by-line behind Robbie Williams, five minutes later, it became 1-1 as Mooney bundled the ball home at the back post.
Alty made it 2-1 when Joseph's late run into the box ended with him glancing a header into the net from a Clee freekick after 23 minutes. Mooney levelled again, eight minutes after the break, following a slip by Joseph, before Alty took the lead for a third time when Holsgrove found the net at the third attempt from a Reeves cross in the 74th minute. As with Beesley and Joseph before him, this was Holsgrove's first goal for Altrincham making it a trio of first-time scorers.
Two minutes from time Lawton levelled the game again after Coates failed to gather a corner kick. And so, to extra time. when leading scorer Reeves got the decider seven minutes into extra time, with a simple header home from a Holsgrove cross. The goal took his tally to ten for the season, so far.
Alty then held on their lead to record a hard-earned victory and earn a semi-final tie at home to Alsager Town on Tuesday, 8 February.
REFEREE: Mr William Smallwood
Altrincham brought in James Coates in goal whilst Damian Reeves, Robbie Lawton, Shaun Densmore and Wes Baynes dropped to the bench. Clee, Holsgrove, Smith and Danylyk all returned after illness and injury.
This was Altrincham's first visit to the Linnets' stadium as their previous encounter had been during the club's period of groundsharing at Witton. After heavy rain earlier in the week, the pitch was quite heavy but nevertheless perfectly playable, in cold but dry weather.
RUNCORN LINNETS (Yellow and green hoops): 1. Daniel Eastham, 2.Lewis Savva, 3. Chris Fitzsimmons, 4. Matt Jones, 5. Chris Lawton, 6. Phil Mooney, 7. Sean Pearson, 8. Rob Bodie, 9. Matthew Rigby, 10. Robert Whyte, 11. Matthew Atherton. Subs: 12. Paul Prescott, 14. Phillip Holland, 15. David Dempsey
ALTRINCHAM (Red and white and black): 21. James COATES, 2. James SMITH, 4. Marc JOSEPH, 5. Robbie WILLIAMS, 15. Ryan BROWN, 20. Sam HEWSON, 12. Kevin HOLSGROVE, 11. Nicky CLEE, 16. Anthony DANYLYK, 19. Mark BEESLEY, 9. Michael TWISS, Subs: 1. Stuart COBURN, 6. Shaun DENSMORE, 7. Robbie LAWTON, 8. Damian REEVES, 17. Wes BAYNES,
After a fairly quiet and even opening, Altrincham posed the first real threat when Clee, who was impressive in the opening period, went forward and keeper Eastham could not hold his shot, but a defender cleared the danger (9 mins). A minute later a neat move ended with Beesley and Clee exchanging passes before Beesley netted his first goal for Altrincham since joining a month ago, initially on loan from Fleetwood (10 mins). His well-drilled, low shot from the edge of the box kissed the inside of the base of keeper Eastham's right-hand post as it went into the net.
The lead lasted just five minutes before Atherton got round Robbie Williams on the right of the Alty back line and his low cross was met by Mooney who managed to turn the ball into the net at the back post, despite the close attentions of Holsgrove (15 mins). The tannoy attributed the goal to Rigby but the Vodkat League later confirmed it was, indeed, Mooney who had scored.
Beesley then fired wide before a fine shot from Hewson was beaten out by Eastham (20 mins). One of several fouls on Nicky Clee, who had looked the biggest attacking danger to the hosts, led to an Altrincham freekick to the right of goal some 25 yards out. Clee himself took the kick and Joseph, who had arrived late in the centre of the box, evaded any marking to glance a header into the net to make it 2-1 to Altrincham (23 mins). As with Beesley, it was also Joseph's first goal for Altrincham.
Alty now looked fairly comfortable as some more deft touches from Beesley and three corners underlined. But as the interval approached Runcorn themselves got forward. However, the nearest they came to a goal was a cross form the left which went across the Altrincham goalmouth.
|Half-Time: RUNCORN LINNETS 1 ALTRINCHAM 2|
Runcorn made a change at the interval as Holland replaced Bodie. Alty had also switched around their back line so that Williams moved from the right to the centre, Joseph moved from left to centre and Smith from centre to left.
Six minutes into the half Bodie wasted a decent chance as he sidefooted over the bar but the hosts were, nevertheless, soon level. They advanced on the right and, when Joseph slipped, the resulting cross allowed Mooney to slot the ball past Coates to make it 2-2 (53 mins). Coates was soon in action again, smartly smothering a through ball.
James Smith, who had earlier been goaded by the home spectators, was pushed into the perimeter fence. But given that the defender had suffered a bad injury when a Fleetwood player did a similar thing to him earlier this season, Smith was not best pleased and threw the ball at the offender - not just once, but twice. He escaped with a lecture but the Alty management immediately withdrew him and sent on Densmore (56 mins).
After 63 minutes, as Alty failed to get going in the second half, Baynes and Reeves came on for Twiss and Beesley. Densmore was now making an impression getting forward on the right. However, Alty's threat was undone by poor final balls.
But, eventually, they did get ahead for the third time in the game when Densmore's ball forward was cleverly left by Clee to feed Reeves. From right of goal his cross found Holsgrove beyond the back post. From point-blank range, but with the angle meaning he had little to aim at, his header hit the keeper and it took a couple more stabs with his foot for Holsgrove to score and record his first goal for the club - the third Alty player to record such a distinction in this game (74 mins).
A couple more Alty corners came and went but they were unable to get a two goal lead. Baynes's pace was giving Alty an outlet but as the tie went into the final ten minutes the home side raised its game again. Rigby gave way to Prescott (84 mins) and the Linnets' pressing paid off when Lawton glanced a header home as Coates came out but did not get to a well taken inswinging corner (88 mins).
Despite two more corners apiece before the end of normal time, the scores remained locked at 3-3 and extra time was necessary.
|90 mins: RUNCORN LINNETS 3 ALTRINCHAM 3|
The Linnets wobbled for a few minutes after this blow but then regained their composure. Shortly before the end of the first period of extra time Holsgrove was put through by Clee but got the ball under his feet and went down injured. After lengthy treatment from Sean Riley for what initially looked like cramp, the tall winger could not continue.
With Alty 4-3 up the final period of extra time started and Holsgrove missed the first seven minutes of it before resuming. Alty's ten men saw off a couple of Runcorn corners in this period before Baynes was upended in the Runcorn box. What seemed a clear penalty to many, did not do so to Mr Smallwood and play continued (112 mins).
An Alty corner and unnecessary foul by Hewson, which earned him a booking, marked the closing minutes before the game ended with Altrincham having earned a semi-final place at home to Alsager Town by the narrowest of margins. Hopefully the effort of 120 minutes of football on a heavy pitch will not have an adverse effect on Alty's FA Trophy performance this Saturday at Blyth Spartans.
|After extra time: RUNCORN LINNETS 3 ALTRINCHAM 4|