Ammies Turn It Around To Send Alty Down
Salford City overturned a half-time deficit to beat and relegate Altrincham
SATURDAY 1st APRIL 2017
VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH
SALFORD CITY 2 ALTRINCHAM 1
0-1 Gary JONES (37th min)
1-1 Sam Walker (52nd min)
2-1 Simon Grand (61st min)
In the end the result went the way the league table suggested it might but on a day when Salford revived their play-off push and Altrincham’s relegation was confirmed, the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story. Apart from perhaps a 20 minute spell at the start of the second half the Ammies never really hit their stride all afternoon, but after going behind before the interval they scored twice in the second half then endured a nervous finish to a match they pretty much had to win.
With injury, suspension and unavailability eating into the squad there were changes from the side that lost at Boston last week. At left-back Patrick Brough made way for Steve O’Halloran whilst further upfield Josh Hine, Brad Barnes, David Norris and Richie Allen were out with recalled from loan John Johnston, Sam Walker, Harry Panayiotou and Nick Haughton coming in.
A damp and dull morning gave way to a sunny afternoon and within the game’s first minute Alty’s Damian Reeves worked possession to James Lawrie whose effort flew over the crossbar.
Salford created their first opening in the 5th minute after Johnston played a neat one-two with Panayiotou before slinging in a tempting cross that was just a little bit too high for Mike Phenix in the middle.
Lawrie and Reeves combined again with 8 minutes played but this time it was the former whose clever pass played the latter into space, inside the area and right-of-centre. Reeves had netted 165 times for the Robins before today and must have fancied number 166 was on the cards but Michael Nottingham had spotted the danger and got across to make a timely blocking challenge.
There was a break in play as Altrincham defender Tom Hannigan required treatment and although he was able to resume, his afternoon would not last too much longer.
In the meantime Alty looked the more likely side in front of goal and just before the quarter hour Simon Richman tested Jay Lynch with a 20 yard stinger that the Salford keeper managed to parry.
The game got a little bit scrappy for a while but what attacking play there was seemed to be in Salford’s half of the pitch. Alty were using the flanks pretty well and threatened again in the 26th minute. Richman and Gary Jones moved the ball from left to right where ex-Salford skipper Chris Lynch’s low pass inside picked out Nicky Clee on the edge of the box. This was a decent chance but from a central position Clee could only hit a shot that cleared the bar by a fair distance. A couple of minutes later Clee was involved again, throwing long from the right to find the head of Jones, but he could only place an effort wide of Jay Lynch’s left-hand upright.
On the half-hour Hannigan’s injury forced him to retire, with Sam Heathcote coming on to slot in at right-back and Chris Lynch moving across to play in the centre of defence.
That rearranged defensive formation was tested within 60 seconds when Johnston – who has been in fine form on loan at Nantwich Town – picked up Nottingham’s pass then cut in from the right before hitting a low pass into the danger area. The ball spun off Andy McWilliams before being punted clear by Chris Lynch and that modest chance was the best Salford had managed for some time. Another followed in quick succession as Johnston again made progress on the right before aiming a low ball at the near post. Panayiotou and Chris Lynch contested that one but neither could make a telling contact and the ball ran across the face of the goal and away from danger.
The Ammies appeared to have woken up and skipper Simon Grand’s lofted ball down the middle dropped just over Panayiotou and then a few feet beyond Phenix as Stuart Tomlinson came out to collect.
Better from Salford but Alty were still looking decent going forward and 10 minutes before the break Clee’s cross-field ball from the left found Lawrie. Fortunately for Salford O’Halloran got in an effective challenge but a couple of minutes later the visitors went ahead. A Lawrie corner from the left was headed clear at the near post, only for the ball to drop into the path of Jones. The midfielder is now firmly in the ‘veteran’ stage of his long career but his ability to strike a ball remains undiminished. A rising thunderbolt of an effort, from 25 yards and right-of-centre, gave Jay Lynch no chance at all as it zipped inside his left-hand post and Alty had in spectacular fashion
taken the lead they probably deserved.
Salford are no strangers to chasing a game at the moment but they were struggling profoundly for attacking fluency and Alty were getting men behind the ball. Nevertheless Nick Haughton almost managed to pick their defensive lock in the half’s penultimate minute when the Fleetwood loanee picked up an O'Halloran pass, left-of-centre and almost 30 yards out, then hit a dipping effort that dropped just outside the far post. Seconds later Sam Walker’s right-of-centre free-kick from deep dropped to the edge of the 6-yard box but despite the sliding Billy Priestley getting a touch Tomlinson did enough to push the ball around his right-hand upright.
Another frustrating first half for Salford – who haven’t managed to score before the break in any of their last 9 games – but it could have been even worse. As we entered time added on Lawrie’s picked up Laurence Taylor's cross-field pass and his run on the left run took him into the box. The subsequent shot struck the outstretched hand of Sam Walker and despite the assistant flagging, presumably for the penalty, the referee ignored him – and Alty’s players – as he waved play on. It was a case of ball to hand, with no real intent on the Salford midfielder's part but we've seen those given plenty of times before.
HALF TIME: SALFORD CITY 0 ALTRINCHAM 1
Plenty of work for the Ammies to do but you have to suspect they were ‘encouraged’ to persevere during the half-time team-talk. They were certainly back out on the pitch early and started the second half at an improved tempo.
Five minutes after the restart Johnston did well on the right keeping his balance despite a foul, then playing a low pass into the area for Nottingham. A pull-back was aimed towards Panayioutou, on the nearside of the 6-yard box but he hit the turf under a combined challenge from Chris Lynch and Heathcote, with the referee deciding enough unfair contact had been made to warrant a penalty. Alty’s protests were waved away before Walker stepped up and kept his nerve to place a low finish to Tomlinson’s left with the keeper committed the other way.
A perfect start to the second half from Salford’s point of view but Alty countered from the restart and Lawrie went down under a challenge inside the area. It didn’t look like too much contact was made and the referee agreed, ignoring the Altrincham striker’s objections.
With the home supporters encouraged, the Ammies began to exert concerted pressure on Altrincham’s defence and very nearly snatched the lead in the 56th minute. Priestley’s long throw-in from the left took a touch from Nottingham was allowed to bounce inside the area and Grand got in a header that rose into the air then dropped onto the top of the crossbar and out of play for a goal-kick.
After that Anthony Johnson & Bernard Morley made a double substitution, replacing Panayiotou and Haughton with Craig King and Jordan Hulme. The Ammies were after another goal but still had to keep an eye on Alty’s lively strikeforce. On the hour the visitors won a free-kick, centrally positioned, 30 yards out and substitute Heathcote’s effort dipped just over the crossbar.
A scare for Salford but they responded positively, heading down to the other end of the pitch to take the lead. Nottingham’s long throw from the right was a good one and Priestley was there yards out to take the ball down and hook an effort towards goal. Tomlinson made a good save, moving quickly to his right to push the ball away but luck was to be against him on this occasion. Alty’s defence was stretched and Grand reacted more quickly than Jones at the far post, slotting into the net from a few yards out for his 8th goal of the season.
A captain who leads by example – much like the chap wearing Altrincham’s number 2 shirt – and Salford City were very much back in business.
As the Robins had discovered, a single goal lead can prove flimsy and Salford went looking for a 3rd that would earn them some breathing space. Nottingham flicked a pass up the right for Johnston but Tomlinson got to his ball into the 6-yard box just before Phenix. Hulme initiated the next attack, sliding a pass to the left for O’Halloran to run on to and the Republic of Ireland international delivered a very good cross towards the far post. McWilliams got there just before Johnston to head over his own bar but this had been Salford’s best spell of the afternoon.
It wasn’t over yet, either and in the 66th minute Johnston’s corner from the left was met by Priestley but he could only glance a 6 yard header narrowly wide of Tomlinson’s left-hand post. Johnston was at it again midway through the second half, making it to the line on the right before whipping in a cross that had Chris Lynch diving full length to head over his own crossbar.
The Ammies were on top and with 20 minutes left Hulme turned back inside after a run that took him to the left hand side of the area. The substitute had added directness and pace to Salford’s afternoon but his low effort was half-hit and ran tamely through to Tomlinson.
Altrincham had made 2 substitutions of their own and the pair combined to almost very good effect in the 72nd minute. A blistering turn of pace from Micah Evans took him away from King on Alty’s right and the cross from the line was a good one. Andy Owens had to twist and stoop to meet it and was unluckly to see his 8 yard header drop just wide of Jay Lynch’s right-hand post.
Close for the Robins and they had another penalty shout a minute later as Owens chased a long ball into the Salford penalty area. Grand had gone with him and after contact was made Owens hit the turf only for his claims for a penalty to be dismissed. It looked like a decent shout but once again the referee was unconvinced and the Ammies still had their narrow advantage.
Having looked relatively comfortable for a while Salford now seemed a little rattled but could have made the game safe with 7 minutes left. Another run from Johnston ended with a left-of-centre effort from the edge of the box but the on-target effort spun off Hulme and out for a goal-kick.
Nerves in the home ranks were jangling again in the 85th minute as Heathcote’s free-kick from the right was headed back inside from the far side of the area by Chris Lynch for Owens to try a 12 yard overhead kick that struck the bar before dropping behind for a goal-kick.
Alty were determined to extend the National League North life for another week at least and when the ball dropped for Jake Moult on the right hand side of the box his lofted effort dropped just over the bar. With two minutes left the visitors were piling pressure on and after Jay Lynch failed to get much distance on a punched clearance Richman lofted the ball back into the box. A scramble ensued and Moult's shot was blocked by Grand on the line with the rebound being diverted back towards goal. Salford's grounded skipper managed to get his head to the ball - virtually at ground level to prevent the equaliser, although there was a suspicion that the touch had come off his arm. Grand needed treatment after that spot of last gasp defending and Alty's bench made their disappointment at another penalty shout being rejected pretty apparent.
With two minutes left the visitors were piling on more pressure and during a scramble inside Salford’s area two shots on goal were blocked by Grand, the second with his head whilst almost grounded. Once again Alty’s players surrounded the referee demanding a penalty for handball, presumably against Grand, but the second of those dramatic clearances did seem to come off his head and he had to have treatment to a hand injury apparently inflicted by an Altrincham boot.Great play from the skipper whose sheer force of will had driven the Ammies on during the second half.
The match highlights later suggested that Alty were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty or two of their own but they didn't get any of those decisions. They continued to throw everything at their opponents as the clock ran down but Salford just about held firm to hold on to their one goal advantage. In the 6th minute of time added on King and Hulme combined on the left but the latter’s toe-bunged effort drifted well wide of the far post.
FULL TIME: SALFORD CITY 2 ALTRINCHAM 1
A first win in four attempts for Salford who hold on to 4th place in the league as a result. The race for the play-offs is tight, with a number of sides aiming to clinch 2nd place and a couple of the current frontrunners face the unpleasant prospect of missing out on the play-offs altogether.
For Altrincham a season that has been marked by constant struggle has ended in the relegation that has haunted them all through the campaign. They gave a good account of themselves today and in truth did enough to earn a share of the spoils. A point would have staved off mathematical relegation for at least one more week but this has been a year to forget for the Robins and their supporters.
As for the Ammies – another less than convincing showing from a side that has hit a rocky patch of form at exactly the wrong time of the season. The first half would have left a neutral unable to decide which of the two sides was chasing promotion and during the final 15 minutes the Robins went close to an equaliser on at least 3 occasions.
Salford were much better after the interval - particularly during the second half's opening 20 minutes and could have pushed the game beyond Altrincham's reach during that spell. Winger Johnston was influential during his first game back after an impressive loan spell with NPL Premier promotion chasers Nantwich Town and could yet have a big part to play in Salford's season.
In the final analysis it’s the 3 points that counts, and they are in Salford’s bag this evening. We have 5 very big games to play before the regular season ends and the pendulum has swung back in the direction of Moor Lane today. The story of another dramatic season moves on to Harrogate Town next Saturday – a first win in 4 attempts this season against the Yorkshire side would be a huge boost but there will have to be an improvement in the level of performance. Now is the time for all 11 – indeed, all 16 – to step up to the plate and emulate those individuals who do it week in and week out.
1) Jay Lynch
2) Michael Nottingham
3) Steve O'HALLORAN
4) Scott Burton
5) Simon Grand (c)
6) Billy Priestley
7) John Johnston
8) Sam Walker
9) Mike Phenix
10) Harry PANAYIOTOU
11) Nick Haughton
12) Fraser Horsfall
14) David Norris (for PHENIX, 80th min)
15) Craig King (for PANAYIOTOU, 57th min)
16) Jordan Hulme (for HAUGHTON, 57th min)
17) Josh Hine
1) Stuart TOMLINSON
2) Chris LYNCH
3) Andy McWILLIAMS
4) Laurence TAYLOR
5) Jake MOULT (c)
6) Tom HANNIGAN
7) Simon RICHMAN
8) Gary JONES
9) James LAWRIE
10) Damian REEVES
11) Nicky CLEE
12) Sam HEATHCOTE (for HANNIGAN, 30th min)
14) Micah EVANS (for REEVES, 68th min)
15) Andy OWENS (for JONES, 68th min)
16) Sam PATTERSON
17) Tim DEASY (GK)
Booked: Lynch, Moult
Referee: Mr. Paul MARSDEN
Assistants: Mr. Jack NIELD & Mr. Nathanael COX