Altrincham 6th v Spennymoor Town 7th
Vanarama National League North
Saturday, 7th March 2020
Saturday kicks off what many are regarding as a make-or-break month for the Robins. With five games scheduled, and four of them coming against sides inside the playoff places, the league is set to take shape massively over the course of March.
So, this is the first of those four cliched six pointer games. Alty welcome Spennymoor Town to the J Davidson Stadium, who edged an enthralling 3-2 encounter back on 11th February. Less than a month on, Phil Parkinson and his side will be looking to learn from the mistakes that cost them a share of the points in a game where three may not have been undeserved.
Altrincham took the game to the hosts that evening and caused problems throughout the ninety minutes, but a defensive lapse and a wonder goal proved costly. The Robins were duly punished in a game played in baltic conditions.
As has been the case for the most part this season, Alty have bounced back well since the defeat. The two away fixtures over the past 25 days have produced six points and two clean sheets, with victories coming at Blyth Spartans and Hereford. This is form that will need to be carried into tomorrow's fixture with Spennymoor Town on a fantastic run of their own; their victory over the Robins comes as part of a nine game unbeaten run in all competitions.
One to watch: James Roberts. The forward is in fine form for Spennymoor.
It's been a while since the J Davidson Stadium saw some action. In the time since the 1-1 battle against a resolute Kettering Town, Elliott Durrell has joined the club and scored three in three. Fans who have been unable to follow Alty across the country over the past month will no doubt be eagerly anticipating his home debut.
Altrincham: WDLWW (F13 A5)
Spennymoor Town: WDWWD (F13 A6)
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Elliott Durrell and Jordan Hulme played out their own private goal of the day competition as Altrincham strengthened their grip on a top-seven finish at the expense of play-off rivals Spennymoor at The J.Davidson Stadium.
Durrell set Alty on their way with his fourth goal in as many appearances, an exquisite curling shot beyond the reach of keeper Matt Gould in only the third minute.
Hulme doubled the lead with an equally-impressive curler from the left of the area, and though Spennymoor reduced the arrears early in the second half, Alty restored their two-goal advantage with a Tom Hannigan header.
The icing on the cake came from Hulme in the final moments, another inch-perfect curled effort that gave Gould no chance and continued Alty’s relentless march towards another appearance in the play-offs.
A swirling wind looked like making life difficult for both sides, but it didn’t pose too much of a problem for the prolific Durrell, who again made the task of finishing from anywhere inside the area appear simplicity itself.
Shaun Densmore was heavily involved in the build-up, combining with Josh Lundstram on the right and hoisting a cross deep into the area towards Hulme.
When the ball fell to Durrell, 15 yards out on the left of the goal, he looked up for an instant and briefly considered his options before calmly curling a right foot shot beyond keeper Matt Gould and into the far corner of the net.
Alty could hardly have wished for a better start than further evidence of the extra dimension Durrell has brought to their play, and they looked eager to add to their attacking midfielder’s early breakthrough.
They almost succeeded a couple of minutes later, with Lundstram once again instrumental in troubling Spennymoor’s defence.
The on-loan midfielder seized possession inside his own half and strode forward purposefully before finding Dan Mooney, who cut in from the right and hammered a left-foot drive that flew wide of the far post.
Given the goals that have been shared by these two teams in recent times, it was no surprise that chances presented themselves at both ends of the pitch.
Most went Alty’s way, but there was a moment of concern for the home side in the 11th minute after James Jones strained for a header close to his own area, when he may have been better off allowing it to run through to Tony Thompson.
All the Alty defender succeeded in doing was playing Mark Anderson through on goal, but he made amends in a way that has become his trademark, eating up the ground with his long, loping stride and blocking the winger’s shot with a sliding challenge.
It was otherwise Alty forcing the pace in a lively first-half, as Spennymoor’s defence found themselves increasingly stretched.
Josh Hancock was next to threaten in the 13th minute, fastening on to the ball on the right and cutting in alongside the edge of the area before slightly mishitting a left-foot shot that Gould saved, diving to his left.
Gould was being kept busy, and not just by players in red and white stripes. When Durrell whipped a deep cross towards the far post in the 22nd minute, left-back Stephen Brogan chose to head it back to his keeper from no more than two yards out.
It was a test of Gould’s reflexes, but, much to Brogan’s relief, he proved to be up to it, as he spared his team-mate’s blushes by flinging his arms up and taking a clean catch high above his head.
Alty kept their foot firmly on the pedal and went close again in the 29th minute, when Hulme latched on to a Mooney pass, bore down on goal and looked sure to score until being denied by a saving tackle by Tyler Forbes at the expense of a corner.
There was no denying Alty, though, or Hulme, in particular, as the growing pressure yielded a second goal in the 39th minute.
Connor Hampson and Durrell spread uncertainty through the Spennymoor ranks on the left and gave Hulme the chance to demonstrate that, when it comes to wriggling out of tight spots inside the area, he has few equals at this level.
The Alty striker had his back to goal on the left corner of the Spennymoor area, with seemingly nowhere to go. A couple of seconds later, he was celebrating a brilliant individual goal after turning and sidestepping his close marker and curling an unstoppable shot inches inside the far post.
Alty started the second half in the same vein, peppering the Spennymoor goal with shots in the hope of extending their lead and making the game safe.
Hancock underlined the attacking intent that had been evident most of the afternoon, turning and hitting a 48th-minute shot that brought the best out of Gould, who went full length to his left to pluck it out of the air.
Hampson got in on the act a minute later with a fierce angled drive from the edge of the area that took a slight deflection off a defender as it flashed narrowly wide of the far post.
Any thoughts of it being a procession for Alty were banished by a goal out of the blue in the 51st minute, as the visitors hauled themselves back into the game in dramatic fashion.
There appeared to be nothing on for Brogan as he looked up the best part of 30 yards from goal, but, sensing the wind may come to his assistance, he suddenly let fly with a venomous shot that flew past a startled Thompson.
It was a piece of opportunism that gave the Alty keeper little chance and which, understandably, gave Spennymoor a timely lift.
The lead was suddenly looking a little precarious and it might have disappeared altogether six minutes later when Roberts cut in from the right, along the bye-line, and hit a shot that Thompson blocked with his knee.
If Alty’s nerves were beginning to jangle, they were grateful for the soothing effect of a third goal, courtesy of the redoubtable Hannigan in the 67th minute.
Mooney’s left-wing corner arrowed its way to the edge of the six-yard area, and no-one was going to stop the Alty centre-back getting his head to it and powering a close-range effort past Gould.
It was an emphatic finish, typical of Hannigan when it comes to winning an aerial duel, but credit to substitute Tom Peers, who showed brilliant control and admirable persistence on the left, moments after coming on, to win the corner.
Still the Spennymoor threat could not be discounted - Robert Ramshaw forcing a brilliant reflex save from Thompson in the 73rd minute - but Alty were good value for a win that reinforces their promotion play-off credentials.
And there could be no complaints whatsoever from the visitors when Alty made it four a minute from time with a sublime finish by Hulme.
Densmore played the ball inside to Hancock, and when it was relayed on to Hulme on the left, the Alty striker looked up, saw Gould no more than a yard off his line and coolly, almost nonchalantly, clipped a shot beyond his reach into the far corner.