*Pretty good in pink! Tony Thompson was on top form at The Shay on Monday. Picture by Michael Ripley.
A new pitch awaits Altrincham's players tomorrow when they launch their programme of Vanarama National League home fixtures for the 2020/21 campaign. ED PAINTER sets the scene for the visit of Dover Athletic.
The Robins will be aiming to get back to winning ways this weekend as they host Dover Athletic at The J. Davidson Stadium, our first home game of the season.
Following Alty’s opening day heroics against Torquay United, winning 3-1 at Plainmoor, Phil Parkinson’ men were brought back down to earth on Bank Holiday Monday, losing 2-0 on the road to FC Halifax Town.
On an excellent playing surface at The Shay, the hosts started on the front foot, with Harvey Gilmour coming close before Matty Warburton forced Tony Thompson into a spectacular save on the half-hour mark.
Altrincham grew into the half and could have entered the break ahead, only for Marcus Dinanga to scuff his close-range effort in added time.
However, the Shaymen resumed control in the second period and soon had the lead after 59 minutes, through Jordan Slew, who drove the ball into the back of the net.
Josh Hancock almost levelled three minutes later, collecting the ball before drilling it over the crossbar from within the Halifax penalty area.
But after A-Jay Leitch-Smith forced home ‘keeper Sam Johnson into a smart save, Billy Waters went up the other end in the 84th minute to put the game to bed for the hosts, capitalising on a poor clearance to turn the ball home.
Following that result, the Robins dropped to 13th in the table, 15 points clear of Saturday’s visitors, who started the season on -12 points.
The last time the sides faced one another was on October 31, 2020, with an early goal from Fisayo Adarabioyo enough to secure a 1-0 win for Alty.
Signed from Curzon Ashton earlier in the month, the striker tapped in from close range after 11 minutes to grab his first goal for the club.
Adebayo Azeez had a chance to equalise but volleyed wide before Altrincham goalkeeper Tony Thompson made a stunning save to deny Steven Rigg.
Thompson frustrated Rigg again before half-time, with Azeez firing another effort over as Dover hunted for the equaliser.
Yusifu Ceesay curled wide for Altrincham, for whom Thompson made another fine save late on to deny Marvel Ekpiteta and secure his side three points.
Installed by many as favourites for the drop this season, Dover face a real challenge to retain their place in the National League, owing to the 12-point penalty and £40,000 fine they were handed for failing to fulfil four fixtures between February 16 and 27.
However, that has not stopped them from building a competitive side, bringing the likes of Ricky Miller, Ben Williamson, Aaron Cosgrave, Koby Arthur and Henry Woods to The Crabble.
So far this season, the Whites have lost both of their opening two games, losing 2-0 to Maidenhead United, before suffering a narrow 1-0 defeat to Boreham Wood.
In their most recent outing against The Wood, defender Jamal Fyfield had the first half-chance of the match for the visitors, volleying over at the far post, before the hosts forced Nathan Ashmore into a smart save to keep out Aaron Cosgrave's strike.
It was Boreham who took the lead four minutes before the break when Kane Smith's low cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by Goodman.
The visitors continued on the front foot after the interval but were unable to add to their score, with Will Evans heading straight at Dover goalkeeper Josh Bexon.
Dover are managed by Andy Hessenthaler, who took charge at The Crabble Stadium in October, 2018 following the sacking of Chris Kinnear, who had spent the previous five years at the club.
A combative midfielder on the pitch for the likes of Watford, Gillingham and Barnet, Hessenthaler had great success as Athletic’s player-boss between 2007 and 2010, winning back-to-back promotions to take Dover from the Ryman South Division to the Conference South.
And after ending the 2009/10 season as runners-up in the second tier of non-League, Hessenthaler returned to Gillingham as boss for two campaigns, steering the Gills to two consecutive eighth-place finishes in League Two.
A third stint at Gillingham followed two seasons later, this time as assistant boss, and he held a similar role at Leyton Orient the following year, before being made manager at Brisbane Road in 2016.
Dismissed by the O’s later that same year, it wasn’t long before Hessenthaler was back in football, joining Eastleigh before the start of the 2017/18 season, initially as assistant-manager, before taking over from Richard Hill as boss just eight months after joining the club.
Hessenthaler left the Spitfires 15 games into the 2018/19 campaign for a Dover side second-bottom of the National League on seven points. Athletic were not in the relegation zone for long as Hessenthaler successfully steered them to safety with three games to spare, as Dover finished last season in 13th place on 60 points.
Last two league games
Altrincham: WL (F3 A3)
Dover Athletic: LL (F0 A3)
Listen to the game Live on Radio Robins
You can listen to live commentary on Radio Robins, sponsored by Ashley Mowers Garden Machinery. The broadcast starts at 2.45pm.
The match commentary sponsor is Andy's Man Club.
The commentary team is Paul Salt, Mark Simpson and Andy Ainsworth.
You can listen to Radio Robins in any of the following ways:
1) By visiting our Match Centre on the club website
2) Download and install the Mixlr app on Android devices from the Google Play Store - start the app and search for 'Radio Robins'.
3) Download and install the Mixlr app on Apple devices from the Apple Store - start the app and search for 'Radio Robins'.
*Pen pals .. Ben Pringle, A-Jay Leitch-Smith and Dan Mooney join Ryan Colclough in celebrating his late spot-kick winner. Picture by Michael Ripley.
The long-awaited return to something approaching normality was perfectly encapsulated at Moss Lane on Saturday - a bumper crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder inside The J.Davidson Stadium and a grandstand finish capped by a dramatic late winning goal.
It was like the good old days, a throwback to pre-Covid times, with Alty fans filling three sides of the ground and the players responding to the vibrant atmosphere they created with some dazzling approach play and clinical finishing.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Alty without a bit of pure theatre thrown in for good measure, this time provided by Ryan Colclough, who, with time running out, picked himself up from being dumped on the turf and steadied himself for a second or two before drilling an unerring penalty into the bottom corner to seal a richly-deserved 3-2 win.
How these moments have been missed by football fans in general during lockdown and how Alty fans, in particular, lapped it up on Saturday afternoon as the Robins twice came from behind against a spirited Dover Athletic side before snatching the points with four minutes plus added time remaining.
Manager Phil Parkinson could hardly have wished for a better start to Alty’s programme of home matches, and much of the credit must go to his intervention midway through the second half, when the introduction of substitutes A-Jay Leitch-Smith, in the 66th minute, and Ben Pringle, just two minutes later, sparked the late surge towards a second win from three games so far.
Pringle’s industry and dynamic running kept Parkinson’s side pouring forward in search of an equaliser, at 2-1 down, while Leitch-Smith provided it with an expertly-taken first goal in Alty colours, prior to Colclough holding his nerve with an ice-cool spot-kick winner that raised the roof at the Gold Road end.
An immaculate new playing surface proved every bit as conducive to Alty’s smooth passing style as everyone expected, though Dover served early warning they would be no pushovers, despite a 12-point penalty and losing start to the campaign appearing to make their plight insurmountable at the foot of the table.
Ricky Miller fired narrowly wide from the edge of the area in the fifth minute, and Dover were in front three minutes later when Aaron Cosgrave set up Koby Arthur for a left-foot finish past Tony Thompson.
Colclough responded by brilliantly weaving between two markers on the left and cutting across the edge of the area before finally finding space for a shot that went fractionally wide.
It could have been 2-0 to the visitors in the 19th minute and surely would have been but for Brad Jackson instinctively sticking out a boot to block a close-range Cosgrave effort that was clearly heading for the Alty net.
It was an outstanding piece of anticipation by summer signing Jackson, who slotted in seamlessly at right-back and augmented his defensive duties with some bright attacking play that frequently troubled the Dover defence.
It also enabled Alty to draw level when, after Toby Mullarkey had a point-blank header saved seconds earlier, Dan Mooney fired home a brilliant 21st-minute equaliser.
Joel Senior provided the assist, cutting in from the left and rolling the ball towards Mooney, who made light of being at right angles to the Dover goal. It meant an instant shot had to be executed with perfect timing, and Mooney did just that with a first-time left-foot effort that fairly flew into the bottom corner.
Connor Kirby fired over in the 29th minute, after Mooney controlled a Colclough cross beyond the far post and teed him up, and Marcus Dinanga was denied by an excellent save after Jackson’s right-wing cross caused more uncertainty in Dover’s defence a minute later.
The Dover threat could never be discounted, for all Alty’s impressive approach work, and it took an exceptional reflex save by Thompson from a close-range header to prevent the visitors taking the lead again following a 37th-minute corner.
That lead was subsequently restored when, out of the blue and against the run of play, Cosgrave took aim in the 57th minute and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
It was a hammer blow that could have knocked the stuffing out of Alty, but Parkinson was determined nothing would spoil the script on a pitch specially designed for accumulating home wins.
So it proved, as the Alty boss sent on Leitch-Smith and Pringle in quick succession to pep up his side’s attacking endeavours and saw it reap the rewards he was hoping for.
With Pringle driving the team on in the middle of the park, Alty were back on terms in the 71st minute, as Leitch-Smith followed a piece of admirable control at the far post with an assured finish to make it 2-2.
With time ticking away and the Golf Road in full voice, a dramatic last-gasp winner surely beckoned. We’ve seen it before and we saw it again, as Colclough burst into the area on the left and had his legs taken from under him by a despairing lunge by defender Danny Collinge.
All eyes on the referee, Scott Simpson. Twice, previously, Dinanga and Senior had looked imploringly towards him without success after being upended in the area, but there was only one decision he could make this time - penalty to Alty and a yellow card for Collinge.
Step forward, Colclough, impervious to the pressure of a rammed Golf Road holding its collective breath and Alty's patchy record from the penalty spot, to say the least, over the years.
As the Alty winger advanced a few paces and swung his right boot through the ball, Dover keeper Josh Bexon guessed correctly and flung himself full length, but to no avail. It was already past him, nestling in the corner of the net, and the points were in the bag.
What a start to the home campaign from a squad that looks to have enough strength in depth to allow Alty boss Parky to bring on genuine quality whenever he feels it is needed. There will be sterner tests ahead, no doubt, but 1800-plus Alty fans headed home happy after those timely second-half changes reinvigorated the Robins and added another successful outcome to the lengthy list of Moss Lane cliffhangers.