Altrincham will have the chance to get back to winning ways this weekend, following a period of isolation, when they welcome promotion-chasing Notts County to The J. Davidson Stadium.
Having put on a show at home against Dover Athletic three weeks ago, coming from behind twice to secure a 3-2 win, Alty were left to rue their bad luck at Wealdstone as Medy Elito’s last-gasp penalty condemned Phil Parkinson’s side to a 1-0 defeat.
The visitors were under the cosh early on, as Josh Umerah and Rhys Browne both caused the Altrincham defence plenty of trouble.
The Robins grew into the game, with Ryan Colclough and Marcus Dinanga firing into the side netting, before Dan Mooney curled the ball inches over the crossbar.
Loanee midfielder Connor Kirby suffered a serious leg injury midway through the second period, causing a long stoppage in play while he received treatment.
And with almost no time left on the clock, not long after Brad Jackson was shown a straight red card, Alty were left stunned as the referee pointed to the spot for a handball against Matty Kosylo, with Elito stepping up to hand the Robins their second loss on the road this season.
You can watch the highlights of that 1-0 defeat by pressing play below.
Following that result, and with the Robins were forced to cancel their next two games, Alty slipped to 15th in the Vanarama National League table, nine points behind Notts County in fourth, having played three fewer games than the Magpies.
This will be the first meeting between the sides since last season’s match at The J. Davidson Stadium on 1st May. On that occasion, there was nothing between sides, as Alistair Smith’s strike was cancelled out by Ruben Rodrigues just before the break.
Having almost teed up Mooney moments earlier, Smith went one better in the 24th minute to open the scoring, collecting the ball just outside the Notts penalty area before rifling it into the bottom right corner.
The visitors grew into the game as the half went along and, just before half time, they equalised through Rodrigues, who stepped up to fire his free-kick over the wall and into the back of the net.
After a flat opening to the second period, Notts called Tony Thompson into action a couple of times and the Alty shot-stopper made some important saves to deny goal-bound efforts from Kyle Wooton and Enzio Boldewijn.
The Robins pushed hard for a winning goal, as Tom Peers, Joel Senior and Ryan Colclough all came within a whisker of breaching the County defence, but despite a much-improved performance from Parkinson’s men, they couldn’t find the winning goal their performance probably deserved.
You can watch the highlights of that 1-1 draw by pressing play below.
After relegation from the Football League for the first time in their 157-year history, following a disappointing 2018/19 season, Saturday’s visitors will be keen to ensure that their stay in the National League is a brief one.
This is their third season at this level, having endured two unsuccessful play-off campaigns previously, losing to Harrogate Town in the 2019/20 final at Wembley before falling to Torquay United in last season’s semi-final at Plainmoor.
Currently, the Magpies have made an impressive start to their latest campaign and remain unbeaten after winning four and drawing three of the seven games they have played. Our visitors also seem to have discovered their goal-scoring touch very early on, finding the back of the net 15 times to give them the second-best scoring record behind Dagenham & Redbridge.
However, despite their early dominance, Notts have found things more difficult on the road this season, with their last two away games against Wrexham and Weymouth ending all-square. A slightly more troubling trend is that they let the lead slip on both occasions.
Sitting in fourth, just two points behind table-topping Chesterfield, the Magpies do enter this game on the back of successive victories over Wealdstone and Maidenhead United, results which helped cement their place as early promotion contenders.
In their last outing against Maidenhead, a side who have been struggling to arrest a poor run of form, Notts went ahead after 48 minutes when Kyle Cameron headed a corner back into the danger area, with Alex Lacey getting the final touch to prod the ball home.
County had a great opportunity to double the lead after 68 minutes when they were awarded a penalty, but Callum Roberts saw his spot-kick saved by Rhys Lovett.
The hosts kept pressing and, two minutes later, they forced Lovett into action once again as the ‘keeper made a fine diving save to deny Joel Taylor from distance.
Roberts had the chance to put the game to bed later, putting the ball over whilst through one on one, but Ian Birchnall’s side did enough to hold on for all three points at Meadow Lane.
Notts County are managed by Ian Birchnall, who took over at Meadow Lane after the departure of Neal Ardley and Greg Abbott on March 24 this year. This is the 38-year-old’s first spell as a manager in the UK, following several years abroad.
Birchnall threw himself into coaching at 22 years of age with a role at the University of Leeds. He rapidly progressed and, before long, he was handed coaching roles in the Academies of Leeds United and Bradford City.
The current Notts manager got his first break when he became the assistant-manager to Brian Deane at Norwegian club Sarpsborg 08. After two years at Sarpsborg Stadion, he accepted a similar position with Eliteserien rivals Viking, before becoming first-team manager on November 24, 2016.
However, after only a season with the Dark Blues, he moved to Sweden to take over at Ostersund, after previous manager Graham Potter accepted the first-team manager role with Swansea City. Despite struggling on the pitch, Birchnall is widely credited by the Ostersund support for keeping the club in the top tier of Swedish football and, as a show of gratitude, they hosted a party to thank him for his services after his departure.
Tasked with getting Notts back into the Football League, Birchnall looked to be steering his side down the right path, with Notts finishing fifth and securing a home tie against Chesterfield in the play-offs. After an entertaining 3-2 win against the Spireites, County travelled south to face Torquay United, only to lose 4-2 and miss out on a Wembley final.
A win for Altrincham on Saturday could potentially move the club up to ninth, six points behind the Magpies, while a win for Notts County would see them jump to the top of the National League, depending on results elsewhere.
Last five league games
Altrincham: WLWL (F6 A6)
Notts County: DWDWW (F15 A7)
Listen to the game Live on Radio Robins
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The broadcast starts at 2.45pm
The match commentary sponsor is Andy’s Man Club.
The commentary team is Paul Salt and Brian Flynn
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*Marksman Marcus .. the ball is in the net, and goalscorer Marcus Dinanga takes the acclaim of team-mate Matty Kosylo. Picture by Michael Ripley.
Altrincham 1, Notts County 0
A poacher’s goal by Marcus Dinanga proved decisive as Notts County were added to Altrincham’s ever-lengthening list of big-name scalps at a sun-baked J.Davidson Stadium this afternoon.
Dinanga’s sharp 29th-minute finish was enough to tilt a closely-fought encounter Alty’s way, and there could be few complaints from County or any of their 800 or so travelling fans about losing in the Vanarama National League for the first time this season.
By common consent, there was little to choose between the two teams - and what a remarkable tribute that is in itself to the progress Alty have made under manager Phil Parkinson.
Part-time Alty, newly-relegated to the Northern Premier League when the former Nantwich boss took over as recently as four years ago, versus the oldest professional football club in the world with a proud League history that includes a brief spell in the top flight in the early 1990s.
Poles apart on paper, from the sounds of it, but not on the pitch. With skipper Jake Moult snapping at heels in the centre of midfield, Ryan Colclough, Matty Kosylo and Dan Mooney all proving a handful and defensive resilience spreading from one side of the pitch to the other so effectively that Tony Thompson was rarely troubled, Alty were more than a match for their illustrious visitors.
Then there’s Dinanga, who breezed into Moss Lane in the summer and thought nothing of sending expectations through the roof, and piling pressure on himself in the process, by calmly announcing that if his team-mates laid on the service, he would deliver the goals.
He was as good as his word in strength-sapping conditions against one of the title favourites, and if it was only his second goal of the campaign so far, there was an alertness about the way he took it that suggests plenty more may well follow.
A flowing move led to Dan Mooney rolling the ball out to Ryan Colclough, who looked to be having a pop at goal when he drilled the ball towards the far post from the left edge of the area. That’s how it appeared, but Dinanga was assuming nothing and was on the move the instant Colclough let fly, enabling him to stretch out a boot and divert the ball over the line, just as it was about to drift wide.
It was anticipation and movement of the highest order and no more than Alty deserved after Colclough fired narrowly wide of the near post in only the fifth minute and Mooney stung the keeper’s hands with a fierce effort after cutting in from the right.
The Magpies’ only reply had been a header that Kyle Wootton wastefully steered over in the 17th minute, though they should have been back on terms in the 41st minute when Matty Palmer looked to have done the hard part by chesting the ball down, only to volley over from close range.
Keeping the threat of Colclough in check is a thankless task for anyone, and a whole line of County defenders found it beyond them when Alty won a free-kick 20 yards out in the 57th minute.
The irrepressible Alty winger stepped up and unleashed a shot that flew through the wall, only for keeper Anthony Patterson to deny him with a fine save.
A second goal might have settled any nerves in the home ranks of a sizeable 2,569 crowd, and it almost materialised when Kosylo set up Mooney for an effort that was sliced wide in the 63rd minute.
With County kicking towards the end housing their fans, and a point the least they might have expected from a trip to Moss Lane, a late siege of the Alty goal was surely on the cards. To the Robins’ endless credit, it never materialised.
Thompson had to be alert to react in time to a glancing header from Ruben Rodrigues, raising his arms and catching it above his head, and the same player went close in the 72nd minute after livewire second-half substitute Aaron Nemane reached the by-line on the right and cut the ball back.
It was otherwise relatively serene progress towards a final whistle that finally arrived after five minutes of added time to signal a rapturously-received and richly-deserved win secured by a predator’s finish from Dinanga, whose overall play, as well as his goal, made him a popular recipient of the man-of-the-match award.