The eve of another season is finally upon us, and as Altrincham manager Phil Parkinson and his squad - not to mention in excess of 100 Robins fans - prepare to hit the road for Devon, ED PAINTER sets the scene for what lies in wait.
The Robins begin their 2021/22 Vanarama National League campaign on Saturday when they journey south to face last season’s play-off finalists Torquay United at Plainmoor.
Following a busy pre-season schedule which was designed to give every player a good workout, Phil Parkinson’s side enter the new season hoping to improve upon last season’s 17th place finish.
Facing the likes of Ashton United, Bradford (Park Avenue), Stoke City under-23s and Huddersfield Town B this summer, Alty developed a respectable pre-season record of five wins, two losses and two draws, scoring 18 goals and conceding 10.
In our most recent outing against Huddersfield Town B, a game which was played behind closed doors, goals from Dan Mooney, Marcus Dinanga and Tom Peers helped secure an impressive 3-1 win, a result which will no doubt fill the side with confidence ahead of our trip to Torquay.
Alty started brightly, with Dinanga, Tom Hannigan, and Matty Kosylo all having first-half efforts denied by Aleksandar Petrovic in the Terriers' goal.
However, they entered the break a goal down, courtesy of an impressive strike from Huddersfield skipper Ben Jackson, who picked the ball up 30 yards from goal before unleashing an effort which Tony Thompson was unable to keep out.
Top scorer for the Robins this summer, Mooney was particularly impressive at the Canalside Training Ground in West Yorkshire, combining well with a trialist and Dinanga to fashion an equaliser, with the former Fleetwood Town man darting beyond two defenders before finishing past the ‘keeper.
That goal seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and, only five minutes later, Parkinson’s side had the lead when Josh Hancock intelligently picked out Dinanga's run before the former Stevenage man dinked the ball delightfully over the advancing Petrovic.
Following a disallowed goal for one of the two trialists on display, the game was put to bed with 10 minutes to spare. A flowing move involving A-Jay Leitch-Smith and Toby Mullarkey saw the ball fall to the feet of Peers, who completed the passage of play with a calm right foot shot from 12 yards.
The last time the two teams met was on the final day of last season, a game which finished all square in front of a passionate crowd of 1,302 supporters.
In an encounter which was short on goalmouth action, Alistair Smith’s spectacular first half effort almost sent the home faithful into raptures, only for visiting ‘keeper Lucas Covolan to produce an acrobatic save.
Torquay had chances of their own in the second half to end their league programme with a win, as Kyle Cameron saw his looping header cleared off the line by Alty captain Jake Moult, before Adam Randell was left frustrated when he directed his header marginally off-target.
But both defences were comfortably in charge of the opposition attacks and there was a sense that a point was a satisfactory outcome for both Phil Parkinson and opposing manager Gary Johnson.
Watch the highlights from that 0-0 draw by pressing play below.
A side that came oh so close to securing a long-awaited return to the Football League, losing to Hartlepool United in last season’s play-off final, Torquay United will have their eyes firmly set on going one better this time around.
However, they will have to do so off the back of several key departures, with the likes of Covolan, Billy Waters, Cameron, Ben Whitfield and Aaron Nemane all pursuing opportunities away from Plainmoor.
With plenty of work to do to rebuild their squad this summer, Gulls boss Johnson has been quick to bolster his ranks, securing the signatures of Ali Omar (Barnsley), Mark Halstead (Morecambe), Tom Lapslie (Colchester United), Gabriel Rogers (Yeovil Town) and Chiori Johnson (Welling United), among others.
These new signings have seemingly hit the ground running, judging by an impressive pre-season campaign for Torquay, who won all but one game, with that solo loss coming against League One side Plymouth Argyle.
In their last game, against Chippenham Town, goals from Danny Wright, Dan Holman and a trialist helped them to a comfortable 3-0 win, a scoreline that could have been greater had two of Holman’s first-half efforts not struck the crossbar.
Torquay United are managed by Gary Johnson, an experienced coach who was appointed in September, 2018, filling the void left by Gary Owers. Throughout the course of his career, Johnson has coached 10 clubs, including spells at Yeovil Town, Bristol City and Cheltenham Town, the latter of which he led to the National League title.
Gary began his coaching career back in 1986 with Newmarket Town, a team he once lined up for as a player. A two-year spell with the Jockeys ended when he became the reserves manager at Cambridge United, before progressing to become first-team manager with the club.
In 1999, the Gulls boss surprised many by dipping his toe into the waters of international management, taking over the Latvian national team, before returning to the UK two years later with Yeovil Town.
After helping the Glovers to successive promotions, he became the manager of Bristol City in 2005, enjoying a five-year spell at Ashton Gate and helping the Robins to a place in the Championship.
Following short spells with Peterborough United and Northampton Town, Johnson returned to Huish Park in 2012, leading the club to the Championship after beating Brentford in the League One play-off final at Wembley.
His trophy-winning record did not end at Huish Park as, in 2017, two years after taking over at Whaddon Road, he led Cheltenham to the National League title, finishing 12 points ahead of second-placed Forest Green Rovers. He was let go by the Robins in 2018 and subsequently signed on at Plainmoor.
Last five games
Torquay United: WWLWW (F11 A4)
Altrincham: LWDDW (F8 A9)
Listen to the game Live on Radio Robins
You can listen to live commentary on Radio Robins, sponsored by Ashley Mowers Garden Machinery and the broadcast starts at 2.45pm.
The match commentary sponsor is Andy’s Man Club.
The commentary team is Mark Simpson, Laurence Howarth and Brian Flynn.
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'.
He's got a foot like a traction engine!!
Toby Mullarkey's stunning strike seals a memorable victory in Devon.
Picture: Jonathan Moore
Altrincham manager, Phil Parkinson spoke to Brian Flynn after the Robins stunned the Gulls as Alty opened their National League campaign with a 3-1 win at Plainmoor.