Altrincham were left cursing their luck after all the breaks went against them in the most unfortunate of 2-1 defeats at Blyth Spartans on Saturday.
While a sluggish first few minutes cost Alty dear on an ill-fated FA Cup trip to Blyth a few years ago, the way they started on their latest visit could hardly have provided a starker contrast, as they took the game to their hosts from the off and repeatedly opened them up with some sharp, incisive passing moves.
Left-flank forays were particularly productive early on, and Alty should have gone ahead from one of them, when Jordan Hulme found Max Harrop with a clever cross with the outside of his right boot, only for the unmarked midfielder to steer his header wide from eight yards.
If accuracy was the missing quality on that occasion, it was a lack of decisive decision-making that undid more eye-catching approach play from Alty in an irresistible opening spell.
On more than one occasion, some swift interplay looked to have opened up a shooting opportunity in and around the edge of the Blyth area, only for one player after another to shirk the responsibility and look for a team-mate to pass to.
Blyth had hardly had a look-in yet went in front in the most fortuitous of circumstances in the 26th minute. As a pass was played through to Sean Reid, advancing towards the Alty area, he stretched out a boot to bring it down, as it dropped over his right shoulder.
Instead of controlling it, the midfielder saw the ball land on his right knee, bounce into the air and loop over the stranded Elliot Wynne into the Alty net for the most freakish goal he’s likely to score in his entire career.
Such a sickening setback could have knocked the wind out of Alty’s sails, but, instead, they were level within a minute with an equaliser which, unlike the effort at the other end, could rightly be categorised as a proper goal.
Again, the use of possession was of a high calibre, as Hulme, sporting a new blond look but still unmistakable for the way he gave young on-loan centre-back Aaron Cunningham a torrid afternoon, and Owen Dale combined to set up Josh Hancock on the edge of the area.
There could be no faulting the finishing this time, as Hancock took one step to steady himself before sweeping a low shot into the corner of the net.
If the first half was dominated by Alty, the second was more even, but no less compelling, as both sides went for a winner.
Blyth’s improvement put Alty’s defence to the test, but they rose to the challenge superbly, with James Jones producing two crucial interventions when a goal threatened, Wynne saving well from the lively Danny Maguire and Andy White pulling off a spectacular goalline clearance from Robbie Dale.
Alty’s attacking endeavours were just as impressive, with substitute Tom Peers setting up Hulme for a left-foot drive that looked goalbound, until keeper Peter Jameson stuck out a leg to knock it away, and skipper Jake Moult hooking a close-range chance inches wide after Tom Hannigan headed back a deep corner from the left.
A winner did duly materialise, but, agonisingly for Alty, it went Blyth’s way. Worse still, while it wasn’t as outrageously lucky as their first goal, it had an element of good fortune about it, as Sean Williams looked to clear a left-wing corner, only for the ball to hit a Blyth player and bobble to Jarrett Rivers, who lashed it into the roof of the net from close range.
It left Alty just seven minutes to salvage a degree of justice for their sterling efforts, but that looked like being enough when a golden opportunity fell Peers’ way after a fiercely-struck free-kick by fellow-substitute James Poole caused consternation in the Blyth ranks.
Hit with power and swerve, the left-foot delivery from Poole was spilled by Jameson, leaving Peers with an unchallenged finish from the edge of the six-yard box that he somehow volleyed over a gaping net. Confirmation, if needed, that it was one of those days for an Alty side who looked distraught at the final whistle but can draw great encouragement from another away performance full of promise and purpose.