The quest for league honours shared centre stage with the Wembley trail over the weekend, and there was plenty of action, drama and incident in both competitions. Here, Altrincham director BILL WATERSON brings you all the details.
This weekend saw 10 teams in Vanarama National League North action and a further six competing in the second round of the Buildbase FA Trophy, leaving six sides without a fixture.
The big game in the League was arguably at the foot of the table, as Blyth Spartans, in the relegation places, welcomed Curzon Ashton, who were hovering perilously close to them.
There was a gap of four points between them, but it is now down to just one after long-serving Spartan favourite Robbie Dale scored twice in 10 minutes in the second half after The Nash had taken the lead on the hour mark.
Blyth can certainly consider them back in touch with the bottom half of the table with that priceless 2-1 win, and they can face the second half of the season with much more optimism. Bradford (Park Avenue), are now 10 points adrift of second-bottom Blyth, despite a creditable draw at Hereford, where Nicky Clee scored for the West Yorkshire side.
Meanwhile at the top of the table, York City seem to be shaking off their recent wobble after a 2-0 home success over AFC Telford United gave them a fourth win from their last five games. The one blemish in that run was a festive home defeat by Guiseley.
The Lions were, of course, the visitors at The J.Davidson Stadium on Saturday, sharing the honours in a lively, hard-fought game. We can count ourselves unlucky not to have collected the win, but the point did lift us into the play-off places for the first time this season. We are winning more and more friends with the quality of our football, and this is being reflected in our rising attendances, with another thousand-plus gate (1,242) once more creating creating a vibrant atmosphere inside the ground. A tough week ahead for us, but spirits are high.
Spennymoor Town conceded an injury-time goal at home to revitalised Kettering Town to lose 2-1 and, as a consequence, drop to seventh place, behind Alty, prior to our visit to the Brewery Field on Tuesday night. Kettering, transformed since Paul Cox took over as manager, have three wins from their last five games and continue to put distance between themselves and the relegation zone.
In the Buildbase FA Trophy, King's Lynn Town experienced that rare commodity for them, a defeat! They travelled to National League side Ebbsfleet United and were on the losing side of a 1-0 scoreline.
Meanwhile, Chester prepared for their visit to Royston by describing the tie as the Southern League side's Cup Final. So it's probably fair to assume the Royston players hoisted an imaginary piece of silverware in the air and paraded it round the pitch after dumping the Cestrians out with a 3-0 win!
Farsley Celtic held top-flight Barnet to a 1-1 draw and must be hoping for another win on the road to progress in the Trophy. Southport did not fare so well against National League opposition, losing 4-1 at AFC Fylde in what was a fifth straight defeat in all competitions.
Similarly, Darlington fell short, losing 2-0 at home to Harrogate Town only three days after advancing against Solihull Moors. Leamington made it into the draw for the last 16, bringing Kingstonian back to The New Windmill after a 1-1 draw in Surrey. The NLN balance sheet shows four losses and two draws therefore, with Farsley and Leamington left as our standard bearers.
Brackley Town, Boston United, Gateshead, Alfreton Town, Kidderminster Harriers and Gloucester City all had the afternoon off, with four of those sides now having played the same or fewer games than Alty. The Gloucester v Gateshead game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, but the other four sides were due to play teams who were still in the Trophy
In midweek, there are three matches - our trip to Spennymoor (impossible to get back from in midweek from London), Kettering looking to belatedly fulfil their Boxing Day fixture with Brackley and Boston playing our hosts next Saturday, Gateshead.
Next weekend's fixtures include “The Big One” as York travel to King's Lynn. Third-placed Chester are at Leamington and Brackley visit Bradford, as the home side's nasty series of fixtures continues. Boston travel to Southport and we, as mentioned, head (or should that be Heed) to Gateshead.
Spennymoor are away to Kidderminster, and Farsley travel to Curzon Ashton. Guiseley are at home to Chester and Darlington host Alfreton. Telford host Blyth and Kettering play Hereford.