06 Mar 2019 by John Edwards

Ref justice! Alty miffed at Smith ruling

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Altrincham's players, coaching staff and supporters were left angry and dismayed by an inexplicable decision from referee Lewis Smith that allowed Blyth Spartans to escape The J.Davidson Stadium with a point in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night.

Leading through a brilliant strike by John Johnston, Alty were stunned by the official's highly-contentious view that a ball bouncing off Jake Moult's boot into the hands of Tony Thompson constituted a deliberate back pass.

When the protests from disbelieving Alty players subsided, the ball was touched sideways to Robbie Dale from the resulting free-kick seven yards out, and the Blyth skipper lashed it into the roof of the net.

The complaints continued at half-time and the final whistle, while Smith and his assistants made their way off to jeers and angry shouts from Alty fans still incensed at his baffling call.

Alty were all over Blyth in a lively, positive opening and threatened to swamp them with some vibrant attacking play.

On-loan winger Yusifu Ceesay tore down the left flank, leaving his marker trailing, and whipped in a low cross that Josh Hancock steered wide of the near post.

The focus switched to the right seconds later with an interchange between Johnston and Andy White that ended with a cross into the danger area that was hacked to safety.

Johnston then combined with Hancock on the right to deliver another low cross that was scrambled behind for a left-wing corner that led to more anxiety for the Blyth defence, as Sean Williams curled an effort narrowly wide.

So, Alty had threatened their opponents' goal four times, and we were still barely five minutes in.

The pattern continued, with Tom Hannigan's header from another Johnston corner causing yet more consternation in the six-yard box in the 12th minute, though Blyth were just beginning to work their way into the game when Johnston opened the scoring with an exceptional goal in the 20th minute.

It started with James Jones, not for the first time in his Alty career, bringing the ball out of defence and looking to use it constructively, as he steered it to White on the right flank. When it was played inside to Johnston, the winger cut across the edge of the area before doubling back on to his right foot and curling an unstoppable shot beyond the reach of keeper Peter Jameson and into the corner of the net.

All the signs suggested Alty were on course for a third successive win, but they were stopped in their tracks when striker Danny Maguire worked his way to the bye-line on the left of the area and tried to pull the ball back. It took a ricochet of a defender, and, in an instinctive action to keep it out of a crowded six-yard area, Moult inadvertently deflected it towards Thompson, who safely gathered it up.

A wave of relief at the danger being averted gave way to outrage, as Smith blew for an indirect free-kick seven yards out, after somehow arriving at the conclusion the Alty skipper had deliberately passed back to his keeper. Moult and his nearby team-mates challenged the ruling without success, and, with every Alty player on the goalline, the kick was rolled into the path of Dale, who scored with a rising drive.

Ceesay's pace and direct running continued to trouble Blyth and almost set up Hancock for a shooting opportunity on the half-hour, but the burning sense of injustice over the visitors' equaliser intensified soon after when a defender slid into a challenge 25 yards out and helped the ball on its way to Jameson, who picked it up without being penalised.

While it may not have been a deliberate action and might normally have passed without comment, it looked more of a back pass than Moult had purportedly carried out, and an enraged home crowd let Smith know that was the case in no uncertain terms.

Ceesay featured prominently at the start of the second half, weaving his way past two challenges and hitting a low cross that was put behind for a corner in the 48th minute and latching on to a Williams pass, cutting inside and firing a shot that was deflected narrowly wide 10 minutes later.

From the second of those two Johnston corners, Moult was out of luck, as he stretched to nudge the ball towards the roof of the net from close range, only for Jameson to stick out a hand and turn it on to the bar and over.

Blyth had their moments, in between defending in numbers, not least when Dale's far-post attempt to connect with Kieran Green's free-kick spun high into the air and threatened to drop over Thompson's head, until the Alty keeper arced back and tipped it over at full stretch.

Maguire squandered a glorious chance in the 68th minute, steering a shot wide from the corner of the six-yard box after a Jarrett Rivers low cross deflected fortuitously into his path, but Alty were soon back on the front foot and twice went close to snatching a late winner.

Johnston played the ball in to Hancock, after cutting in from the left flank, and continued running towards the area. Hancock read his intentions and rolled a perfect return pass to the winger, who lifted his shot narrowly over from a great central position inside the box.

Four minutes later, with just eight minutes left, a slick passing move ended with substitute Max Harrop working the ball on to his left foot for a shot that Jameson saved at full stretch.

It was to be the last meaningful action of a controversial evening, and while referee Smith was roundly booed at the final whistle, Alty could at least reflect on how two wins and a draw represents a solid platform to take into Saturday's testing trip to York City, as they continue their quest to secure a place in the play-offs.

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