Injuries to Ben Harrison and Connor Hampson cast a shadow over a welcome and deserved return to winning ways for Altrincham as they recorded their first-ever victory over FC United of Manchester at Broadhurst Park.
The memory of a dispiriting 3-0 defeat at Leamington a fortnight ago was well and truly banished, as John Johnston fired Alty in front and Andy White claimed a winner late on for a 2-1 scoreline that reinforced the Robins' hold on a play-off place in the Vanarama National League North.
It was a victory achieved in the face of unwanted injury disruption, after Hampson was forced off with a damaged hand in the first minute and, more concerningly, Harrison was stretchered off with a recurrence of knee ligament trouble before half-time.
Alty could hardly have wished for a worst start than losing Hampson inside the opening minute, as the left-back went down in pain and indicated he had suffered what may prove to be a repeat of the broken hand that kept him out for several weeks earlier this season.
It was difficult to tell how the injury was sustained, but it was clear he could not continue, as he made his way to the sidelines and gave way to substitute Simon Richman, who slotted in at right-back, with White switching to the left.
Alty looked the more threatening in a fairly low-key first 20 minutes, with the midfield battle being won by the visitors and debutant Joe Piggott looking lively and energetic up front in the absence of the suspended Jordan Hulme.
Clear-cut chances were still in short supply, for all Alty’s pressing, but all that changed in the 26th minute, when Johnston broke the deadlock.
The opportunity arose after Max Harrop burst clear and hit a shot that advancing keeper Andy Fisher stopped with a block that sent the ball spinning out towards Johnston. The winger still had plenty to do, with several FC United bodies barring the way to goal, but an unerring low drive did the trick, as the ball flew past the covering defenders and into the net.
It was a deserved lead, but it was almost surrendered, following debutant keeper Steven Drench’s only error of an otherwise impressive afternoon. The recent signing’s distribution was flawless, other than when a misplaced pass suddenly presented Dale Whitham with a golden chance to equalise.
The FC United forward was clean through on goal, but Drench reacted brilliantly to keep out his shot with save that merited the slice of luck that followed, as Louis Myers and Kurt Willoughby got in each other’s way to spurn the chance of slotting home the resulting loose ball.
Manager Phil Parkinson had to instigate another defensive reshuffle after Harrison rose to win the aerial duel for a corner and crumpled to the turf as he landed. It appeared to be a recurrence of the knee ligament injury that kept him out for so long last year, and there were understandable misgivings over the length of his latest lay-off, as he was helped on to a stretcher and carried off in obvious distress.
It became even more of a test of Alty’s resolve when FC United equalised in the 77th minute, Whitham rising to power a header in off the post from a left-wing cross.
The home side’s momentum, as the decibels behind Drench’s goal soared, was almost palpable, yet Alty not only repelled their quest for a second goal but silenced the FC hordes with what proved a winner by White.
The versatile full-back’s 20-yard drive looked bound for the far corner until taking a change of direction off defender Zehn Mohammed and looping into the opposite side of the net. It was a massive deflection, but keeper Fisher’s frantic full-length dive confirmed the impression that White’s effort was on target, and it should surely go down as the Alty man’s goal, rather than an own goal.
Resilient to the last, Alty held out with relative ease to seal the win, though there was another injury concern in added time, when substitute Nathan Waterston suffered a knee injury in a heavy challenge and was still hobbling after the final whistle.