YOU could argue that ALTRINCHAM’s match at home to Nuneaton Town on Tuesday night encapsulated what has been a miserable season for the Robins.
Heading into the game, there were hopes Alty could maintain their positive run of late and keep alive their chances of staying in the National League North.
There was lots of hope at the start of the season too, although the goal was very different. After being relegated from the National League and appointing former Stockport County boss Neil Young, the Robins were aiming to bounce straight back.
Instead the season got off to a slow start before being thumped 6-0 at home by AFC Fylde in August. It didn’t get any better and Young resigned following a 4-2 home defeat by Curzon Ashton over the Bank Holiday weekend.
And it was a slow start against Nuneaton too. The visitors spurned a great early chance to tap into an open goal, which allowed keeper Andrew Jones, making a rare start after Stuart Tomlinson joined Alty’s injury list, to gather just before the goal-line. Nicky Clee then played in Simon Richman, who showed the Robins’ collective lack of belief in front of goal by turning back inside when he should have shot. Jake Moult ultimately fired over from long range.
The Boro then took the lead from a scrappy corner in the 25th minute, Exodus Geohaghon nodding down for Ashley Chambers to poke in from close range. Moments later there was a glimmer of hope for Alty, just as there was when Jim Harvey oversaw their 1st win of the season at Stalybridge Celtic in October, as Clee again found Richman. This time he pulled the trigger and fired just wide.
But the Robins went 2-0 down on 32 minutes in calamitous circumstances. Jones came out of his box to clear, only to smash the ball into centre-half Sam Heathcote’s midriff. That left Billy Daniels the easy task of sweeping the ball into an empty net. Manager Matt Doughty and his assistant Robbie Lawton stood in the technical area with their hands on their heads.
That must have been how Alty fans felt as they watched their side slip to the bottom in the table in November and continue to lose ground before Harvey was sacked in December, when his assistant Doughty took charge.
The Robins were rocking and they then had Heathcote stretchered off, adding to their injury problems and forcing Moult to drop back. Kristian Scott and Chambers fired just wide and, right on half-time, an Alty corner fell for Clee 6 yards out yet he managed to turn the ball sideways instead of towards goal. Doughty again had his hands on his head as he turned to head down the tunnel.
(Pictures courtesy of Michael Ripley Photography)
It took the interim boss a while to get Alty playing like a team again – 11 games, in fact, to register his 1st league win – and they came out strongly for the 2nd half. Richman turned in Clee’s cut-back on 47 minutes and the Robins looked rejuvenated as they ran back for the restart, with veteran midfielder Gary Jones geeing them up.
They continued to press, with sub Damian Reeves, who replaced Heathcote, going close after a fine move. Yet Nuneaton struck on the counter-attack on 63 minutes to kill off the fightback – and possibly their last hope of a Great Escape – as Chambers hit a sweet 20-yard strike into the bottom corner.
To their credit, Alty didn’t capitulate in front of their lowest gate of the season (646). Doughty made another attacking change, Andy Owens coming on for right-back Chris Lynch to leave 3 at the back, and winger Elliot Newby remained their biggest threat.
It seemed everyone just wanted the game to be over. When Alty centre-half John Cyrus stopped a goal-kick before it had left the box, none of the officials saw it – or they just didn’t want to delay the final whistle any longer. Owens then curled a free-kick well over, sparking a sarcastic “brilliant” from the main stand. “At least he tried”, came a somewhat apologetic reply from a female spectator. One suspects it was the striker’s mum.
But Alty kept going. Clee and Reeves went close before Owens saw a volley well saved by Tyrell Belford. Although they lost 3-1 – their 24th defeat from 35 league games – the Robins did show some fight, some pride, when the game was clearly beyond them in the closing stages.
And that is really the best Alty can hope for from the rest of the season. Before this Saturday’s trip to 5th-bottom Bradford Park Avenue, they are 13 points from safety with 7 games left so it seems a 2nd successive relegation is inevitable. Like in Tuesday night’s game, they have left themselves too much to do.
Some supporters protested against chairman Grahame Rowley during last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Stalybridge. But performances have been much more positive in recent weeks so if the Robins can keep playing like that during the run-in, it will restore some faith amongst the fans and make them believe that the team – and the club – will come out fighting in the Evo-Stik Premier next term.