Wilkinson's on fire at Alty after coming back in from the cold

Wilkinson celebrates scoring against North Ferriby in 2014 (Gavin Rathbone)

ALTRINCHAM manager Jim Harvey believes Greg Wilkinson could be the man to lead the Robins’ revival after bringing him back in from the wilderness.

The 27-year-old midfielder had been without a club after a frustrating season with AFC Telford but, shortly after taking over at Altrincham last month, Harvey offered him the chance to get back in the game.

Wilkinson agreed to rejoin the Robins and has made an immediate impact. He was star man in last week’s FA Cup win over Morpeth Town and backed that up with another fine performance against his former club STALYBRIDGE CELTIC last Saturday. Sam Patterson fired Alty into an 86th-minute lead before Wilkinson struck in stoppage time to secure the Robins’ first win of the season in the National League North.

Wilkinson spent time in United’s academy before becoming a regular in Stalybridge’s first team under Harvey, who made him the club’s youngest-ever captain. He joined Alty in October 2013 and famously scored the goal which won them promotion from the National League North that season.

But he failed to hold down a regular place at Alty and Telford. Harvey was FC Halifax boss when he almost signed him on loan from Telford in January and the new Alty boss was glad to strike a deal when he contacted him again last month.

“I was delighted for Greg Wilkinson, getting the second goal,” Harvey said after Saturday’s 2-0 win. “Again he looked a stand-out player to me and it was an excellent goal. He scored a goal like that against Stockport for me when he was at Stalybridge, so it wasn’t something he hasn’t done before. He has an eye for goal, and that was evident more than once today. He has that ability, and I’m delighted we’ve got him.

“I had him here at Stalybridge and put him in the first team when he was 17 or 18,” added the Northern Irishman. “While I was here, Manchester United enquired about him, because they wanted to have a look at him. That fell through, but all it was doing was recognising that this fella’s got talent, which he has, but unfortunately he hasn’t played for nearly a year.

“No-one has given him a game. He started a job at a bank but couldn’t get a club anywhere. As soon as I got fixed up here at Altrincham, the first thing I did was ring Greg and say: ‘Come on, let’s get you playing again’. He jumped at the chance and has wasted no time showing what a talent he is.”

Wilkinson showed great promise at Stalybridge, and maturity beyond his years, but Lee Sinnott used him mainly from the bench during his first spell at Alty, including in the 2014 play-off final against Guiseley. Wilkinson came on moments from the end of extra-time, so that he could take a penalty in the shoot-out, but penalties weren’t needed as, just 22 seconds after coming on, he swept in a dramatic winner to write himself into Alty folklore.

After promotion to the Vanarama National League, Wilkinson still struggled to start and ended the 2014/15 season with a successful loan spell at Stockport County. That summer he was released by Alty and had a trial at FC United before signing for Telford, where he barely featured. Now Wilkinson looks back to his best and Harvey seems to have the knack of getting the best out of him.

“It’s down to understanding the player and what he can offer you, if you allow him to come into the framework you have and allow him to do what he is good at. That’s when you get the best out of your players,” Harvey explained.

“It’s what I do generally, and certainly it’s what I’m doing now with Greg. Yes, there are deficiencies in his game, but I have covered that with the rest of the team, and I allow him to do what he is very good at. He is very good in possession, driving forward, creating chances for others and creating and taking chances for himself. For us, at this level, he is exceptional.”

Last Saturday’s win wasn’t enough to lift Alty out of the National League North’s bottom three. The Robins are back at the J. Davidson Stadium this Saturday in the FA Cup, with Evo-Stik Premier side Matlock Town standing between them and a place in the first round proper.