28.4.2018

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Altrincham

Hannigan (3), Moult (54), Hancock (90)

Scarborough Athletic

Brooksby (13)

(1) 3

.

(0) 0

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

1,856

Tom Thorley

L D L L D L D D L L

The Pitmen's final league game of the season saw them swept aside by a triumphant wave of celebration from league champions Altrincham, who confidently got to their 100 goal target with a dominant win at Moss Lane

 

Last weekend's defeat to Mickleover Sports had left the Pitmen without a win in the Evo-Stik League Premier in ten games, marooning Rob Smith's team down in a dire seventeenth place in the table, two places lower than even last season's awful fifteenth paced finish. Smith was boosted with the availability of key defender Sam Oji, with the big man coming straight back into the side in one of four changes to the side that was turned over by Mickleover. Jose Veiga was given a rare outing in goal as James Wren was rested, with Callam Mendez-Jones also given a well-deserved day off as he was replaced by Charlie Gatter. Former Altrincham favourite James Lawrie - who had limped off in the Pitmen's Birmingham Senior Cup win over Nuneaton on Thursday night - was only fit enough to make the substitute's bench, and was replaced by Danny Glover in the final change to the starting XI

 

Champions Altrincham had been the standout performers in the league for the majority of the season, having been heavily backed to ensure a swift return to step two following a double relegation. Manager Phil Parkinson named former Hednesford striker Tom Peers in his starting line-up, although there was no place in the squad for ex-Pitmen loanee Mason Walsh, who had returned to Alty in February from the Pitmen after a successful period at Keys Park

 

The die was cast from the early exchanges, with the Pitmen pushed back into their own third as Altrincham - backed by the majority of a huge 1,856 crowd - forced pressure onto the visitors. From the game's first corner, however, the Pitmen gifted their hosts a soft opening goal to make their job even harder. A short corner to Josh Harrop saw the midfielder drive in a low shot at goal, something that was a regulation save for the experienced Veiga. The 41-year-old made a terrible hash of the shot and only succeeded in fumbling the ball straight to the feet of defender Tom Hannigan, who had the simple task of slotting into the unguarded net to open the scoring

 

There was no let-up in Altrincham's quest for 100 goals, needing only one more to hit the magic number for the season in the league. A neat piece of play involving Jordan Hulme and John Johnston opened up the Hednesford defence, with Oji doing well to put the ball out for a corner kick. From the resultant corner, Peers blasted his shot high over the crossbar from a good position just outside the penalty area

 

Another incisive move from the hosts saw the Pitmen chasing shadows once more in the thirteenth minute, with Harrop again involved as he created an opening for Simon Richman, who lifted his effort over the crossbar

 

 Veiga made a good save to partially atone for his clanger on fifteen minutes, tuning Andy White's angled shot away from goal for another Altrincham corner kick

 

Harrop was the first player to earn himself a yellow card on twenty-six minutes, fouling Glover in midfield in a move that saw the referee play advantage initially but not pull the game back when the ball was lost

 

The visitors slowly started to get a foothold in the game as the half progressed, with the midfield winning more of the ball and setting the likes of Anthony Dwyer and Danny Glover away up front. Dwyer was the first player in grey to have a shot of any note on twenty-nine minutes, hitting a powerful shot from twenty-five yards out that was blocked by a Connor Hampson The rebound fell to skipper Tom Thorley, whose follow-up effort was also blocked

 

Peers' game came to an abrupt halt a minute later, as he was forced off due to injury and was replaced up front by Theo Bailey-Jones

 

 Veiga got down low on thirty-eight minutes to deal with a cross from Johnston before Hulme followed Harrop into the book three minutes later for a late challenge on Gatter

 

Joey Butlin - who had found it tough going against two big, powerful, experienced centre-backs - somehow avoided a booking just before half-time after a clash with Richman saw both players sternly spoken to

 

The bright sunshine continued to shine down on the pitch in the second half, with the Pitmen having the first opening after the restart. A deep free-kick to the far post was only partially dealt with by the Alty defence, culminating in Gatter firing well over the crossbar with a miscued effort

 

The hosts once again able took advantage of another moment of indecision from Veiga on fifty-four minutes to double their advantage and effectively kill off the Pitmen's meagre challenge. A pass-back to the experienced stopper saw Veiga inexplicably pick the ball up inside his own penalty area, granting Altrincham a free-kick just fifteen yards out. A clever flick-up from Johnson teed up skipper Jake Moult, who volleyed beyond the wall of grey in front of him and past Veiga to make it 2-0 to the champions and celebate 100 goals scored

 

 2-0 could have become 3-0 very quickly, as Altrincham dominated the next ten minutes with swift attacking play down each flank. They somehow failed to turn the ball home three times on fifty-six minutes, as a combination of Veiga, Gatter and sheer bad luck saw the hosts fail to turn the loose ball home from close range

 

Jack Rea - who had struggled with the pace of the game - was taken off at this point in favour of Mendez-Jones, in a move that saw Thorley moved back into his more natural midfield role as Mendez-Jones slotted in a right-back

 

 A minute later, Butlin was presented with a glorious chance to reduce the deficit for the Pitmen as a long ball over the top saw the striker played onside by the Altrincham defence. Perhaps surprised at the fact that he was onside, Butlin dithered on the ball as he approached the goal, and produced an unconvincing shot/cross towards Glover and the far post that dribbled wide of goal

 

 Dwyer - taking on the free kick duties in place of Lawrie - curled an effort from twenty-five yards out narrowly wide of Tony Thompson's left-hand post on fifty-nine minutes, before Lawrie was given a warm reception from the home fans a minute later as he came on in place of Glover

 

 Veiga did well to be alert on sixty-three minutes, making a smothering stop to deny Hulme after the striker had taken a heavy touch into the Hednesford penalty area

 

 The Pitmen made their third and final change of an attritional afternoon on sixty-seven minutes, with Reece King coming on for the ineffective Louis Harris, who had seen the game pass him by for long periods in midfield as Altrincham dominated

 

King was straight into the action, using his height to good effect on seventy-one minutes to head Lawrie's cross narrowly wide of the far post as he rose above Gatter and the Altrincham defenders

 

 There was a nice touch from Altrincham boss Parkinson on seventy-three minutes, as reserve keeper Tim Deasy - who had announced his retirement at the end of the season - was given a late run-out and a chance to say goodbye to the supporters as he replaced Thompson between the pots

 

 The carnival atmosphere at Moss Lane was ramped up one last time in added time, as Josh Hancock put the final coat of gloss on a magnificent season with a third goal. A long ball over the top from Moult found the striker, who steadied himself before firing past a horribly exposed Veiga to send the home crowd into raptures ahead of their end-of-game trophy presentations and the award of the Evo-Stik League Premier trophy

 

So, where does this leave the Pitmen? Another dreadful second half fo the campaign - one that has, at times, promised much but delivered little - sees Smith's weary troops finishing only seven places from bottom. It's a third consecutive season of largely dire results, punctuated with what appears to be a culture problem with the whole team, regardless of personnel; an inability to defend solidly, particularly at set pieces; substandard step four/five/six players filling gaps in the squad, simply not up to the rigours of a hard season at step three, which is an unforgiving level. The off-the-pitch problems - of which there are many, varied and wide-ranging - will also come under sharp focus as the club enters what feels to be a crossroads in it's modern history. Houses loom large outside Keys Park as the chairman cashes in on the land around the ground, with fans rightly asking - what's in it for us going forward? Where will we be in five years time? How will a move to the Central League affect any budgets? Over to you, Mr. Price - we look forward to hearing (or reading) your vision of the future of this great club. It's going to be an interesting summer

 

Altrincham: Thompson (Deasy 73), Richman, Hampson, Hannigan, White, Moult ©, Johnston, Harrop , Hulme , Peers (Bailey-Jones 29), Hancock.  Subs Unused: Davis, Merrie, Heathcote

 

Hednesford Town: Veiga, Thorley ©, Curley, Harris (King 67), Oji, Gatter, Rea (Mendez-Jones 56), Fitzpatrick, Butlin, Glover (Lawrie 60), Dwyer    Subs Unused: Bailey, Fitzgibbon

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