|7.45pm||Red and white striped shirts, black shorts and socks|| ||Green and white hooped shirts, green shorts, blue socks|
|1.||Stuart COBURN||1.||Gary INGHAM|
|2.||Steve HAWES (capt.)||2.||Derek WARD (capt.)|
|3.||Chris ADAMS||3.||Andy SCOTT|
|4.||Mark MADDOX||4.||Steve PICKFORD|
|5.||Paul TAYLOR||5.||Matthew WOOD|
|6.||Jason GALLAGHER||6.||Dominic CROOKES|
|7.||Kevin HULME||7.||Richard PEACOCK|
|8.||Ian CRANEY||8.||Steve WOOD|
|9.||Lee POLAND||9.||Matt McNEILL|
|10.||Carl FURLONG||10.||Winfield STEELE|
|11.||Jeremy ILLINGWORTH||11.||Stuart LOCKE|
|12.||Rod THORNLEY||12.||?See report below|
|13.||Barry MOORE (gk)||13.||----|
|14.||Dave SWANNICK||14.||Kevin PARR|
|15.||Danny MURPHY||15.||Ged MURPHY|
|16.||Gary SCOTT||16.||Andy EVANS|
|17.||Ryan GILLIGAN||17.||Gerrard COURTNEY|
|-||-||9. (again)||Matthew WILLIAMSON|
The new Stalybridge manager, Paul Futcher gave his first-team squad a run out against Altrincham tonight but there was little if any gap in class between the two sides. After an uneventful opening, Altrincham twice went close after ten minutes. First Poland poked the ball narrowly over the bar then Furlong set up Poland for a good low shot which Ingham saved well. Coburn saved well from Pickford a minute later but Altrincham enjoyed the better of the next twenty minutes before Celtic raised their game a little before half time. After making three substitutions at the break, Celtic were much improved in the second period and it was a little against the run of play when Thornley's persistence won a clear penalty against Williamson. Thornley himself scored cleanly from the spot (71 mins). Substitute Courtney equalised from close range after Swannick had been beaten on the Alty right (78 mins). Paul Taylor was carried off injured after a rash tackle and appeared to have damaged his right knee. A draw was probably a fair result.
In a fairly scrappy opening few minutes, the first scare for Altrincham came when Kevin Hulme collapsed in a heap after losing possession near the half-way line (3 mins) but after treatment from Gary Thompson he was fit to resume. Stuart Coburn then had to punch clear as both sides struggled to find any cohesion. Things improved markedly after ten minutes when two good chances came for Altrincham in as many minutes. Firstly, Jason Gallagher was obstructed in centre-field as he had advanced into the Celtic half. From Hawes's free-kick the ball was half-cleared and Chris Adams was able to put in a deep, curling left-foot cross. Hulme got on the end of it and knocked it back for Poland whose to-poke went narrowly over Ingham's crossbar (10 mins). Then, a neat turn by the lively Furlong got him past Wood and Poland let fly with a 20 yarder, which Ingham did well to save going down to his left. However, Stalybridge immediately responded with ex-Robin Matt McNeil passing to Steele, whose lay-off set up Pickford for a firm, low shot which Coburn parried away to his left (12 mins). After this flurry of excitement Altrincham got into their stride.
Furlong and Poland were causing some problems up front for Altrincham and Ingham was called into use several times to field his defenders' back-passes. Altrincham won a couple of corners, taken by Illingworth, but these came to nothing. At the other end Paul Taylor made a couple of timely interceptions. Altrincham came very close to scoring after 20 minutes when Illingworth's ball from the right found Furlong, who knocked it on for Poland, whose effort was cleared off the line by a defender. However, Celtic captain Ward then got the better of Chris Adams and a corner was won off Paul Taylor, on the visitors' right. A second flag-kick immediately followed and, after a bit of a flap from Coburn, the ball was cleared (22 mins). This signalled a better period for Celtic after ten minutes of so of being the side under pressure. Nevertheless, Hulme was soon heading for goal when he was tripped 30 yards out but the referee gave an offside decision. Indeed, Hulme was involved again shortly afterwards when a Coburn clearance came to him via Furlong but as he advanced on goal his rising shot cleared the bar (33 mins).
Ward, Steele and Steve Wood combined well up the Altrincham left but when Steele went down dramatically, just outside the box, to the right, he was fortunate to win a free-kick. Justice was done when Ward's free-kick came to Steve Wood and the Celtic man's goal-bound shot hit the referee's heels and diverted wide of the target for a goal-kick, much to the Celtic player's annoyance (37 mins). After Craney had lost possession, Locke, Steve Wood and McNeil combined, with McNeil getting past Adams at the back after the full-back had dived in for a tackle. However, McNeil's cross-cum-shot from the right caused little danger (40 mins). McNeil, Wood and Pickford next combined in a move that ended with a misdirected, high cross. Altrincham did respond but Poland had his shot blocked. Then, McNeil committed a crude lunge on Maddox as the half drew to a goal-less conclusion.
|HALF-TIME: ALTRINCHAM 0 STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 0|
Stalybridge brought on three substitutes, Murphy, Williamson at centre-back wearing number 9, and a number 12 who was listed on the team-sheet as Williamson. Crookes, Steve Wood and Locke left the fray. The changes revitalised Celtic and they enjoyed a good spell early in the second half, stringing their passes together in a manner that had largely eluded them in the first period. However, the nearest they came at this stage to threatening Coburn was a shot which was well over his bar (53 mins). Altrincham now changed their strike force, Poland and Furlong giving way to substitutes Thornley and Murphy (56 mins). At the same time, Locke re-appeared for the limping Scott who had been caught when attempting to tackle Gallagher some five minutes earlier. After 58 minutes, new signing Gerrard Courtney (from Marine) replaced Steele for Celtic. The visitors' pressure won them a corner on the hour but nothing came of this. A rare threat from Altrincham saw Ingham miss Adams's cross but Celtic were awarded a free-kick. After 62 minutes, Paul Taylor recklessly lunged into a tackle half-way inside his own half and not only fouled his opponent but injured himself. After treatment he left the field seated on a stretcher, holding his right knee. Given that he missed much of last season at Hyde with a knee injury, it is to be hoped that this is not too bad an injury for the newcomer at Moss Lane who has performedly well in the friendlies to date.
Dave Swannick came on to replace Taylor at centre-back. Gallagher was almost immediately flattened but, thankfully, was not injured. Hawes's free-kick caused consternation and the ball ricocheted around the box, with an effort by Thornley being cleared off the goal-line (65 mins). But Celtic were the stronger team still, at this stage, with McNeil badly misdirecting a header from a right-wing cross when he should have given Coburn some work to do (67 mins). Murphy and Thornley were receiving little service from the midfield and when Murphy did get free at the back post when Adams's cross from the left evaded the defence and Hulme, he miscued badly and sent the ball wide and high of its target (70 mins). But after a plausible shout by Alty for a penalty for handball was turned down, Rod Thornley harried Williamson and won possession inside the Celtic box. The defender fouled Thornley and a clear penalty was awarded. Thornley got up to score with a clean low shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to give Altrincham the lead, a little against the overall run of play in the second half (71 mins).
Referee Taylor gave one of several curious decisions when he gave Altrincham a free-kick on the very edge of the box for a foul on Thornley, when Murphy had possession in a threatening position (74 mins). Hawes took a fine free-kick, his shot clearing the wall but hitting the top of the cross-bar and going out for a goal-kick. The goal had revitalised Altrincham and Thornley's pace and persistence soon won him a corner on the left but this was headed clear by Stalybridge. Just as Altrincham looked as if they would win the game, Celtic put together a flowing move which ended with Parr's cross from the left giving Courtney a routine chance in front of goal. The young striker finished well to level the scores (78 mins). Almost immediately Celtic nearly stole the game when a statuesque Alty midfield and defence allowed them a clear chance but the visitors' shot went wide. Altrincham wasted a corner (79 mins) and Hulme sliced badly wide from 25 yards (81 mins) as the sides traded attacks. Parr shot as badly wide as Hulme had done (86 mins) before Mr Taylor blew for time, having added little on for the stoppage to treat Paul Taylor's injury. Overall a draw was a fair outcome. The game was watched from the Directors' box by Port Vale boss Brian Horton and by a man with a large Blackburn Rovers' notepad but which players they were watching was unclear.
The injury to Paul Taylor is a concern to Altrincham but with Terry Bowker and the injured Mark Sertori in the wings, we do have some centre-back cover to partner Mark Maddox. Again, the Altrincham defence looked more solid than it had in quite a number of games under Mark Ward last season and up front, Rod Thornley still impresses. Poland and Furlong also had their moments in the first half but Danny Murphy has yet to recapture fully the sparkle of last season, though the service to him in this game was not plentiful. Steve Hawes was again solid in his new position at left-back, as was Adams on the left-side. Kevin Hulme had an in and out game, with some good touches mixed in with some less good moments, whilst Ian Craney carried on as he had played last season. The next first-team challenge is likely to be against Northwich next Saturday, though an Altrincham team of unknown composition does play tonight at Stand Athletic (7pm).
|FULL-TIME: ALTRINCHAM 1 STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 1|