Report by John Edwards
Altrincham 1 1874 Northwich 1 (4-2 on pens)
Matt Gould was Altrincham's spot-kick king with two brilliant saves to see the Robins safely through a penalty shoot-out and into the next round of the Cheshire Senior Cup on Tuesday evening.
Deservedly leading through centre-forward Bruno Andrade, a youthful Alty team were pegged back by a debatable penalty midway through the second half, and when they hit the bar late on, the tie had to be settled by penalties.
They are normally a tortuous test of nerve, but any jitters in the Alty camp were quickly settled as Gould emulated Ethan Ross' recent penalty heroics by reacting superbly to keep out 1874's first two kicks and set his side on their way to a relatively routine 4-2 winning margin.
After a cagey opening, Alty had the ball in the net in the sixth minute, only for a linesman's flag to deny them the boost of an early goal.
George Burroughs powered forward towards the edge of the area and slipped a ball through to Tom Jones, who finished with aplomb just as the flag was raised.
There was plenty of youthful exuberance and rich potential in the Alty ranks, and two Robins prospects combined well a couple of minutes later.
Tom Jones worked his way to the bye-line on the right and passed to Loui Williams, who almost manoeuvred space for a shot before being crowded out by defenders at the expense of a corner.
Alty were dominating possession with their crisp, accurate passing, and they made inroads towards the 1874 area again in the 18th minute.
Owen German took a pass from full-back Sean Lawton in his stride on the left flank and whipped in a low cross that just eluded Tom Jones as he stretched out a boot at the near post.
Gould was just as much a spectator as the fans on the Golf Road terraces behind him as Alty probed patiently for the breakthrough their supremacy merited.
Williams' pace had already troubled 1874 down the Alty right and they fared no better when he changed flanks and set off down the left after half-an-hour. Successfully managing to hold off two attempts by a defender to hack him down, the youngster delivered a low cross that so nearly set up Tom Jones on the edge of the six-yard box.
Finally, the breakthrough arrived in the 40th minute as Andrade fastened on to a through ball and saw off a challenge to fire the ball low into the net.
It was no more than a vibrant young Robins side deserved, and it was enough to send them in 1-0 to the good at half-time.
The impressively-industrious German continued to dictate play at the heart of midfield and ensure Alty carried on enjoying the lion's share of possession.
There were shouts for an Alty penalty in the 57th minute when the lively Andrade slotted a ball to Tom Jones, who appeared to be upended, only for the referee to wave away the appeals.
The visitors must have sensed they could yet force their way back into contention, at only one goal adrift, but Alty keeper Gould continued to be well protected by a back four marshalled by James Jones and Sam Roscoe.
All that changed when, out of nowhere, 1874 were handed a lifeline, as an apparent offence inside the area in the 68th minute was spotted by the referee but scarcely anyone else.
A free-kick from the right was swung into the box, and the official deemed that an 1874 player had been either pushed or held for a spot-kick that was confidently despatched by Lucas Weir.
Alty went close to restoring their advantage in the 85th minute when concerted pressure led to the ball dropping to Andrade, who smashed a close-range shot against the underside of the bar with such force it bounced down and away to safety.
There was one last chance in added time, Andrade dragging a shot narrowly wide, before the eventuality most players dread materialised and the tie went to penalties.
It's a scenario Gould clearly does not dread. The Alty keeper strode purposefully towards the Golf Road End and engaged with Robins fans behind the goal before springing to his right to keep out the first two away kicks, the second being a particularly fine save.
With Roscoe and German converting Alty's first two with ease and Hayden Lindley tucking the third just under the bar, Alty were almost over the line. Young substitute Harrison Howells, who, along with all the other Academy starlets, had done the club's youth system proud, had his kick saved, but Andrade made no mistake with his to seal a deserved victory.