Andrew Flynn reports from Damson Park
Altrincham were unable to right the wrongs of the last two seasons’ painful trips to Damson Park, falling to another heavy defeat at the hands of promotion-chasing Solihull Moors yesterday afternoon.
Bank Holiday Monday’s game with Chesterfield showed that Altrincham were capable of competing against sides with similar aspirations for their season. They went toe-to-toe with Chesterfield for large periods of the game, so despite not having the critical result to show for it, the Robins did come into this one with some cause for optimism.
That optimism was dealt a huge blow in the 20th minute when Moors’ Josh Kelly, purchased from Maidenhead United in the summer after a breakout 2021/22 that saw him score 15 league goals, perfectly placed a free-kick into Dermot Mee’s top right hand corner. The opening goal came after a somewhat even start to the game, one that saw Marcus Dinanga go close a few minutes prior, fed by Chris Conn-Clarke on an incisive counter-attack.
Sensing the opportunity to put the game to bed early, Solihull stepped up a gear following Kelly’s opener. Two more summer signings were in the thick of the action over the next ten minutes. The first was Alex Reid, formerly of Stockport County, who struck the post in a sign of things to come, before Callum Whelan, who joined from Oldham Athletic, put a free header completely wide. Alty were riding their luck, and in truth, the game could have been over and done within the half hour mark.
As it was, luck was with Altrincham in the first half. The Robins found themselves back in the game on the 35th minute with the pick of the afternoon’s half-dozen goals. Preston North End loanee Aaron Bennett capped off a period of patient Altrincham possession with a curling long range effort that gave goalkeeper Louie Moulden no chance. It was now the Robins turn to push forward as we saw Phil Parkinson’s side create real problems for the hosts, buoyed on by Bennett’s equaliser. The most notable moment came in the 38th minute when Josh Lundstram picked up the ball 25 yards out and produced a world class save from Moulden. Had that gone in, who knows how this one would have played out?
Solihull regained their lead three minutes before the interval. Callum Maycock’s attempted chip on the edge of the box (think Nicky Clee at Colwyn Bay in 2011) is described in the Moors’ match report as having ‘nicked a defender’ which would explain the looping motion that caught Mee out and left him helpless to do anything about it. This was a blow to Altrincham’s morale as they were in the ascendancy, and the psychological impact of going in level could have been significant in dealing with the second half onslaught.
Half time: Solihull Moors 2-1 Altrincham (Kelly 20, Maycock 42) (Bennett 35)
Altrincham were, once again, made to pay for a cold restart. After conceding early second half goals in the previous two games against Boreham Wood and Chesterfield, one would imagine that this was firmly on the radar of Moors’ manager Neal Ardley, who sent his side out to start with intensity and purpose. They got their rewards through Reid’s first of the afternoon within three minutes. Ryan Barnett was allowed to travel through Altrincham defenders before Reid smashed home.
It’s not to say that Altrincham did not have chances or bright moments in the second half. Attacking towards the commendable number of 118 travelling fans, the 55th minute saw the Robins have two efforts cleared from goal in the space of a minute. The first, created brilliantly by Bennett, saw Conn-Clarke’s shot hit Dinanga on the line, who could not get himself out of the way. Then, Alty recycled possession quickly, and Elliot Osborne’s low shot looked destined for the net if it wasn’t for goal line heroics from Fiacre Kelleher.
Zak Goodson replaced Dinanga shortly afterwards, making his debut for the club after signing in the week from Ilkeston Town. Uneventful though his debut was, it will have served as a brutal introduction to the physical and technical levels of the league he will be adjusting to.
Reid’s second goal on 72’ signified the beginning of the end for Alty, who at this point had exhausted all of their creativity without reward. This was Solihull’s goal of the game, keeping the ball patiently for some time as they moved it from left to right across the edge of the box before finding Reid who finished sweetly from the edge of the area.
For the rest of the game Alty were kept at arm’s length, you could sense that the fight and optimism shown in periods, namely after Bennett’s equaliser and the decent spell upon conceding after the restart, was now extinguished by Moors’ efficiency, physicality and quality of play.
Neil Ardley’s side completed the scoring in added time. Reid claimed the match ball for himself scoring a goal that will have hurt the Robins’ pride somewhat, as he was inexplicably allowed to backheel in a third goal akin to that of Alessia Russo’s in this summer’s EURO 2022 semi-final.
Almost all of the Altrincham fans stayed to applaud their players from the pitch, there were visible shows of solidarity with a squad that simply were not able to match their opposition over 90 minutes. Others aired frustration, as was their right after a slow start to the season sees the Robins second-bottom of The National League table, and the only team in The National League that is yet to win a game this season.
Alty will need to shake this one off quickly and look forward to a pivotal run of games in September, with plenty of opportunity for better days and some much needed results.
Full-time: Solihull Moors 5-1 Altrincham (Kelly 20, Maycock 42, Reid 48, 73, 90+3) (Bennett 35)
Altrincham Manager Phil Parkinson spoke with Brian Flynn following Alty's 5-1 away defeat at Solihull Moors: