98th-minute equaliser thwarts opening day win

Written by Joe Edgar

Altrincham suffered late heartbreak in their 2023/24 National League opener, as a 98th minute equaliser from Dagenham and Redbridge saw them draw 1-1 in their first game of the season.

Chris Conn-Clarke scored a well-worked goal for the Robins, only for it to be cancelled out late into stoppage time, ensuring that the points were shared between the two sides. 

Only seven minutes into the game, a first chance arose, and it fell Altrincham’s way. An Alty free kick was whipped in from the right-hand side, and the headed clearance fell to Matty Kosylo. He controlled the ball well, teeing himself up for a volley at goal, but his effort didn’t quite challenge Elliot Justham in the Dagenham & Redbridge net as it travelled over the bar.

Both goalkeepers Justham and Ethan Ross, remained relatively unchallenged in the first 20 minutes, as the two defences remained very organised and hard to break down.

In the 23rd minute, however, it seemed as though the Robins had managed to breach the organised Dagenham & Redbridge defence. After being put in behind by Chris Conn-Clarke, Regan Linney cut inside from the right-hand-side and expertly slotted the ball into the bottom right corner. Unfortunately, the assistant’s flagged was raised, and the goal was deemed to be offside.

From this point onwards, from being a game that was quite cagey early on, became very fast paced with a multitude of opportunities. Directly from the disallowed goal, the Daggers moved up the field very quickly. Some very clever build up play down the left-hand side resulted in Myles Weston being unmarked on the left-hand side of the penalty area, with the ball at his feet. He fired a powerful effort at goal, but he was denied by a remarkable save from Ethan Ross, pushing the ball onto the post.

Then, deep into the large amount of first-half stoppage time given by the referee, it was Justham’s turn to pull off a magnificent save. The move was started by Conn-Clarke, who bypassed the Dagenham press with a fantastic flick to Kosylo on the left. The winger then drove at the opposition defence, before finding Linney ahead of him. Linney’s left-footed strike took a deflection and looked to be a certain goal, but incredible reactions from Justham ensured the half ended 0-0.

The goalscoring threat from either side died down after the restart, similar to the early stages of the first half. Both Kosylo and Weston showed moments of danger from either side’s left wing, but the final ball was lacking for both clubs.

As the second half progressed, however, the match began to open up once again, as the teams searched for a winning goal. Just after the 70-minute mark, Chris Conn-Clarke showcased just how deadly his dribbling can be, as he beat two Dagenham & Redbridge defenders just past the halfway line. A neat one-two with Linney put Conn-Clarke one on one with the Dagenham goalkeeper, but his delicate chip was saved. The rebound fell to Linney who was presented with a golden opportunity to open the scoring, but his effort was blazed over.

Alty, much to the home fans’ delight, finally broke the deadlock in the 80th minute. A looping clearance was launched towards the Altrincham forwards, and it broke nicely for Dior Angus. He managed to poke it behind Dagenham’s defence where Chris Conn-Clarke was one on one with the goalkeeper for the second time in short succession. This time there was no mistake as he showed fantastic composure to send Justham the wrong way and put Alty 1-0 up.

With Altrincham taking the lead came a huge shift of momentum, however. The away side became much more front-footed, looking to take the game to Altrincham and find an equaliser, while the Robins retreated into their own half.

The pressure built and built on the hosts, as Ben Strevens’ men threw everything at them. Deep into stoppage time, as the Dagenham players surged forward, openings were being created. Ross managed to deny a Josh Rees’ half-volley with a stunning diving save to his left, but from the following corner, Altrincham’s hard work was undone.

The ball was hit firmly towards the near post where it found Harry Phipps, and his following header looped over Ross and the Altrincham defence where it found the corner.

There were huge amounts of disappointment around the ground, but that was only due to the manner of the draw and conceding late on. The game finished level, and not picking up all three points was a bitter pill to swallow after a solid all-round opening day performance.

There were however plenty of positives to take and we move on to make the trip down to Woking next Saturday.

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