Agony for Alty as last-gasp Palmer header nicks it for Spireites

Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Chesterfield 1 Altrincham 0
Altrincham's long unbeaten run shuddered to a halt in galling fashion at the Technique Stadium when, after more than matching promotion hopefuls Chesterfield for much of an enthralling encounter, they were undone by a set-piece goal just two minutes from time.
The Robins looked particularly impressive in the first half, trading punches with the high-flying Spireites and threatening to land a telling blow on more than one occasion.
Though Chesterfield stepped it up after the break, Alty defended resolutely when they had to and looked on course for a precious and well-deserved point until finally cracking with two minutes left.
At least it wasn't Ryan Colclough who did the damage. The former Alty winger went on as a 72nd-minute substitute but made little impression for a Chesterfield side who were running out of ideas until centre-back Ashley Palmer popped up to head home a corner with time almost up.
Colclough started on the bench for the Spireites, following his transfer window move to the Technique Stadium, but there was a new name in the Robins' starting ranks, with on-loan Harrogate defender Miles Welch-Hayes going straight into the side at right-back.
The pitch looked in perfect condition at kick-off, despite the current cold spell necessitating an inspection by the match referee at 6pm, a formality, surely, given the lush green surface that greeted the two teams.
Alty got proceedings underway with what looked like a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Isaac Marriott and Josh Lundstram flanked by Jordan Hulme on the right and Egli Kaja on the left and Chris Conn-Clarke operating just behind lone striker Marcus Dinanga.
The first chance fell to Chesterfield in the sixth minute - or it would have done but for an inexplicably poor piece of control from Bailey Clements.
The left-back timed his run into the area to perfection to meet a sliderule pass by Ollie Banks, but as he stretched out a foot to control it, the contact was too heavy and the ball rolled out harmlessly for a goal-kick, much to the Robins' relief.
Despite the home team's lofty position in the table, Alty were far from overawed, and they created two moments of promise of their own soon after.
When a right-wing Alty corner was only half-cleared in the eighth minute, the ball was worked to Conn-Clarke, who wriggled his way into space and whipped in a shot that didn't quite dip enough as it flew over the bar.
Five minutes later, Kaja's persistence almost led to a breakthrough as he forced his way to the bye-line on the left and cut the ball back towards the lurking Hulme, only for a defender's outstretched boot to nick the ball away from the Alty skipper at the expense of a corner.
There had been one or two near-misses in an evenly-contested start, but nothing by way of a shot on target. All that changed in the 13th minute, and what a save it took from Ollie Byrne to deny Chesterfield an opening goal.
A ball into the Alty box found Liam Mandeville, and when the Chesterfield striker steadied himself and drilled a firm shot towards the top left corner, it took a flying full-length stop from Byrne to keep it out.
Welch-Hayes was making a favourable impression on his Alty debut, though he nearly blotted his copybook after overrunning the ball on a surging run down the right and finding himself out of position as Chesterfield looked to exploit the space behind him.
It will surprise no-one that as Armando Dobra advanced into the box on the left, it was the imperious Lundstram who came to the rescue with a clean, decisive saving tackle to dispossess the Chesterfield winger.
Promotion-chasing Chesterfield were far from having it their own way, and there were a couple of further scares for Paul Cook's side around the half-hour mark.
First, Conn-Clarke whipped a 26th-minute free-kick in from the right towards the far post, where Welch-Hayes met it with a looping header that arced back across the goal but dropped just the wrong side of the bar.
Seven minutes later, Dinanga looked to have done the hard part after darting between Chesterfield's two central defenders only to slip the ball past Lucas Covolan but wide of the left post as the keeper dashed towards him.
Byrne had to shovel a fierce long-range effort from Banks round the post with some discomfort in the 36th minute, but moments of inconvenience for the Robins were few and far between as they more than matched their illustrious hosts.
Indeed, it was another sharp move by Alty that put the seal on an entertaining first half in the 42nd minute. Lundstram played the ball forward to Conn-Clarke, and when a clever flick by the on-loan Alty attacker created a shooting opportunity for Hulme, the Robins' captain was left holding his head after seeing his goalbound effort blocked by a defender.
Chesterfield came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half, peppering the Alty defence with attempts at goal. Lewis Baines was ideally placed to get his head in the way of two goalbound efforts, and when Mike Jones tried his luck from the edge of the area, it needed a full-length save by Byrne, diving to his right, to keep the scoreline blank.
The Robins were under the cosh, but there was some respite in the 55th minute when a counter-attack ended with Conn-Clarke firing a shot that Covolan saved comfortably enough, falling to his right.
Chesterfield's storming start to the half must have concerned the Alty bench, and they moved to stem the tide in the 57th minute by withdrawing winger Kaja and reinforcing the centre of midfield with the introduction of Elliot Osborne.
Alty certainly seemed to be re-establishing a foothold, and a lightning break by Marriott might well have led to a breakthrough in the 68th minute.
The combative little midfielder won possession not far outside his own area and surged forward with a burst of acceleration that took him deep into Chesterfield territory before a pass to Hulme gave the Alty forward a shooting opportunity on the left of the area.
Unfortunately, Hulme passed it up in favour of trying to cut inside on to his right foot, and the chance was lost as he was crowded out by a line of defenders.
If a Chesterfield goal was looking far from inevitable, given how Alty were holding their own, a substitution by the home side surely was. The Robins just had to be confronted by Colclough at some stage, and the moment duly arrived in the 72nd minute when the former Alty winger rose from the bench and entered the fray.
Within a minute, he was in the action, setting up a shooting chance with his first touch and hammering a long-range effort with his second that was thankfully blocked. A sign of things to come for Chesterfield fans and one that Alty followers will miss.
Byrne was at his best again in the 87th minute, springing to his left to palm away a stinging drive by Banks.
But there was heartbreak for the Robins a minute later when former Stockport County defender Palmer rose to meet a right-wing corner with a flashing header into the top left corner that gave Byrne no chance.
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