An absolute choker - penalty heartbreak for Alty after being seconds away from Wembley
Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 1 FC Halifax Town 1 (2-3 on penalties)
Altrincham's Wembley dream was crushed in cruellest way imaginable on an afternoon of raw emotion at a packed J.Davidson Stadium.
Leading through a Jordan Hulme first-half goal, and with the Twin Towers looming into view, Alty were pegged back by virtually the last kick of the game, a gut-wrenching blow that came a good 90 seconds after the allotted three added minutes had already elapsed.
Alty just had time for the restart before the final whistle was blown, and it sounded ominously like a death knell for the Robins' Isuzu FA Trophy aspirations as it confirmed that this semi-final, controlled almost throughout by a far superior home team, would be settled by a penalty shoot-out.
It started well enough, with substitute Elliot Osborne confidently despatching the opening kick and Ollie Byrne saving the first one he faced, but what's that saying about it being the hope that kills you?
Alty fans have become all-too-familiar with that phrase down the years, and they were left bereft once more as Eddy Jones and Maxi Oyedele saw their kicks saved and, finally, Tyrese Sinclair hit the underside of the bar. It hardly needs stating, given Alty's luck from 12 yards, that the ball bounced down in front of the line, rather than behind it.
What an agonising end to a Trophy run that has been full of incident and excitement, and there is no question Phil Parkinson and his players deserved better on the day than having to conceal their heartache the best they could and drag themselves round the four corners of the ground to acknowledge the backing of home fans in a gate of 4,771.
It had all gone according to plan in the first half, with Oyedele testing Sam Johnson in only the sixth minute, Hulme bringing the best out of the veteran Halifax keeper at least twice and Joe Hugill gliding past his marker in sublime style and almost creating a breakthrough with a low cross into the six-yard area.
When a goal came, it could only be to Alty, given the one-sided nature of the opening half, and it was Hulme who obliged, rifling home after excellent work on the right by the hugely-impressive Josh Lundstram in the 45th minute.
There was always the sense that Alty might need the insurance of a second goal, and how they created chances that would have put the tie to bed and spared everyone the horrors of added time and the spot-kicks that followed.
Oyedele drilled a low shot narrowly wide after being put through by Hugill in the 65th minute, James Jones sidefooted straight at Johnson from a great position in the 71st minute and, after Oyedele was again fractionally off-target from distance, Hugill left Jamie Stott in his slipstream before firing a shot that Johnson kept out with an outstretched boot.
In another lightning counter-attack in the 85th minute, Alty went straight upfield following a Halifax corner and so nearly settled the outcome as Hugill created space for a shot only to lift it over the bar.
Still, the Robins had done enough, hadn't they? So it seemed until, well into the fifth minute of added time, Millenic Alli, a menace to Alty's defence whenever Halifax ventured into opposition territory, hit a shot from the edge of the area that found its way inside the left-hand post.
Alty complaints about three added minutes suddenly being extended to five, even allowing for a brief interruption to remove a flare thrown on from the away end, fell on deaf ears.
A penalty shoot-out it was, and what an unjust way for it all to end after the team did the club and the town proud throughout their Trophy journey and even on what proved a fruitless quest for a long-overdue return to Wembley.