Maidstone United 2 Altrincham 3
Connor Jennings opened his account for Altrincham as the Robins extended their unbeaten run to five games with an outstanding performance and result at the Gallagher Stadium.
Alty announced on Friday that Jennings had agreed to extend his loan for a further month, and the Stockport County striker marked his continuing presence in Robins colours in style with a close-range finish in the second half.
That put Alty 2-1 in front, and when Chris Conn-Clarke added a third in the 72nd minute, Phil Parkinson’s side were able to absorb the blow of a late Maidstone goal and ensure it didn’t prevent them heading home with a thoroughly-deserved three points safely in the bag.
As might be expected, given the current Arctic temperatures, Maidstone’s 3g pitch was playable but slippery and icy underfoot, making for difficult conditions for both teams.
Backed by a vociferous away following, Alty began to settle into their stride after a cautious opening quarter-of-an-hour and went ahead with a superbly-worked goal in the 20th minute.
Elliot Newby’s scoring prowess has been a feature of Alty’s recent fine form, but he turned provider with a low cross that was met by Josh Lundstram, whose instant control was followed by an unerring finish in a single sublime movement by the Robins midfielder.
What a goal to put Alty in front, superbly crafted and brilliantly finished by two key players in a team imbued with confidence and self-belief.
With Newby twice going close in the space of a few minutes, and Toby Mullarkey drilling a shot narrowly wide of the far post, Alty were looking to make short work of their hosts.
They threatened again with another slick move that ended with Conn-Clarke being denied by an exceptional goal-line clearance after his shot looked sure to double the Robins’ lead.
As has been proved repeatedly, a single-goal lead can easily be overturned, even by a side who have been playing second fiddle, and so it transpired shortly before half-time when appeals for a penalty for handball against James Jones initially appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, only for the referee to belatedly point to the spot.
Alty’s players were aghast, and their sense of grievance was hardly helped by the subsequent penalty being struck confidently into the corner of the net by Regan Booty, despite Ollie Byrne's best efforts, to make it 1-1 at half-time.
Another penalty claim again went against Alty in the 50th minute, this time at the other end as a challenge on Jennings went unpunished by the official, despite appeals by the Robins striker and his team-mates.
There was a scare for Alty when Roarie Deacon cut in from the left and hit a rising drive that crashed against the underside of the bar, but the Robins were soon back on the attack and going close to a second goal, with Lundstram forcing an excellent save from the home keeper in the 57th minute.
Just six minutes later, the moment arrived that Alty - and Jennings, in particular - have been waiting for since the experienced frontrunner walked through the door at The J.Davidson Stadium a month ago.
Conn-Clarke released Mullarkey down the right, and Jennings, as befits a centre-forward of his calibre, was in the right place at the right time to turn the vice-captain’s low cross over the line for his first goal in Alty colours.
Little had been seen of Ryan Colclough up to this point, but even when he’s relatively quiet, you can usually count on a moment of matchwinning magic from Alty’s talisman attacker.
So it proved in the 72nd minute as he won the ball near the halfway line and, with the vision that sets him aside from so many in the Vanarama National League, swept a sublime crossfield ball to Conn-Clarke, who matched his team-mate’s eye-catching flair with an exquisite first touch and unstoppable finish to make it 3-1.
There was a late scare when a Maidstone attack ended with a shot that was deflected past Byrne, but anything other than an Alty victory would have been a gross misrepresentation of a pattern of play that was dictated by the Robins for the bulk of the afternoon.
There was so much to admire about another hugely-impressive away performance, not least a goal that Jennings deserved for his all-round excellence so far, James Jones and Lewis Baines standing tall whenever tested, Mullarkey and Eddy Jones filling the full-back roles with distinction and the imperious Lundstram emerging as man-of-the-match once again.
Attendance: 1,730, including 52 from Alty.