Words John Edwards | Pictures Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 2 AFC Fylde 1
CHRIS Conn-Clarke at his impudent imperious best proved the difference as Altrincham switched on the style to overturn a half-time deficit and run out worthy winners at The J.Davidson Stadium this afternoon.
Trailing to a Fylde side who belied their position at the foot of the Vanarama National League table, Alty stormed back in the second half to move into fourth place with two flashes of individual brilliance from their irrepressible little attacking midfielder.
A trademark free-kick, expertly lifted over the wall and into the left corner of the Fylde net, hauled the Robins back on to level terms in the 58th minute and spread belief through the ranks that more of the same might be on its way.
Sure enough, 11 minutes from time, the game was won as Conn-Clarke topped it all off with a thunderous dipping drive from distance that cannoned off the underside of the bar and spun over the line to send a packed Venditan Golf Road End into raptures.
After five minutes of testing each other out, Fylde were fortunate to emerge unscathed from the first real chance of the game, brilliantly created by Alex Newby.
When the ball was played in to Newby on the right, the on-loan winger executed a sublime sidefooted flick into the path of Conn-Clarke, who took a couple of paces before firing a low drive into the side netting.
The pitch was showing signs of cutting up, as might be expected after the pounding it has taken from the weather in recent weeks, but it didn't stop Alty putting together one or two slick early moves that had Fylde on the back foot.
The impressive Nick Haughton, for years one of the most accomplished attacking midfielders at this level, was pulling the strings for Fylde, but there was still little warning of the goal that gave the visitors a 27th-minute lead.
After a brief bout of Fylde pressure, Connor Barrett ploughed his way through two tackles on the right of the area to suddenly find himself with a clear sight of the Alty goal.
More should have been done from an Alty perspective to prevent the defender advancing quite so far, but, to his credit, he made the most of the opportunity that presented itself with an unerring finish into the left corner of the net.
Ethan Ross was called on to make a couple of decent saves to safeguard his side from any further alarms, but it was Alty who looked likelier to score next, not least when they pieced together a flowing move in the 33rd minute.
Elliot Osborne motored towards the halfway line before curling a delightful pass for Newby to latch on to down the left, and when the ball found its way across the area, Lewis Banks met it with a first-time drive that had Theo Richardson at full stretch to palm it away.
The Robins were finishing the half strongly and carved out two more opportunities before the break.
In the 44th minute, a build-up that began with an audacious flicked pass by Conn-Clarke ended with Banks crossing from the right to set up Marcus Dackers. But Fylde had a double escape as Richardson blocked Dackers' first attempt and the on-loan striker lifted the rebound over from close range.
Finally, a minute before half-time, Justin Amaluzor unleashed a firmly-struck rising drive that was too close to Richardson and enabled the keeper to clutch the ball just above his forehead.
Alty were doing most of the pressing at the start of the second half, but it still needed another fine reflex save by Ross to keep the deficit to a single goal in the 50th minute.
The Robins took that as their cue to step up the search for a leveller, and they were particularly unfortunate not to be back on terms two minutes later when Amaluzor teed up Banks with a pinpoint cutback from the right.
The Alty full-back did everything right with a shot that looked bound for the top corner until hitting a defender and veering off course to deflect behind.
Alty kept plugging away, and when another raid took them deep into Fylde territory in the 58th minute, it was only halted by a trip that brought skipper Harry Davis a yellow card.
It also brought Alty a deserved equaliser, as Conn-Clarke surveyed the wall supposedly protecting the Fylde goal, eyed up precisely what he wanted to do and executed it to perfection with a free-kick that sailed over the line of defenders and nestled in the net, with a bamboozled Richardson rooted to the spot and unable to do anything other than watch it fly in.
Both sides threw everything they had at trying to engineer a winner, in particular an Alty side who well and truly had the bit between their teeth.
Ross had to be alert to deny Haughton on the hour, the keeper diving to his right to push aside a fierce drive from the edge of the area.
Up the other end, Conn-Clarke whipped in a cross from the right that eluded the onrushing Dackers' straining forehead by the smallest of margins in the 61st minute, and a Dackers header landed on the roof of the net from a Newby cross two minutes later.
Back came Fylde, and it took an exceptional goalline clearance by Lewis Baines that was hugely appreciated by his team-mates to keep out a Haughton effort in the 64th minute.
It was Alty who were looking the more threatening, though, and it really should have been 2-1 in the 66th minute when Conn-Clarke slipped the ball through to Amaluzor, who shot wide when clean through and lifted his shirt over his face in an anguished response.
In the event, it didn't matter, not with Conn-Clarke again in match-winning mode.
A spell of Alty pressure in the 79th minute resulted in Osborne rolling the ball sideways to Conn-Clarke, who took a pace to his right before letting fly with an astonishing 25-yard effort, hit with curl and pace, that crashed against the underside of the bar and bounced over the line to spark jubilant scenes behind Richardson's goal in the Venditan Golf Road End.
Substitute Regan Linney was denied in a one-on-one with Richardson in the 90th minute, but Alty had already done enough to claim victory and Conn-Clarke had done more than enough to walk away with a bottle of bubbly as the Harvey Nichols man of the match.
Alty Ross; Banks, E.Jones, Baines, Osborne, Marriott (c), Conn-Clarke (Wilson, 80'), Amaluzor (Kosylo, 67'), Cooper, Dackers (Linney, 67'), Newby. Subs not used: Angus, Gould.
AFC Fylde Richardson; Davis (c), Charman, Haughton (Ormerod, 80'), Kay (Rowley, 85'), Graham, Glynn (Adshead, 65'), Barrett, Ustabaşı, Conway, O'Kane. Subs not used: Obi, Philliskirk.
Goals Conn-Clarke 58', Conn-Clarke (Osborne) 79' | Barrett 27'
Yellows Conn-Clarke 79', Osborne 85', Kosylo 89' | Kay 18', Davis 57', Adshead 76'
Referee Elliot Bell
Assistants Jamie Waters and Luis Martin
Attendance 2,003 (149 away)
We're on the tele next Saturday down at Bromley - kick-off for the TNT Sports game is a little later at 5:30pm.
We then return home just after Christmas for one of the best dates in the football calendar - Boxing Day football and the visit of FC Halifax Town. Get your tickets for that one here or head for the retail store in Altrincham town centre.