Report by John Edwards
Picture by Ben Roberts
Altrincham 1 Southend United 0
He's only been here just over a month, but Regan Linney is already gaining a reputation as the man with the Midas touch for Altrincham.
It was taken as read he would bring goals with him when he joined the Robins from FC United of Manchester United, given his record for them, and scoring four times in his first few Alty appearances shows that confidence wasn't misplaced.
But what has also become increasingly clear is that he has a happy knack of contributing goals that matter, ones that significantly influence the outcome of games.
On his full debut against Woking on February 18th, Alty's promotion-chasing visitors were rocked by an emphatically-despatched penalty by Linney that launched the Robins towards a highly-impressive 3-1 win.
It was to be quite an opening week in Alty colours for the bustling frontrunner. Three days later, he fired home a superb low finish to make it 3-2 for eventual 4-2 winners Alty at Barnet and, on the following Saturday, another Linney penalty made it 3-1 against Solihull Moors for a Robins side who went on to win 4-1.
He was at it again before a bumper 3,000-plus crowd at The J.Davidson Stadium this afternoon, slotting home another nerveless spot-kick to hand Alty all three points, just as Southend were beginning to believe they might be taking one of them home with them.
Phil Parkinson has pulled off some astute signings in his time as Alty manager, and it's looking increasingly like young Linney is going to end up being right up there with the best of them.
Joe Hugill is another livewire young striker currently at Alty's disposal, only on loan from Manchester United in his case, and he tried his luck in only the second minute, lifting a first-time volley over from the best part of 30 yards after Aaron Bennett nudged the ball into his path.
In truth, it cleared the bar by some distance, but it was the mark of a young man with an unshakeable belief in his own ability that he unleashed a first-time shot from that sort of distance without even the slightest hesitation.
Patience almost paid off for Alty in the 10th minute when Josh Lundstram underlined his capacity for retaining possession in the tightest of spots down the right flank. When he eventually rolled the ball back to James Jones, the Alty defender chipped it down the line to Jordan Hulme, in space near the right corner flag.
The move continued with Hulme finding his nearest supporting team-mate - the ever-mobile, ever-available Lundstram, inevitably - and when the Alty midfielder crossed into the box, Miles Welch-Hayes met it with a glancing header that went just over.
It was excellent persistence by the Robins, and they threatened again three minutes later when more pressure ended with Bennett curling a shot wide of the left post.
Solihull's occasional attempts to pick a way through the Alty defence encountered a familiar obstacle in the form of Isaac Marriott sliding in with an immaculately-timed last-ditch tackle or block, one of countless attributes that have long since established him as an integral part of the Robins' set-up.
The one moment when it looked as though a Southend goal might materialise in the opening half-hour came from an aerial route, when a left-wing cross was met by a header from Nathan Ralph that clipped the right-hand post.
If that was a scare for Alty, there was an even bigger one in the 41st minute, when the Robins had ample opportunity to clear their lines and almost paid the price for failing to do so.
A Southend effort was blocked, and when the ball fell obligingly for Jack Bridge, he looked certain to score from a couple of yards out, only for his shot to be deflected behind for a corner when it appeared the net had to ripple.
The Robins seemed determined to make the most of their reprieve, as they started the second half on the front foot.
In one bout of exerted pressure, around the 55-minute mark, Jordan Hulme had an angled drive deflected behind for a corner and Bennett sent a chip from near the bye-line on the left floating tantalisingly close to the far post, with the keeper stranded.
There was a danger of time running out, with both teams toiling in vain for a breakthrough, but this Alty side, just like others before it under Phil Parkinson, have a belief in carrying the fight to their opponents to the very end that never wavers.
Sure enough, they were rewarded for persevering in the 79th minute with a spot-kick that was earned and converted by Linney, on as a replacement for Hulme just nine minutes earlier.
Fellow-substitute Luke Burgess created the opening with a pinpoint flicked pass with the outside of his left boot that sent Linney charging into the Southend danger area from the right flank.
It was a run that was only ended by a foul challenge near the corner of the six-yard box, and, on seeing Linney unceremoniously upended, the referee had no hesitation pointing to the spot.
Both the Alty forward's penalties last month were at the away end, but it made no difference - he was very bit as cool, confident and composed in front of a packed Golf Road terrace with a finish that sent keeper Steve Arnold the wrong way.
Southend missed an absolute sitter in the 82nd minute, substitute Callum Powell dragging his shot wide with the goal at his mercy, and how they will have regretted that on the long journey home as they checked the Vanarama National League table and found the Robins breathing down their necks, just one point behind in 13th place.