Irlam U-18s 3, Altrincham U-18s 4
Match report by Alty player Sam Murphy
Altrincham’s under-18s could scarcely have faced a tougher test than travelling to unbeaten league leaders Irlam, but they soon showed it was a challenge they relished.
After drawing the previous game, the Robins were determined to match a confident looking Irlam side stride for stride, and they wasted no time demonstrating as much.
The scene was set under the lights, and it was Altrincham who got off to a flying start when captain Owen German floated in a free-kick from the right hand side and centre-back Sam Murphy met it with a free header for the first goal of the game.
It was a blistering start for Alty, who made it 2-0 soon after, the goal coming from Sheriff Nije with a tidy finish over the keeper's head. The scoreline reflected a very dominant first half-an-hour from Alty, but Irlam fought back towards the end of the half, forcing Robins keeper Dane Byron to pull off several great saves to keep the score at 2-0.
However, Irlam kept pushing for a breakthrough and eventually pulled one back just before half-time, after a throw in from the left led to a tap-in at the back post.
Irlam began the second half in search of an equaliser, attacking Altrincham from both sides of the pitch. It didn’t take them long to find one after a corner from the right met an Irlam head at the front post to draw the scores level.
Altrincham needed to keep their heads up and continue to play the quick football which was seen in the first half, but it was Irlam who continued on the front foot and scored again, attacking down the left and drilling the ball across goal for a tap-in at the back post to make it 3-2.
It took Alty some time to grow into the second half, and it was clear that conceding another goal might well end their hopes of victory.
Charlie Behan, Sekouba Camara, Mike Comber and George Raftery were all introduced midway through the second half, looking to boost the team with fresh legs.
Chances started coming for the Robins, but the Irlam defence stayed strong - up until the last five minutes, that is, when a long ball was flicked on by Behan, giving James Kelly the chance to knock it around the keeper, only to be brought down in the process. Penalty given.
Up stepped Owen German to take the spot-kick, with all eyes on the Alty skipper. The ball was smashed into the back of the net, putting Altrincham back on level terms.
The game looked like it would end in a draw as both teams kept battling away, particularly with mist seeming to thicken across the pitch as play went on.
But with time running out, a long ball from Dane Byron set Kelly off one-on-one with the keeper, and it was the Alty player who came out on top, heading the ball over the Irlam number one into the empty net.
It sealed a 4-3 win and prompted brilliant celebrations from Kelly and the whole team, as they reflected on a hard-fought contest that ended with an outstanding three-point haul.
What a great performance from Alty's youngsters against a strong physical Irlam side who had four first-team players in their squad.