Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 2, FC Halifax Town 1
They’ve witnessed some special moments down the years on the Golf Road terraces and even been credited with an assist on the odd occasion when a nod towards sustained support has been the manager’s explanation for a late winner.
But they surely can’t have seen much to compare with Chris Conn-Clarke’s inspired intervention with time fast running out in a fiercely-contested Boxing Day battle with FC Halifax Town at The J.Davidson Stadium.
With the scores locked at 1-1 and two of the four added minutes already elapsed, the on-loan Fleetwood attacker picked up a loose ball near the halfway line and set off towards the Gold Road end.
There were plenty of backtracking Halifax defenders in his path, but with the mix of lightning acceleration and sleight of foot that’s become so familiar during his temporary stay, he went past one and then another.
Then another and another after that until, to a growing sense of anticipation that was almost audible, he advanced into the Halifax area.
One last change of direction that duped yet another defender, and the little forward was ready to apply the finishing touch, running to his right but wrong-footing keeper Sam Johnson with a clever shot into the bottom left corner.
It was greeted with an eruption of noise from a bumper 3,000 crowd, and no-one was more animated than Conn-Clarke himself, ripping off his shirt and hurling it into the cold evening air as he raced towards the corner flag.
What a finale to a game Alty dominated for long spells, playing the brighter, more incisive football and carrying the greater attacking threat yet still having to rely on one of the goals of this or any other season for the reward they deserved.
Though the sides were evenly matched in the first half, it was Alty who looked the more menacing early on, particularly with Ryan Colclough and Conn-Clarke making their presence felt in and around the left side of the penalty area.
When Brad Jackson slipped the ball through to Conn-Clarke in the 13th minute, it took a goal-saving block by Jordan Keane to deny the Alty favourite an opening goal.
Three minutes later, Conn-Clarke’s trickery on the left opened up space for a cross that was fractionally too high for Jackson, well positioned on the edge of the six-yard box but just unable to keep his header down.
A bright spell for Alty midway through the half ended with the industrious Isaac Marriott turning past two players midway inside the Halifax half and unleashing a shot that flew over from 25 yards.
Halifax began to force their way into the game, and it took a smart stop by Ollie Byrne at his near post to keep out a low effort from Emmanuel Dieseruvwe in the 29th minute.
A snap shot from Matty Warburton warmed the hands of Byrne in the 31st minute, and that was a warning of the attacking midfielder’s shooting power and accuracy that went unheeded when Alty conceded a free-kick for a push on Dieseruvwe in the 43rd minute.
Up stepped Warburton from a central position 20 yards out, and, given his pedigree, it came as little surprise that the set-piece was despatched over the wall and beyond the reach of Byrne, curled unerringly into the right corner of the Alty net to give Halifax a half-time lead.
Luck finally went the Robins’ way in the 54th minute when Colclough challenged Keane in the air for a pass lofted out towards the left flank, and the ball ricocheted off the Halifax skipper’s head to give Alty’s danger man a clear run into the area.
If fortune favoured Colclough initially, the rest was all down to his innate instinct for goal and unshakeable self-belief as he bore down on Johnson’s net and, from the tightest of angles, drilled an equaliser past the keeper.
The irrepressible Colclough cut in from the left in the 72nd minute and, as he tends to, hit a fierce, swerving shot without warning that Johnson did well to tip over, as Alty piled on the pressure.
It took a timely challenge from Keane to stop substitute Marcus Dinanga turning home a low Toby Mullarkey cross in the 79th minute, and Dinanga thought he was in business again just seconds later.
Johnson spilled a low drive by Colclough but reacted in the nick of time to smother the loose ball, just as Dinanga closed in for the kill.
Conn-Clarke thought he’s conjured up a spectacular late winner when he rounded off another weaving run with a curled shot that passed inches wide of the far post in the 84th minute.
Two minutes into added time, he did conjure one up, that familiar slalom style that treats defenders like ski slope poles taking him past one defender after another for an emphatic finish that raised the roof for an Alty side unbeaten in seven games and now in 12th position in the Vanarama National League, just two points behind sixth-placed Southend United.
Heady days, indeed…