Rough justice for spirited Alty as late winner denies them a point against title favourites

Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham did themselves proud in front of a nationwide TV audience but were left with nothing to show for their sterling efforts as Wrexham pinched the points with an 86th-minute winner at a rainswept J.Davidson Stadium.
The Robins were more than a match for their illustrious visitors for long spells and looked on course for a thoroughly-merited draw when the impressive Miles Welch-Hayes struck an unstoppable equaliser nine minutes from time.
But they couldn't hold on in the face of Wrexham's height and power at set-pieces, and there was no way back when Eoghan O'Connell forced home what proved to be the matchwinner from a left-wing corner.
The dreaded Wrexham long throw, delivered by Ben Tozer, was inflicted on Alty as early as the first minute, Ollie Palmer flicking it on at the near post but Alty managing to scramble the ball clear.
Much of the early play was unfolding in the Alty half, as might be expected, but it was the Robins who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the ninth minute.
A sweeping crossfield pass from left to right by Elliot Osborne picked out Welch-Hayes, and when the right-back cut in and clipped a left-foot cross into the heart of the area, Jordan Hulme met it with a superb header that skimmed the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
Hulme was given the nod for the central striker role, with new signing Regan Linney on the bench, and he seemed determined to make the most of it.
When a Wrexham corner was cleared to the edge of the area in the 13th minute and nodded into the path of Hulme by Danny Cashman, the Robins skipper did brilliantly to knock the ball into space down the left flank and not only beat one Wrexham defender in the race to reach it first but draw a foul from another as he cut inside with a clever change of direction.
Four minutes later, Hulme went agonisingly close to stunning the packed terraces behind the Wrexham net with an opening goal few would have begrudged a spirited Alty side (pictured).
A long ball forward was flicked on by Tyrese Sinclair, and, as keeper Mark Howard dashed from his line, Hulme clipped the ball over him from just outside the area.
A capacity crowd froze as the ball arced towards an empty net before, to the dismay of Hulme and his team-mates and every Alty fan in a bumper gate of 4,865, the trajectory brought it down smack against the centre of the crossbar.
What an escape for the Vanarama National League title favourites and what ill-luck for the Robins, who had made such a good start - tight at the back, tigerish in midfield and full of energy up front.
Isaac Marriott epitomised the front-foot Alty approach in the 23rd minute, winning possession and ploughing through a challenge before finding Sinclair, whose 20-yard shot might have troubled Howard but for being blocked by a defender.
A brief spell of Wrexham pressure around the half-hour mark ended with a curling effort from Tom O'Connor from the edge of the box that Ollie Byrne read well, moving smartly to his right to make a clean catch.
Just seconds later, Alty replied in kind, with Sinclair combining well with Hulme, who rolled the ball back for Marriott to fire in a shot that Howard held comfortably enough.
Cashman was filling the role recently vacated by Chris Conn-Clarke, and he showed the same flair for trying something different in the 39th minute, latching in to a loose ball fully 30 yards out and unhesitatingly trying his luck with an audacious effort that took some saving.
In fact, it was too hot for Howard to handle, and the experienced keeper was relieved to see the ball scrambled to safety after the shot took him by surprise and cannoned out off his chest.
Rain was falling steadily towards the end of the first half, but Alty were making light of the conditions, as they were of their vaunted opponents, Cashman curling a shot narrowly wide in added time.
Cashman was involved again, as Alty made a bright start to the second half and once more went close to the game's first goal in the 48th minute.
Receiving and controlling a quick throw-out by Byrne, in space on the right, the on-loan Coventry City attacking midfielder looked up and spotted Sinclair, lurking just outside the area on the far side of the pitch.
A pinpoint crossfield pass was expertly pulled down by the Alty winger, but the finish didn't quite match the first touch as his shot went just wide of the far post from an inviting position.
After defending so well when they had to, Alty were undone by a goal that will have frustrated them, given the ease with which it was both created and finished.
Left-sided midfielder Elliott Lee was allowed to cut in on to his right foot and deliver a cross that reached Palmer beyond the far post, the big striker taking one touch to control it and another to despatch a low shot past Byrne.
Hulme had been a handful, but he gave way to new arrival Linney in the 67th minute, as Alty sought a means of finding a way through the Wrexham rearguard.
Marriott had been outstanding throughout, constantly driving his team forward and frequently winning the ball back when Wrexham had it, and it was fitting that the little midfielder should be instrumental in Alty's deserved equaliser.
Receiving the ball after an exchange of passes on the left, Marriott switched direction by turning to his right and rolling the ball towards Welch-Hayes, who steadied himself before rifling a low shot beyond the reach of Howard.
Parity did not last long, unfortunately. From a corner on the left, following a superb piece of defending by Lewis Baines, Sam Dalby hit the post and had a follow-up effort parried by Byrne before O'Connell had the final say, lashing the ball home from close range.
Rough justice for Alty, but, on the evidence of an enthralling 90 minutes, there is cause of optimism that Phil Parkinson's rejigged squad are on the right lines after a week of upheaval in the final stages of the transfer window.
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