Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
FC Halifax Town 2 Altrincham 2
Altrincham were pegged back twice and suffered the agony of a potential stoppage-time winner being controversially ruled out for offside on an afternoon of New Year’s Day drama at The Shay.
The Robins went in front through Elliot Osborne in the first half and recovered from a bout of sustained Halifax pressure that included an equaliser with a set-piece special from Chris Conn-Clarke that was fit to win any game.
It didn’t win this one due to Halifax substitute Jordan Slew heading home from an 85th-minute corner to make it 2-2, despite claims of a foul on Ollie Byrne.
Even then, Alty showed no interest in settling for a point, powering forward and looking to have secured all three points with a Ryan Colclough effort that was about to cross the line when Marcus Dinanga helped it on its way, prompting a linesman to raise his flag for offside against the Alty substitute.
No complaints about having to share the spoils, perhaps, as the Robins extended their unbeaten run to eight games, but the look of sheer frustration on so many Alty faces at the final whistle told its own story of how close they had come to another significant victory in what was an enthralling encounter.
Heavy rain in West Yorkshire left the chances of the match going ahead in the balance up to just after 2pm, when referee Matt Corlett inspected the sodden surface and decided it was just about playable.
With standing water in one corner of the pitch needing to be swept away, kick off was put back by 15 minutes to 3.15pm.
Attention, in the intervening hour or so, tended to focus on the grey skies, with what was gradually building into a healthy New Year’s Day crowd doubtless willing the dark rain clouds to spare us any further downpours.
It was clear from the opening exchanges that the pitch was going to prove difficult and would hardly be conducive to the Robins’ normal slick passing style.
That being the case, Alty could ill-afford individual errors, yet one or two surfaced in the first two minutes and could so easily have proved costly.
A failure to keep possession deep inside their own half after just over a minute gave Mani Dieseruvwe the chance to link up with Jamie Cooke, whose dangerous low cross was hacked to safety by James Jones.
Seconds later, Connor Jennings lost possession not far outside his own area, but again Alty’s defence stood firm just as Halifax looked to capitalise.
The Shaymen threatened again in the 11th minute when Cooke found space on the right and bore down on goal, only for Lewis Baines’ pursuit of the Halifax midfielder to prove crucial as Alty’s centre-back pulled off a goal-saving challenge.
With Alty’s general play starting to look more assured, it was Halifax’s turn to show some fallibility - and what a blunder it was by the normally-reliable Sam Johnson.
Osborne’s shot from 20 yards lacked conviction and was straight at Johnson, yet the Halifax keeper let it squirm through his hands and his legs and could only turn and look on aghast as the ball trickled over the line.
He may have been slightly unsighted by the row of defenders Osborne’s effort passed through, and the ball may possibly have bobbled in front of him, but Johnson knew he had erred uncharacteristically, as his rueful look to the skies seemed to indicate.
The breakthrough came in the 12th minute, and, barely two minutes later, the lead was almost extended by a vintage piece of Colclough enterprise.
When Colclough rolled the ball infield from the left and chased after it, Isaac Marriott read his intentions, cushioning the pass for the Alty winger to crack a low shot that Johnson saved superbly, diving full-length to his left to turn it round the post.
There was little between the teams in the opening half-hour or so, but Alty were looking increasingly threatening, particularly when Colclough was involved.
The winger’s ability to unnerve opposing defenders was never better illustrated than when some dazzling footwork bamboozled his marker and sent him surging down the left flank.
Even when he then found himself surrounded by two further Halifax defenders, he slotted an audacious pass into the path of Eddy Jones, who advanced into the area and hit a low shot that was blocked by Johnson by his near post.
Milli Alli jinked past a challenge and drilled a shot narrowly wide in the 40th minute, and it took another immaculately-timed challenge from Baines to deny Dieseruvwe a couple of minutes later.
All in all, though, when the half-time whistle sounded, Alty had every cause for feeling they were good value for their narrow lead as they headed down the tunnel.
Colclough, of all people, spurned a glorious chance to double the Robins’ advantage just two minutes into the second half.
Bursting forward in characteristic style, the Alty danger man cleverly picked out Eddy Jones to his left and continued his advance into the area, in anticipation of a return pass from the overlapping left-back.
What followed was anything but characteristic, as the delivery from Jones duly arrived, only for the usually lethal Colclough to misdirect a first-time side-footed shot well wide from a great position.
The Shaymen’s home form has been the mainstay of their recent resurgence, and they seemed determined to maintain it and reclaim the ascendancy in a lively start to the second half.
After soaking up a brief spell of pressure, Alty were back on the front foot and threatening a second goal in the 55th minute, with the irrepressible Colclough again to the fore.
Winning possession in his own half, he skipped past two challenges on the left before whipping in a cross that Connor Jennings volleyed narrowly wide from beyond the far post.
What a goal that would have been, and there could be no doubting Alty could have done with the comfort of a 2-0 lead, given the way Halifax were mounting attack after attack.
From one, midway through the second half, there was an almighty scramble that ended with Ollie Byrne and Toby Mullarkey just about stopping the ball crossing the line and Josh Lundstram superbly blocking a drive from Matty Warburton.
The pressure finally told in the 69th minute when Alty surrendered possession just outside their own area and Ali accelerated into space on the left before firing a shot unerringly beyond Byrne.
It had been one-way traffic for a little longer than Alty would have liked, but there was some respite, and nearly a second goal, in the 75th minute when a well-constructed attack finished with Chris Conn-Clarke delivering a low cross that just eluded both the far post and the onrushing Colclough.
Suddenly, it was Alty forcing the pace, as they created two openings in as many minutes.
First, Conn-Clarke brilliantly tricked his way past one defender then another just inside the area, and when he passed to Dinanga, on as substitute just seconds earlier, the striker should have done better than give Johnson the chance to save a tame shot.
There was much more of a test for Johnson moments after that, as Colclough let fly with venom from 20 yards, but the keeper was up to it with a full-length dive to his right.
Alty were rewarded for coming back so strongly and spiritedly in the 84th minute when Colclough slipped just outside the area but was awarded a free-kick by referee Corlett, who clearly felt a foul had been committed.
Up stepped Conn-Clarke to bend the resulting set-piece over the wall and, possibly with the aid of a deflection, beyond Johnson to make it 2-1 to the Robins.
If there was some controversy about the award of the free-kick, there was just as much about the goal that hauled Halifax level again barely a minute after they had gone behind.
When a corner was swung in from the left, substitute Jordan Slew rose unchallenged at the near post to plant a header in from close range. The reason for the free header, Byrne forcibly pointed out to the referee, was that the Alty keeper had been impeded and therefore prevented from catching the ball.
It fell on deaf ears, and Alty’s sense of grievance became even more acute in added time when Colclough looked to have won it with a cross-shot that appeared to be touched in by Dinanga as it crossed the line.
That was enough for the linesman to raise his flag, presumably ruling that Dinanga was offside. So agonisingly close to a notable double over the Shaymen, but a creditable point, nonetheless, and another game unbeaten for the in-form Robins.