Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 1, Oldham Athletic 0
A stunning strike by Chris Conn-Clarke proved the perfect pick-me-up for Altrincham as they banished the memory of dropped points at Torquay with a thoroughly-deserved win over Oldham Athletic at a packed J.Davidson Stadium.
The Latics were mixing it with the Premier League elite not that long ago but were no match for an Alty side who called the shots and peppered the visitors’ goal with a fair few, not least when Conn-Clarke took aim from 25 yards in the 72nd minute.
The ball fairly flew into the top corner - dipping at the last minute, just as it looked as though it might strike the bar - for a winning goal that enabled the Robins to leapfrog their opponents and climb into 15th place in the Vanarama National League.
Given the way he had already engineered many an Alty attack with a clever change of direction or sleight of foot, it might normally have been enough to settle any arguments about the game’s outstanding performer.
In most other teams, it probably would, but such is the imperious form Josh Lundstram has shown on a consistent basis this season, there were nods of approval all round when he was announced as man-of-the-match.
What a signing by Phil Parkinson, the summer recruit from Crewe Alexandra is proving himself the ultimate all-round midfielder, throwing himself into a goal-saving block on the edge of his own area one minute and driving his team on with a lung-bursting run the next.
Such a powerhouse presence at the heart of midfield ensured Alty had the edge for much of the proceedings, though it didn’t always look like turning out that way early on.
Attacking the Golf Road End on their first-ever competitive visit to Moss Lane, Oldham wasted no time showing Alty fans what they have been missing all these years.
In a lively start that almost caught Alty cold, the Latics carved out two half-chances and one clear-cut opening in the first three minutes.
Inside the opening minute, a sweeping crossfield pass from Mike Fondop found Jordan Clarke in space on the right of the area, and when the full-back switched it into the middle first time, Alty were relieved to scramble the ball clear.
Seconds later, Fondop picked out the overlapping Benny Couto on his left, and it took an awkward-looking save from Ollie Byrne to prevent the Robins from going behind.
After the second-half calamities at Plainmoor on Saturday, the last thing Alty needed was any early alarms, but there was an almighty one in the third minute, when Ben Tollitt found himself clean through, only to lift a gilt-edged chance over the advancing Byrne and over the bar.
Having survived those early scares, Alty gradually began to settle into the game, with Ryan Colclough and Conn-Clarke unsurprisingly to the fore.
After playing Eddy Jones into a dangerous position on the left, from which the full-back might have done better, Colclough cut in on to his right foot in the eighth minute and tested keeper Magnus Norman with a shot that was saved comfortably enough.
In what was turning into an open, entertaining encounter, a full-to-capacity away end behind Norman had further cause for concern in the 12th minute, as Conn-Clarke swung in a free-kick that Marcus Dinanga headed narrowly wide.
For all the endeavour and energy on show, meaningful incursions into opposition territory were proving few and far between, though Alty did fashion one in the 26th minute when Colclough teed up Conn-Clarke 25 yards from goal.
Alty’s attacking midfielder looked to be lining up a shot, but, instead, clipped a clever ball into the box, where Jordan Hulme mistimed a header from a good position and saw it drift wide of the left post.
It was typical of the threat Colclough poses more often than not when, in the 36th minute, he darted past one defender and in between two more before having his surging run cut short by a late, lunging challenge by Oscar Threlkeld that rightly brought the Oldham midfielder a booking.
Alty were finishing the half strongly, and Hulme wasn’t far away in the 39th minute with a fierce drive that swerved a yard wide of the far post, as he cut in from the left.
The half-time whistle was greeted with boos from the away end, which may well have disconcerted Oldham’s players but would have been music to the ears of Alty’s, who must have sensed they had their opponents at their mercy.
A slightly sharper cutting edge was all that eluded the Robins in the first half, and it looked like holding them back again at the start of the second half, despite continuing to force the pace.
When Colclough concluded a bright left-flank move by measuring the ball into the path of Lundstram, the dynamic midfielder’s shot looked goalbound until striking a defender and spinning back to Colclough, who fired over.
It was at least a show of intent by the Robins against an Oldham side who were further hampered by an injury to Threlkeld, who hobbled off in the 50th minute, to be replaced by Conor Carty.
Alty’s quest for a breakthrough was hardly being helped by some dogged Oldham defending, and it proved effective in foiling the Robins again in the 53rd minute.
When a Conn-Clarke free-kick from the right was only half-cleared, it fell to Hulme, only for the Alty skipper’s shot to thud into the back of a defender, rather than the back of the net.
Still Alty poured forward, and they might have had a penalty in the 57th minute, when Eddy Jones surged past John Rooney and tumbled over the midfielder’s outstretched leg, only for the referee to wave away spot-kick appeals.
Long-suffering Oldham fans have had plenty to contend with in recent times, and it all came bubbling to the surface when a rare shot on target, courtesy of Fondop, was met with ironic cheers.
Borne of frustration, no doubt, but hardly helpful to a team increasingly low on confidence in the face of growing Alty pressure.
To be fair to David Unsworth’s side, they were holding out stubbornly enough until being undone by a moment of sheer brilliance from Conn-Clarke.
There seemed little sign of what was to come when Conn-Clarke passed to Colclough on the left, and the winger rolled the ball back to his team-mate 25 yards out.
But after looking up for an instant, the on-loan Fleetwood attacker unleashed a ferocious drive that swerved and dipped beyond a startled Norman and flew into the top left corner of the net.
There was still time for the struggling Latics to win over a disgruntled away support, and they nearly did it in the 77th minute, when Clarke met a Tollitt cross from the left with a header that crashed against the underside of the bar and somehow stayed out.
It was to be their last real chance. No late upsets for Alty. Not this time. With James Jones winning everything in the air and Lundstram fully justifying his man-of-the-match award with another rock-solid performance, the points were Alty’s, to the delight of the home contingent in a bumper crowd of 3,553.