Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Oldham Athletic 2 Altrincham 2
After the agony, the ecstasy. What better way to banish any lingering dejection over last week's Wembley heartbreak than by mounting one of the most unlikely and dramatic fightbacks of recent times.
Altrincham were out of it, or so it seemed, after going 2-0 behind to Oldham Athletic and being reduced to 10 men following a straight red card for defender James Jones with less than 15 minutes to go at a sun-baked Boundary Park.
But if there's one thing you can be sure about with this Alty side, it 's that they can never be discounted, never be written off. They'll keep coming back for more, no matter the circumstances or adversity, and they did it again in what turned out to be a Good Friday classic.
Trailing to a close-range Joe Nuttall finish midway through the first half and a header by substitute Bassala Sambou from even closer range in the 74th minute, the odds against Alty getting anything out of their first visit to Boundary Park stacked up even higher when Jones was dismissed for a challenge on Sambou in the 76th minute.
All over? No a bit of it. A sumptuous first-time volley by Maxi Oyedele from distance breathed new life into the Robins in the 81st minute, and, astonishingly, even by Alty's capacity for producing the unpredictable, they were level in the last minute when Tyrese Sinclair powered a header into the roof of the net from an Eddy Jones corner.
After having to deal with a couple of early Oldham corners, Alty fashioned a threat of their own in the fourth minute, and it owed everything to Josh Lundstram's ever-impressive speed of thought and movement.
The always-alert Alty midfielder never gives opponents a second on the ball, as John Rooney discovered to his cost when the summer signing from Crewe Alexandra relieved him of possession just inside the Oldham half and sent Regan Linney away down the right.
Jordan Hulme tried to turn in the resulting low cross at the near post but, with a defender at close quarters, was just unable to get the connection he wanted.
For all the home team's early possession, there were few real scares for the Alty defence, with Ollie Byrne still to be tested as the 15-minute mark came and went.
All that nearly changed in the 19th minute, though, when Alex Reid burst through on the right of the area, only to reprieve Alty with a mishit shot that bobbled harmlessly wide.
There was no let-off four minutes later, however, as Oldham took the lead with another goal that brought howls of protests from Alty players and fans.
Reid appeared to handle an Alty clearance, but the appeals fell on deaf ears, leaving the striker to sprint into the area where Byrne left his line smartly to block bravely at his feet.
The Alty keeper might have expected better support from his team-mates, who, in truth, were slow to respond to the danger and allowed Joe Nuttall to seize on the loose ball and bundle it over the line.
The first half had been something of a war of attrition, with plenty of energy and industry in the middle of the pitch from both sides but little by way of a cutting edge at either end.
Referee Paul Marsden had angered the travelling Alty fans in the Chadderton End with his officiating in the first half, and he did little to endear himself to them in the 50th minute, when Oldham skipper Liam Hogan ploughed through the back of Hulme to leave the Alty skipper crumpled on the turf in agony.
It looked the clearest of cautions, yet Marsden, not for the first time, decided to keep his cards in his pocket and settled for lecturing the Oldham defender, who could count himself fortunate in the extreme.
Phil Parkinson had sent on Sinclair for Lewis Baines at the start of the second half, and the Alty boss decided it was time for a double change in the 58th minute, with Joe Hugill and Oyedele replacing Linney and Elliot Osborne.
There was an escape for Alty in the 64th minute, when Devarn Green ventured towards the right corner of the area and threaded a diagonal pass towards Reid. The Oldham striker missed his attempted flick, but that merely allowed the ball to continue on its course towards the far post, and, for a worrying moment, it looked as though it might go in before it trickled inches wide.
Oldham doubled their lead in the 74th minute, when Byrne parried a well-struck free-kick from Rooney, but the defenders around him again failed to clear their lines, allowing substitute Bassala Sambou to head home from point-blank range just six minutes after going on.
It looked bleaker than ever for the Robins in the 76th minute, when James Jones and Sambou both lunged in for a 50-50 ball and referee Marsden, so lenient up to this point, took one look at the Oldham forward rolling on the floor and decided the Alty centre-back was the offender and deserving of a straight red card.
Could it get any worse for Alty? Well, actually, it only got better, as the 10 men staged a remarkable fightback to salvage a point. It barely seemed possible, with around 15 minutes left and Oldham having a numerical advantage as well as a two-goal one, but you can't put anything past this Alty team.
They were launched on their way to one of the more incredible of comebacks in fine style with a peach of a goal by Oyedele in the 81st minute.
An inswinging corner from the right by Eddy Jones was only half-cleared, and as it floated towards Oyedele in the inside right channel, a good 25-30 yards from goal, the Manchester United midfielder unleashed a spectacular first-time volley that flew past the keeper and inside the right-hand post.
Buoyed by the breakthrough, Alty kept plugging away and unbelievably drew level in the 90th minute, when another Jones corner was met by an unstoppable header into the roof of the net by Sinclair to send the away fans behind the goal into raptures.
Oldham - Norman, Hogan, Sheron, Green, Shelton, Rooney, Reid (Sambou 68), Kitching, Sutton, Yarney, Nuttall (Hope 87). Subs not used - Hudson, Tollitt, Clarke.
Altrincham - Byrne, J.Jones, Ferguson, Baines (Sinclair 46), Welch-Hayes, Lundstram, Marriott, Osborne (Oyedele 58), E.Jones, Hulme, Linney (Hugill 58). Subs not used - Pringle, Perritt.
Sent off - J.Jones. Booked - Linney.
Attendance - 7,391 (609 from Alty).