Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 2 Manchester United Xl 1
What a result for Altrincham and what an afternoon for Marcus Dinanga, who went on as a second-half substitute and turned the game on its head with two smart finishes late on to give the Robins a thoroughly deserved win.
Manager Phil Parkinson said at the outset of the pre-season programme that he wanted it to end on a high, with the team firing on all cylinders, and he could hardly have wished for better than an enthralling encounter with a Manchester United Xl that was essentially their under-23 team.
United’s youngsters oozed the sort of class and quality you would expect from an Old Trafford line-up, but, to their eternal credit, Alty matched them stride for stride, pass for pass in a match that was always pleasing on the eye and that ended in unexpectedly dramatic fashion.
The usual plethora of substitutions in the second half might well have disrupted rhythm and continuity, but, instead, it had a galvanising effect on Alty, as they took the game by the scruff of the neck and pretty much battered United into submission with waves of attacks that ultimately yielded a match-winning double from Dinanga.
With Kobbie Mainoo the pick of the United youngsters by some distance, but all of them comfortable in possession, there was plenty to admire about a first half that finished goalless.
Alty played their part, with Elliot Osborne looking increasingly assured in central midfield, Chris Conn-Clarke developing an understanding with Jordan Hulme and Ryan Colclough showing all his customary relish for firing at goal from any angle or distance.
But it was United who went closest to breaking the deadlock in the first 45 minutes, and they would have done but for Ollie Byrne demonstrating another impressive aspect of his goalkeeping ability.
A breathtaking reflex save from a point-blank Kyke Wootton effort, against Stockport County a week earlier, underlined his shot-stopping prowess, and on Saturday he proved he is equally adept at winning a battle of wits in any one-on-one with opposing strikers.
Twice in the first half, Mateo Meija found himself clean through with just Byrne to beat, and, each time, the Alty keeper held his ground and waited for the United youngster to pick his moment and commit himself before he spread his imposing frame and blocked the shot.
It’s like a game of poker in those situations, as the striker edges forward, with both combatants waiting for the other to blink first, and it was the impressive Byrne who kept his cool both times to prevent United taking the lead.
There wasn’t much even he could do about the visitors eventually edging ahead midway through the second half when a firmly-struck cross-shot deflected off debutant James Jones’ outstretched boot to leave Byrne wrong-footed as it flew into the net.
But then the usual surfeit of substitutions had the distinctly unusual effect of sparking Alty into a grandstand finish, as Egli Kaja shone on the right, striking the crossbar with on curling effort, new signing Alex Samizadeh sparkled on the left and youngsters Amaar Hussain and Harlan Rodgers-Morris both showed commendable poise and confidence in their new environment of first-team football.
And on top of all that, we had the welcome sight of Dinanga demonstrating the penalty area sharpness that will hopefully prove a sign of things to come in the Vanarama National League this coming season.
The Alty striker had already struck the bar with a rasping drive on the turn when he popped up in the right place to force a close-range chance over the line to haul the Robins level.
As the pressure mounted, the feeling increased that the leveller might not just salvage a thoroughly-deserved draw for Alty but inspire them to a victory they could claim with just as much merit.
And so it proved, as, with time running out, Dinanga controlled a low right-wing cross with his back to goal, swivelled and hit it left-footed in one dazzling movement that gave the United defenders around him no time to react.
It’s Maidstone United next up at The J.Davidson Stadium next Saturday on day one of the new campaign. That’s when it counts, but with Lewis Baines showing up well in central defence and Toby Mullarkey looking as assured as ever as a stand-in right-back, as well as all the plus-points in other areas already mentioned, Alty are looking in good shape.