Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 0 Wealdstone 1
Altrincham were made to pay for missed opportunities and some questionable decisions on a night of frustration for the Robins at The J.Davidson Stadium.
Second-half substitutes Dan Malone and Marcus Dinanga were particularly guilty of squandering the clearest of chances - both failing to hit the target with a gaping goal at their mercy - as Phil Parkinson’s side were sunk by a 47th-minute goal by Wealdstone striker Olufela Olomola.
To add insult to injury, an offside flag denied Malone a late equaliser and Alty had no fewer than three strong penalty appeals turned down by referee Greg Rollason.
All that has been missing from Josh Lundstram’s game, in an otherwise complete exhibition of midfield mastery since signing from Crewe Alexandra in the summer, has been a steady supply of goals to complement his many other attributes.
He had a couple of opportunities to show he can be a scorer as well as schemer inside the opening 10 minutes, as Alty started brightly.
The first came in only the second minute when a hurried clearance was pounced on by Ryan Colclough, who engineered enough space on the left to cut the ball back across the six-yard box.
When it was played back to Lundstram eight yards out, he looked well placed to open the scoring, only to blaze the opportunity over the bar. To be fair to him, the pass was delivered with pace, forcing him to hurry the shot.
The second glimpse of goal for Alty’s influential midfielder came shortly after the first of Alty’s fruitless penalty claims, Egli Kaja being upended but failing to convince the referee that the challenge was worthy of a spot-kick.
The protests were still ringing out when Lundstram played a one-two with Jordan Hulme and advanced towards the area, only for Ayodeji Elerewe to intervene and snuff out the danger, at the expense of a corner.
Little had been seen of Wealdstone as an attacking force, but then again, it has to be said, the visitors’ goal was hardly leading a charmed existence, as the half-hour mark approached.
Alty were shading it in terms of possession, without making too many inroads into opposition territory.
There was the usual patient probing about the Robins’ approach play, but the visitors were proving a tough nut to crack.
If the game was losing some of its sparkle, though, it suddenly sprang into life, with both sides going close to breaking the deadlock in the space of a minute.
Alty had been largely untroubled at the back, but they almost conceded in the 32nd minute when a hopeful cross-shot from Charlie Barker skimmed off Lundstram’s head and hit the bar after looping over Ollie Byrne’s outstretched right arm.
Seconds later, Chris Conn-Clarke appeared to be held back after bursting into the area, only for Rollason to wave away the appeals, after initially seeming to lift the whistle to his mouth, and decide against a penalty award that would surely also have led to a red card for the guilty defender.
When another Alty raid broke down in the 39th minute, the Robins found themselves stretched and at the mercy of the pacey Micah Obiero, who ended a lightning break from inside his own half with a fierce drive that Byrne was happy to punch high into the air and away to safety.
There was no doubt Wealdstone had forced their way into the game towards the end of the first half and given Alty boss Parkinson plenty to ponder as he prepared to deliver his half-time pep talk.
Alty started the second half in positive fashion, a dangerous low Kaja cross being hacked behind for a corner in the 46th minute, but they found themselves trailing seconds later.
Giovanni McGregor got to the bye-line on the left and crossed low for Olomola to force the ball home from close range for a 47th-minute lead.
It was a shock to the system for Alty and the home fans in a crowd of 1,262, and the response was to send on Malone for Elliot Osborne, just moments after Colclough had rifled a 25-yard drive fractionally wide of the right-hand post.
If anyone was likely to unpick a stubborn Wealdstone defence, it was surely Colclough, and he looked to have found a way after fastening on to a clever ball down the left flank by Conn-Clarke.
Bearing down on goal, the livewire winger’s run was unceremoniously halted by what looked a clear trip to everyone except the referee.
The official was having a wretched night, and he was scarcely shown in a better light in the 75th minute when Ross Barrows caught Lewis Kinsella with a flailing arm that made contact with the full-back’s midriff.
The reaction from Kinsella was utterly shameful, writhing on the floor as if poleaxed by a haymaker from a heavyweight boxer, a point made forcibly by James Jones as he leaned over the defender and gave him an earful.
Players from both sides piled in, and when order was finally restored, Rollason consulted his linesman before booking Jones and Wealdstone centre-back Jack Cook, thus confirming he had completely missed the original incident and acted only on the aftermath.
Still Alty poured forward, and they should have equalised in the 77th minute when, first, Barrows had a shot saved by Sam Howes from close range and then Malone somehow blazed over an open goal from the rebound.
Fellow-substitute Dinanga was just as culpable in the 81st minute, failing to convert from inside the six-yard box after Eddy Jones sent a low left-wing cross flashing across the goal.
Malone did finally get the ball in the net at the second attempt in the 85th minute, only for the Alty celebrations to be cut short by a linesman’s flag.
With three minutes left, Alty’s last chance went begging when a brilliant Colclough run on the left ended with a cut-back to substitute Ben Pringle, whose shot was parried by Howes. Even when the rebound fell to an Alty shirt, the resulting effort was smothered by the Wealdstone keeper on the line.
It was that sort of night for the Robins, frustration all the way and a sense of a missed opportunity against a side so close to them in the table.