Play-offs here we come as disciplined Alty strike twice then stand firm

Words John Edwards Pictures Jonathan Moore

Ebbsfleet 0 Altrincham 2

ALTRINCHAM can look forward to participating in the Vanarama National League promotion play-offs for the first time after a rock-solid away performance proved too good for Ebbsfleet United at Stonebridge Road this afternoon.

A close-range finish by Alex Newby in the 35th minute and a penalty by Regan Linney three minutes later provided the platform for a hard-fought win against a spirited Ebbsfleet side.

It still needed another reminder of why Ethan Ross is widely regarded as the best keeper in the league for Alty to emerge with a clean sheet, but there was always the sense that the momentum created in recent weeks would prevail and carry the Robins over the line in their pursuit of a top-seven finish.

The rubber-stamping of a spot in the post-season came little more than two hours after full time when Aldershot Town lost at home to Boreham Wood in the National League's late kick-off.

As might be expected of a side fighting for survival, Ebbsfleet proved doughty opponents in what was a scrappy, disjointed opening half-hour.

The Kent side fashioned the first semblance of a goal threat in the 13th minute when a left-wing move ended with Toby Edser firing a shot narrowly wide from 20 yards.

Ebbsfleet were doing their best to push forward without looking particularly menacing, which pretty much summed up their next attacking sortie in the 18th minute.

Billy Clifford controlled a pass from Bryant Bilongo and turned smartly to open up space that he looked like exploiting until spoiling all his good work with a shot that sailed harmlessly high and wide.

Though Alty would rather have been on the front foot than doing quite so much defending, they were coping comfortably enough - until the 22nd minute, that is.
When the ball broke to Dominic Poleon following a cutback from he left, he looked certain to score, only for Lewis Baines to deny him with a goal-saving block, the sort that has become something of a trademark for the Robins centre-back.

Worryingly for Alty, Justin Donawa was injured in the build-up and had to be carried off after a four-minute delay while he received treatment. Newby replaced Donawa, but Alty remained on the back foot as Bilongo hit a left-foot shot that was deflected a fraction wide of the far post on the half-hour.

Finally, the Robins found some rhythm and made it count as they scored twice in the space of three minutes.

Brilliant work on the left by Linney gave him the chance to lift the ball towards the back post, where Justin Amaluzor pulled it down and knocked it back into the danger area. Mitch Hancox was quickest to react as he prodded the ball goalwards, and Newby was on hand to force it over the line from a couple of yards out.

Three minutes later, Amaluzor accelerated past his marker on the right flank and headed into the area, with the Ebbsfleet defender in hot pursuit. There was no legitimate way the Alty winger could be stopped in full flight, and so it proved as he was hauled down from behind for the clearest of penalties.

Linney stepped forward to do the honours and double Alty's lead with an assured spot-kick that sent the keeper the wrong way.

It was a telling double blow for the struggling hosts, but they still had enough about them to bring the best out of Ross twice before half-time.

First, Ross reacted superbly to spread himself and block Poleon's shot after the Ebbsfleet forward broke through on the right of the area and found himself in a one-on-one with the Alty keeper in the 41st minute.

With the first half heading into six minutes of stoppage time, Ross excelled himself, even by his high standards, with an outstanding reflex save to turn a deflected shot by Clifford over the bar.

Hancox was proving a more than capable deputy for the suspended George Wilson, and the high-octane energy levels he can be counted on to provide were never better illustrated than when Edser advanced with intent towards the edge of the Alty area in the 56th minute.

The alarm bells were ringing, but Hancox silenced them with a remarkable piece of defensive covering, catching the Ebbsfleet midfielder up and not only dispossessing him with an immaculately-timed challenge but dragging the ball round and coming away with it to set the Robins moving forward again.

Credit to Ebbsfleet, they refused to accept that a two-goal deficit was insurmountable and tested Ross again in the 62nd minute.

A deep cross from the right was perfect for Rakish Bingham, and the striker was convinced his firm downward header was bound for the back of the net until Ross dropped to his right to smother it by the foot of the post.

Back came Alty, and when Newby found Linney inside the area, it took a fine diving save to prevent the striker's curled shot from flying into the top corner.

Ebbsfleet kept pressing, but there was no way through a well-drilled Alty defence, with Eddy Jones the latest to come up with a timely intervention when a goal threatened in the 86th minute.

Alty still needed some help from the woodwork, as Ebbsfleet kept the pressure on and hit the bar and post in the closing moments. The Robins had earned their luck, though, just as they have earned their place in the play-offs with a level of defensive discipline and attacking flair that has made this a season to remember.

Ebbsfleet Cousins; Wright (c), Bingham, Poleon, Edser, Clifford (Tanner, 60'), Chapman, Skura, Bilongo (Cundle, 45'), Fogarty (Sterling-James, 75'), Kenlock. Subs not used: McQueen, Domi.

Altrincham Ross; Banks, E.Jones, Baines (c), Osborne, Linney, Conn-Clarke (Kosylo, 75'), Amaluzor (Roscoe, 46'), Cooper, Donawa (Newby, 27'), Hancox. Subs not used: Angus, Mooney.

HT 0-2

Goals None | Newby 35', Linney 39' pen

Yellows Clifford 33' | None

Reds None | None

Referee Gary Parsons

Assistants Andrew Gray & Karl Sear

Fourth official Nathan Oakes

Attendance 1,915 (130 away)

Next Up

The final day of the Vanarama National League regular season - Oxford City visit the J.Davidson Stadium for an early kick-off - 12:15pm next Saturday - as we look to secure a home playoff tie the following midweek.

Get your tickets here and don't forget to join us after the game for a celebration of the season (so far) with our free-to-attend 2023/24 Player Awards from about 3pm in the Community Sports Hall.

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