Report by John Edwards
Picture by Ben Roberts
Altrincham 3 Maidenhead United 2
Two set-piece goals from Chris Conn-Clarke - the second a stunning strike worthy of winning any game - extended Altrincham's unbeaten run to 10 games and brought a warm glow to a bitterly cold night for Robins fans at The J.Davidson Stadium.
Trailing to an 18th-minute opener from Reece Smith, Alty were back on terms when an angled free-kick from the right by Conn-Clarke flew past a bemused Alexis Andre in the Maidenhead net and went in off the far post in the 25th minute.
Alty looked to be in control when Marcus Dinanga scored from close range in the 32nd minute, only for a lapse of concentration in defence to allow the visitors back in it on the stroke of half-time.
But there was no way back for Alan Devonshire's team after Conn-Clarke had what was to prove the final say in the 63rd minute, an unstoppable free-kick from the edge of the area that flew into the top left corner of the Maidenhead net before Andre had the chance to move.
The game kicked off in sub-zero temperatures and a flurry of snow, though the pitch looked in pristine condition.
There was little prospect of the Arctic chill dissipating, but, mercifully, the snow proved shortlived.
Unsurprisingly in such testing conditions, it took both sides a while to get into their stride, though there was a warning shot for Alty in only the sixth minute, when Smith volleyed over from the edge of the area.
Alty seemed to be finding their feet when Egli Kaja fired into the side netting in the 11th minute and Eddy Jones just failed to bring an astute pass from Conn-Clarke under control as he stretched for it near the edge of the six-yard box.
But it was Maidenhead who drew first blood in the 18th minute when a free-kick was only half-cleared and Smith made no mistake with a volley into the top right corner from 15 yards.
The Robins showed they can take one on the chin, though, as they quickly hit back and went agonisingly close to an equaliser three minutes later.
Toby Mullarkey drilled the ball across the area from the right, and when Kaja met it with a first-time volley at full stretch, it looked a certain goal, until Alan Massey somehow pulled off the most spectacular of clearances, hooking it away from his own net just as it was about to cross the line.
The equaliser Alty were threatening duly materialised in the 25th minute when Jordan Hulme was tripped on the right of the area and Conn-Clarke stepped up to deliver the resulting free-kick with pace towards the far post, the ball smacking the upright and nestling in the back of the net.
If there were any doubts about whether it was meant, as opposed to trying to locate a team-mate, a moment's reflection on Conn-Clarke's flair for the unexpected would surely have answered them.
Such has been his matchwinning brilliance throughout his loan from Fleetwood, you have to believe that events unfolded exactly as he intended them to.
It certainly gave Alty the lift they needed, and, seven minutes later, they were in front when, after an excellent spell of possession on the left involving Eddy Jones and Kaja, Conn-Clarke whipped in a cross that Dinanga turned in at the far post.
A good advantage by referee Robert Massey-Ellis, waving play on after a clear foul on Conn-Clarke, allowed Hulme to cut in from the left and hit a shot that Andre smothered, diving to his right, in the 41st minute, as Alty tried to press home their advantage before half-time.
Instead, they went in all-square after a long, hopeful through ball cleared the heads of Alty defenders and fell for Shawn McCoulsky to lob over the stranded Ollie Byrne.
A few sharp words from Phil Parkinson may well have been in order at half-time, and if there was any admonishment for the lead being surrendered so easily, it had the desired effect.
The response from Conn-Clarke, in particular, was eye-catching.
The little Alty attacker had been one of the most influential figures up to half-time, but he found another gear in the second half and was unplayable at times.
In the 50th minute, he cut in from the left and unleashed one of those trademark dipping right-foot shots that had Andre scampering across his line to tip it away from the right-hand angle of bar and post.
Four minutes later, a surging run by Josh Lundstram ended with a pass that enabled Conn-Clarke to test Andre with a low drive, as Maidenhead came under mounting pressure.
The irrepressible Northern Ireland under-21 international was warming to his task, and he raised the Golf Road End roof in the 63rd minute after a dazzling run was abruptly halted by a trip on the edge of the area.
The Maidenhead wall was carefully constructed, but not carefully enough, as Conn-Clarke looked up and surveyed the barrier in front of him before imperiously striking the free-kick with pace and unerring accuracy beyond the line of defenders and into the top left corner of the net.
McCoulsky extended Byrne with a shot that needed a diving save in the 75th minute, but there were further chances at the other end, too, as Dinanga was foiled by Andre in the 80th minute and substitute Connor Jennings dragged an effort inches wide after a brilliant through ball by fellow-sub Ben Pringle in the 89th.
But anything other than an Alty victory would have been an injustice, for the team as a whole but for the outstanding Conn-Clarke in particular.