Mullarkey on the mark, but Spireites land ko blow with quickfire one-two!
Report by John Edwards
Picture by David Munro
Two goals inside four minutes at the start of the second half condemned Altrincham to their second defeat of the season before a bumper 3,000-plus Bank Holiday Monday crowd at The J.Davidson Stadium.
Alty looked to have got the measure of a slick-moving Chesterfield side after surviving early pressure from the visitors and going ahead with a sharp finish from Toby Mullarkey in first-half added time.
But all their hard work was undone by the worst possible start to the second half, as Paul Cook’s side equalised in the 46th minute and added what proved to be the winner soon after.
Alty boss Phil Parkinson had warned beforehand that Chesterfield’s current line-up look more threatening than the one that faltered towards the end of last season and missed out on a return to the Football League.
The evidence was there for all to see in the opening minutes, as the Spireites dominated possession and used it to worryingly good effect.
As early as the third minute, they carved open the Robins’ defence with a slick left-flank move that looked certain to yield an early breakthrough, as overlapping left-back Branden Horton picked out Liam Mandeville 12 yards out.
Unmarked and with the net at his mercy, the winger seemed sure to score and would have done, but for Mullarkey rescuing his side with an outstanding goal line clearance, sliding in to block the shot in the nick of time.
Horton looked one of the more accomplished full-backs to have graced Moss Lane in recent times, and he was causing problems again in the sixth minute with a cut-back that Joe Quigley met with a back heel straight at Dermot Mee.
Alty began to ease their way into the game, with Ryan Colclough serving notice of his willingness to try his luck from any distance or angle in the 12th minute.
In this instance, it was the angle that might have caused some players to think twice about shooting, but not Colclough. The Alty winger turned past his marker out on the left and had no hesitation testing Lucas Covolan with a low drive that the keeper smothered at his near post.
With Jordan Hulme weaving past a challenge and forcing Covolan into another save with a low left-foot effort, Alty were warming to their task, and their growing self-belief should have been rewarded on the half-hour.
Indeed, it surely would have been but for Colclough giving the lie to the perception that footballers are a cynical breed who would grasp any opportunity to turn a situation to their advantage.
Clearly impeded as he surged past his marker on the left of the area, he wobbled for a moment but just about stayed on his feet before blazing a wayward effort across the face of the six-yard area.
No-one could have blamed him for going down - indeed, his skipper Hulme appeared to admonish him for not doing - though there was a case for saying the penalty should have been given, anyway, considering Colclough did appear to have been fouled in the act of beating his man.
It wasn’t, and Colclough was left to wonder whether the sporting option of staying on his feet might not be the one to take next time.
He was troubling Chesterfield’s defence again in the 40th minute, latching on to a pass from Ben Pringle after a break by Brad Jackson and rifling an angled shot into the side netting after once more gliding past his marker.
It was by now a far more equal contest than it looked like being in those opening minutes, and it tilted in Alty’s favour in first-half stoppage time as Mullarkey added to his earlier defensive heroics with a spectacular finish at the other end.
Elliot Osborne floated a free-kick deep into the Chesterfield area, and when the visitors failed to clear their lines, Mullarkey pounced on the loose ball and lashed it into the roof of the net from close range.
What a boost for the Robins, in their search for a first win of the new season, but it was Cook’s promotion hopefuls who started the second half on the front foot, levelling with a Tyrone Williams header from Jeff King’s free-kick and edging ahead with a close-range Kabongo Tshimanga finish after more sterling work on the left by Horton.
Alty boss Parkinson rang the changes in the hope of sparking a response, and while it may not have been one of Colclough’s most productive days, he did fashion the odd moment that unsettled the Spireites, not least when a thumping left-foot shot in the 57th minute produced a flying save from Covolan.
With top spot beckoning, the visitors stood firm, and when Ross Barrows just failed to get enough purchase on a close-range header from an added-time Pringle corner, it was mission accomplished for a team who will surely be in the promotion mix come the end of the campaign.
For Alty, only frustration after all the effort they put in, but that elusive first win can’t be too far away - let’s hope it materialises at Solihull Moors this coming Saturday.