If Hurst said ‘play like you played in pre-season for about 10 minutes before half time, then for as long as it takes you to concede a sloppy winner in the second half, and be totally average for all other times’, then the players carried out his instructions to the absolute letter.
I wasn’t going to go, but a combination of being able to help out @psgmariner in Leeds and a little bit of encouragement by my Twitter friend @mrjpbarwick – who assured me that there would be no roadworks and no traffic along a stretch of motorway renowned for its roadworks and traffic, particularly at rush hour – I headed to Altrincham to make sure I didn’t miss us lose our first away game in ruddy ages.
Altrincham is a nice place, with big houses and tree lined avenues. The fact that a non-league ground is plonked in amongst it is rather quaint. We were made to feel very welcome – apart from the Altrincham substitutes, who took it in turns to systematically hit as many Town fans in the face with their wayward warm-up shops. Three more were skied out of the ground, and as skilful as James Lawrie was for the Robins, he alone was responsible for losing three more balls in the second half.
Hurst must have pondered tinkering, but tinker he didn’t. The same kids that bullied the new boys from Barrow and Bromley were given a chance to turn out the pockets of these Alty players for their dinner money, but outrageously they didn’t let that happen.
Altrincham can pass alright. They kept possession well at times, but they were about as cutting and incisive as I would be trying to hack through a plank of wood with a tea strainer. They were much more effective when they lumped it to their lumpy nuisance up front. Michael Rankine, who made three appearances for the Mariners let’s not forget (actually, let’s do forget – I’m sure most of you have anyway) was their John-Lewis. He tussled and tangled with Toto non-stop for 90 minutes.
Let’s be honest about this: I was stood in precisely the worst part of the ground to make a call on Altrincham’s opener. If the linesman was honest, he’d have kept his stupid flag down. He didn’t, and so he copped it for the rest of the match from the Town fans, who assured him that they would stick his fluorescent yellow flag up his arse at a 90 degree angle to the way he might have imagined it going up.
Meanwhile Bogle appeared more irritated by himself than any of the officials, but he got his reward late in the first half by tucking the ball past Alty’s keeper Stuart Coburn – who had earlier explained to a Town fan (presumably giving him an earful about his baldness) that he wasn’t the one who awarded the Robins a controversial opener. The Mariners pressed a bit more, buoyed by an away following of over 800 that were firmly back onside (unlike Bogle and Amond), and then the referee blew for half time.
We had about three good chances to take the lead when the second half began, but none of them were converted. At this stage there was no doubt who was in charge. Town. We’re in control of our own destiny. Bogle was going to hit the post with a great free kick, and then we were going to take a little breather. We were going to let Alty clip a ball to the far post which McKeown, under no pressure whatsoever, was going to palm back into play for George Bowerman to score. (He was credited with their first goal, by the way, but if the linesman was as eagle-eyed as he reckons he was, he’d have noticed that the ball actually came back off Nsiala, and if it did go over the line, which it didn’t, McKeown was the one who dragged it over – so credit one of those two with an own goal and not Bowerman.)
Hurst shouted ‘Plan B!’ but none of the players had actually been briefed on what Plan B was. Taking a leaf out of the lino’s book, they guessed. They assumed, incorrectly, that Bogle must really be John-Lewis, and began launching high balls towards him. Alty’s centre backs Scott Leather and Tom Marshall drank them up all night long – until Marshall’s nasty injury. Monkhouse had lost his aerial mojo and was substituted for Mackreth, who made his customary beeline for the corner flag every time he received the ball, figuring that left foots are a total waste of his and everyone’s time.
The rest of the match left you feeling as frustrated as using a Windows 8 laptop. Altrincham weren’t sure how to score, let alone win a match, so it was nice of us to show them how with our new found generosity at the back. And with that, naturally, we introduced our most consistent and accomplished defender of the past four years to play up front as an emergency striker for whatever time was remaining. With little effect.
In his efforts to be unerringly consistent, the referee only achieved the kind of inconsistency and general shitness that tends to plague these footballing depths. At least he was trying to make decisions on what he saw – unlike the linesman, who just resorted to pure guesswork.
To complete a fairly miserable night I got stuck in a massive traffic jam on the M62 somewhere near the twinkling lights of Brighouse (no one’s ever made that town sound so dreamy before) and got home way too late for my liking – but at least @mrjpbarwick was man enough to apologise for his ‘M62 and light traffic promises’. You never know what you’re going to see at a football match, Jim – that’s why we go. It’s in the lap of the footballing gods – who, evidently, are still pissed off with us for some reason.
At least we saw another good sunset.