Matthew Cooper has done a rather good job with Altrincham so far. Having started with no players, they’ve finally started to gel and were closing on the playoffs last time we spoke. How will they get on this week? Catch up with part 5 here.
Welcome to part 6 of the promotion from non-league series, though with the snail’s pace speed at which I narrate through the updates I’m sure it must feel like part 60 by now. Anyway, we’re off to Colchester first off and it’s a cracker
We lost last time out at Cambridge, and there’s a familiar feeling as Colchester put themselves 2-0 in the lead. Crucially though, Williamson pulls 1 back on the stroke of half-time to give us some belief for the next 45 mins. Williamson equalises just after the hour mark and then on 72 minutes we go ahead through Tokely, who I had introduced for the misfiring Allardyce 3 minutes earlier. Even as I’m celebrating though, they go to the other end and immediately equalise. Super sub Tokely decides the match in the last minute though, firing home from a Jermaine Wright through-ball and the win is ours, get in!
Results elsewhere go our way and we find ourselves in the automatic promotion places for the first time since before the opening day (where we were 1st by means of Alphabetical order).
Our 4th-round tie against Nottingham Forest is next and I’m kind of pleased, as Bound’s 2 match suspension starts and Zerrouki’s on his last banned game, so it’s handily timed to minimise the impact on our league matches. I feel a severe beating is on the cards, but I didn’t expect to reach round 4 anyway so I don’t care too much. Well, it doesn’t turn out like that.
We get off to the perfect start as Allardyce stabs home in the second minute, and we actually go two up shortly after the break through Browning. Unfortunately, famously AWOL striker Van Hooijdonk scores a quick double to peg us back, but in truth it’s pretty comfortable as we hold out for a replay. Can we do the unthinkable in the home tie? Probably not, but I’m proud of the lads anyway. There aren’t really any easy teams left in the competition at this stage, and we’re drawn away at first division Man City for the 5th round, provided we come through the replay.
A few days later and we’re down at Cardiff’s Ninian Park. Zerrouki’s available again after suspension and my cup-tied defender Gislason comes in for the pretty unreliable Luis. Our opposition are having a wee bit of a defensive injury crisis, with one of their strikers filling in at the back.
This doesn’t mean an automatic 3 points however, and this proves to be the case as we endure a miserable day in Wales. Their makeshift defender presents us with chance after chance but the strikers don’t have their shooting boots on and we fail to capitalise. They score against the run of play after half an hour, and score again with 20 minutes remaining. It’s a setback, but provided we bounce back in our next game I’m not too concerned.
The board still have faith in me and what’s more, our cup exploits have made us a small profit again this month. It’s not much, but any surplus is good news when your balance is as low as ours is.
For the second month running, I get the manager of the month, as does Sir Alex in the premier league (you’ll be shocked to learn that they’re running away with the title yet again).
The cup replay comes around, and Bound/Zerrouki are both available this time so we’re in a stronger position than the first game. A near-capacity crowd cram in to Moss Lane to see us once again stick two fingers up to the league placings and grind out a pretty routine win against Forest. Gattuso has the ball in the net early on, but it’s ruled out for offside. Our goal is in no danger though and it’s no surprise when we take the lead through Zerrouki on 69 mins. We boss possession and easily see out the rest of the game, putting us through to face Man City in the 5th round. It’s not even the shock result of the day, as Scarborough get their second win of the season to cause even more worry of dropping out of the league at Doncaster.
I hadn’t noticed until now but Wrexham are still in the competition, which would have been a pretty good opportunity to make the Quarter Finals, but at least the trip to Man City will boost the coffers from the gate receipts.
We’re at home next in what could be one of the defining matches of the season as table-topping York come to visit. Allardyce has looked a bit off-form in the last couple of games so I swap him out for Tokely, keeping an otherwise unchanged side from the giant killers earlier in the week. The move pays off in a somewhat nervy game as Tokely pounces on a rebound to give us a half-time lead. Strikers usually grab the headlines but we’re just as indebted, if not more so, to Hammond as he makes two crucial stops in the final 15 minutes to preserve our lead. We’ve come through one of the biggest tests of the remaining season with maximum points, so things are looking good
The win has put us back into the top three, and owing to our cup run we still have a game in hand, which may end up being crucial in the grand scheme of things. It’s an incredibly tight top half of the division this year, only 5 points separates 1st from 7th so one or two big results are probably going to make all the difference
We’re dealt a significant blow though a couple of days later as injury news filters through from training – Zerrouki is going to miss the rest of the season
If Wright goes on deadline day, which I expect him to, that means I’ll need to get at least 1 more midfielder in, and preferably 2. In fact ideally he’ll go before then, so there’s time for the cash to filter through the accounts and save us from bargain basement signings only. I’ll grab a loan deal for now if I can, but I’ll need to scout potential replacements to ensure we have the best possible chance of finishing the season strongly.
Literally the same day though, our prayers are sort of answered as Palace, Sheff Utd and Hearts all make bids for Wright. I’ll hate to let him go but in truth, we need the money to get a quality replacement for Zerrouki. As he’s going to go anyway, I make Wright available in case his true value is significantly higher than the offered £1.2m – sadly he’s only worth £1.3m so we’re unlikely to get much more at a tribunal. I decide to reluctantly accept the offers when prompted, and immediately get to work looking for midfielders to bring in.
Zerrouki’s Compatriot El Ouzani looks like a good fit. He’s a below average dribbler but he’s fast, an excellent tackler and an even better passer – and crucially has a high heading stat too. As like for like replacements go, we’re probably not going to do much better.
It’s an emotionally charged midweek fixture in what is almost certainly Wright’s last game for us, at home to Lincoln. I consider giving him the captain’s armband as a mark of respect, however all sentiments aside this is our game in hand and we can’t afford to slip up so I stick with Palmer. Our wingback Strong creates and scores the only goal of the game after 8 minutes, the rest of the match being us trying and failing to add to it as we completely outclass Lincoln. Wright stays behind long after full time to applaud the fans, and there’s more than a couple of tears shed amongst the Altrincham faithful.
That victory has moved us to the top of the pile, and 4 points clear of fourth place. It’s going to be a challenge to hold on with our midfield stripped out but I’d rather be in this position than chasing the promotion places and needing other results to go our way.
Bloody hell, I’d been wrapped up in our own results and took my eye off the bottom of the table for a while. When I look, the gap between 23rd and 24th has become a chasm. It looks like Scarborough have finally got their act together and barring a monumental shift in fortunes it’ll be Donny that crash out of the league this season.
Post-match, the inevitable happens and we say our tearful goodbyes as Wright goes to the big smoke to earn his fortune. You’ll always be welcome back Wrighty, you’ll forever be in our hearts (and my shortlist).
That seems to be a fitting place to end it for this week. With 14 games remaining, come back next week to see if we can cope with the replacement of our two star midfielders and