Altrincham put a dent in FC Halifax Town’s quest for a play-off place after the Shaymen found Robins’ goalkeeper Stuart Coburn in inspired form at Moss Lane.
The Shaymen created a host of chances throughout but they could not discover a way past Coburn who thwarted Town at every opportunity and although the solitary point should have been turned into three, Neil Aspin’s men are now only six points behind fifth placed Forest Green Rovers with two games in hand.
The home side donned pink shirts for one-game-only to raise awareness for Cancer Research UK and their start to proceedings was just as bright as their new outfit. Nicky Clee’s excellent cross-field pass found onrushing right full-back Scott Leather who delivered a perfect centre for Damien Reeves, but the league’s fourth top goalscorer could not add to his 16 goals as he ballooned his 42-second effort over the bar.
But Town, knowing three points were crucial in the hope of a top-five position after going six games without a win, responded well. Aspin had named the same starting eleven who gained impressive points against Bristol Rovers and Barnet and that same intensity was present in Cheshire.
Adam Smith caused a scramble in the Alty six yard box after a teasing cross from the right before his 14th minute corner was headed onto the bar by captain Marc Roberts.
A minute later, Paul Marshall shot over from just outside the penalty area before the energetic Matty Pearson brought a save out of Stuart Coburn at his near post as the Shaymen looked to make their pressure count.
And they came immensely close to claiming their just rewards when Smith’s superb acrobatic volley from a meticulous Richard Peniket cross called Coburn into action again; the fizzing effort was destined for the top corner but the veteran goalkeeper somehow tipped the ball onto the post.
Smith stung Coburn’s palms with a great left-footed drive from 18 yards after cutting in from the right-wing but Town still could not breach a defence which had only kept one clean sheet in seven games.
The Robins, who had only secured one win in those seven games, ended the half the stronger – with a little help from Lois Maynard.
The hero from Tuesday night – after securing a last-gasp draw against the Bees – was caught in possession on the edge of his own box, allowing Clee to delicately find James Lawrie who rolled the ball past Matt Glennon but, unfortunately for Alty, agonisingly wide.
Clee then rifled over from 25 yards on the stroke of half time, but there was still time for Peniket to receive a heavy knock which prematurely ended his involvement.
But it was an Altrincham half-time substitute which nearly made an instant impact. Clee did well down the left and crossed to the back post where Jordan Sinnott, unmarked and only five yards out, steered over.
And the start to the second half was a mirror image of the first, as the Shaymen composed themselves after what could have been an early setback and produced a stirring response.
Smith, yet again, was the instigator as he rekindled his battle with his nemesis Coburn but, yet again, the home keeper was on top form. The electrifying winger dazzled down the left-hand side before executing a delicious, audacious chip which Coburn did well to turn over the bar.
It was turning into a busy day for Coburn who had to be alert from the resulting corner after James Bolton’s header was deflected, fortuitously, into his arms.
Whilst Coburn was turning it into a one-man mission to deny Neil Aspin’s men, his defenders in front of him were far from poised as they struggled to deal with the physical threat from set-pieces. Peniket’s half-time replacement, Danny Hattersley, had a low drive blocked after the home side failed to clear their lines and Pearson was off target as the pressure mounted.
And it was pressure that should have resulted in a 67th minute penalty after Smith dazzled the Alty defence before driving into the area and going down under the challenge of Gianluca Havern but the referee, John Brooks, adjudged the winger to have dived and was subsequently booked.
It looked a stone-wall penalty but Town didn’t let this hindrance affect them and they nearly got the goal they deserved when Jamie Jackson sneaked in at the far post only for Coburn to produce a stunning reflex save.
Marc Roberts and Graham Hutchison were keeping Reeves quiet but Lawrie was allowed time and space to shoot over with fifteen minutes remaining.
But Town went straight to the other end and conjured their best chance of the lot. Jackson stole in behind a static Altrincham defence only to find Coburn in the form of his life, with the rebound falling at the feet of Scott Boden – who had just come on for Maynard – but he could not convert from six yards out.
And, just like in the opening period, it was the home side who finished the half on the front foot, as former Shayman Ryan Crowther, who had replaced Clee, saw a rasping drive tipped over by Glennon and Reeves fired wide.
There was drama right at the death when Town substitute Danny Schofield claimed his goal-bound half-volley was handled in the area by Havern but the Shaymen had to be content with a fourth successive draw as their winless run in the Vanarama Conference stretched to seven games.
But with fellow promotion hopefuls Gateshead losing 2-1 at Dover Athletic, Aspin’s men leapfrog Tuesday night’s visitors to The Shay, setting it up perfectly for what could well turn out to be a Play-Off for the Play-Offs.
Official Website Man of the Match: Adam Smith
Referee: J Brooks
Altrincham: Coburn, Cavanagh (Williams 82), Griffin, Havern (C), Leather, Moult, Richman (Sinnott 46), Marshall, Lawrie, Clee (Crowther 67), Reeves
Subs not used:
Town: Glennon, Bolton, McManus, M Roberts (C), Hutchison, Marshall (Schofield 67), Pearson, Maynard (Boden 75), Smith, Jackson, Peniket (Hattersley 46)
Subs not used: Senior, K Roberts