ON a wet and stormy Sunday, Alton completed a perfect two-game sweep, making it six points out of six in men’s Hampshire 2 with their second victory of the weekend.
Having defeated Isle of Wight on Saturday, Alton arrived at Lord Wandsworth College knowing that a win over the visitors from West Sussex was crucial with the two sides being tied on 29 points in the league with Alton sitting in fifth on goal difference and Chichester in sixth.
The game started with both sides sharing possession in midfield as they sized each other up looking for gaps to exploit in either defence.
Alton looked confident but were careful to not over commit as they knew that Chichester weren’t to be underestimated, and the Alton defence of Andy Cooper, James Wilson, Dan Trim and Tom Pate were all called into action early on to keep the visitors out of the Alton half.
The first penalty corners of the game fell to Alton, with the home side unlucky not to take the lead with a drag flick from Luke Bottomley being denied by a defender on the post.
More pressure from Alton forwards Sam Juncker and Sam Steel created several openings but they were unable to find a gap. Chichester also had several chances fall their way but Alton’s defence proved too much of a wall to break through and the first half came to an end scoreless.
Alton were feeling positive knowing that they had not been far off taking the lead in the first half and the message from Nigel Downing, the Alton skipper, was simply “more of the same”. This worked for the home side and not long into the second half Alton took the lead, with a great run from Juncker setting up Liam Cave who squared the ball across the Chichester circle to Steel who slid home the game’s opener.
Chichester had no intention of making anything easy for Alton and right from the restart the visitors pinned Alton back into their own end and for the first time Alton’s resolve seemed to be struggling. And Chichester duly drew level after a scramble in the Alton circle as a poor clearance out of defence landed kindly on the stick of a Chichester forward who hammered the ball into the bottom left corner out of the reach of Lawrence Jones in the Alton net.
Now for the first time in the game Alton looked shaken, and it was clear that Chichester could sense an opportunity to break the home side’s spirit. After a spell of messy play in midfield, Alton lost possession and a Chichester forward put in a fast ball to the Alton back post agonizingly just out of reach of both Wilson and Trim and perfectly onto the stick of a Chichester striker who flicked the ball over the oncoming Jones to put the visitors ahead 2-1.
Despite the setback Alton failed to back down and just five minutes later were back on level terms. A fast counter-attack from Alton allowed Steel to set up skipper Downing whose shot beat the goalkeeper low down to level the scores at 2-2.
With Richard Spicer and skipper Downing battling hard in midfield Alton could feel the momentum shifting back their way, and they soon regained the lead when Pete Harvey fed the ball to Tom Green who brought the ball down from head height and smashed it into the net.
Alton used this new-found momentum to continue to ask questions of the visitors, chasing down every ball and making their presence felt all over the pitch. And with just under ten minutes to go, Alton’s hard work and determination paid off. A penalty corner won by Downing saw Steel pick up his second of the game with a low drag along the floor squeezing under the Chichester keeper’s arm.
On Saturday, Alton make the long trip to Dorset to play Weymouth.
* Alton Ladies missed the chance to move up a place in Hampshire 2 when they were beaten 3-1 away at Winchester seconds.
* Alton Ladies’ seconds were on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller against Chichester fourths in Hampshire 5 on Saturday, losing 4-3 with goals from Whitney Chobbah (2) and Lara Thomas.
* Alton men’s fifths were beaten 3-0 away against runaway league leaders Petersfield in Division 9 North.