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  • Writer's pictureHead Scout

The Perfect Away?

Solihull Moors 0-1 Altrincham (National League)

Josh Kelly has signed for AFC Wimbledon. Where will Solihull get their goals from now? Proof that there's plenty of talent in non league football though and it really whets the appetite for people like me when you hear of players at the lower levels making their move to bigger, better, more established clubs.

Not that Wimbledon are much older than Solihull Moors of course, the two teams do have significant others in their past lives. Solihull Borough were kicking around since the 1950s and Moor Green even longer, since 1901 in fact, the two teams merging together in 2007 to become what we have today. AFC Wimbledon a mere five years older than Solihull Moors, formed in 2002 after the previous 'Dons' sodded off to Milton Keynes. The originals did have some history of note, formed in 1889, they famously won the FA Cup in 1988. I'm sure Josh Kelly will be told all about it all in good time.

No time to dwell on the past though. Solihull are in important league action today against Altrincham and both teams are going well in the National League playoff zone. Alty have one of the divisions best players in Chris Conn-Clarke. Perhaps he'll get a move to the football league soon? Maybe, Altrincham might even be going with him?

I've had a Saturday am walk around the National Watersports Centre where the fit, lean and young looking rowers in lycra say hello to me, the wife and our two dogs (one of which I've on loan for the weekend), back to blighty after a quick 5k for a bacon sandwich and I'm out the door at 12. Down the M42 and coming off for Birmingham Airport where I fly past the back of the runway on the A45 before hitting the Damson Parkway and finding a quiet cul-de-sac to park my motor on midst a nice looking housing estate nearby.

The Venue

On the edge of town it sits next to Jaguar Land Rover does the Armco Arena, looking all modern besides large industrial and ugly units, a soulless back drop of West Midlands manufacturing on a wide and very important scale, it's very 'millennium' around here but apparently Solihull Borough long had this home well before the year of 2007.

I'm walking over the Parkway towards the ground, it feels quiet around but some people are at least making an entrance to the stadium as the clock passes 1:30pm. I'm at a ticket collection window grabbing a wristband for media access before walking in past a steward on the gate and taking a quick look at the pitch in front, not bad nick, clouds above it's had a bit of rain which is still in the air but it's mild for early Feb. A nice ground that has had recent improvement and it feels more than adequate for the National League as I sit myself down five or six rows high and watch the Altrincham players make their own way in. The bus was apparently late due to an accident on the M6.

It's packing nicely behind me as Alty have brought quite a media team. A good four or five in attendance, one I overheard lives in Kent and does some regular commuting as he relays he 'works often remotely' and picks and chooses the games he attends.

He's not been here before so it's one to chalk off. Only my second visit, it's a good view all around, a couple of pillars hide the corners both right and left but a relatively unrestricted view, that is until the tunnel canvas is pulled out and you can't see anything to the right. Fortunately it's only pulled out for a couple of minutes a time, it is one of those annoying quirks about where the media are sat, but other than that, the place puts a lot of bigger and better grounds to shame, although one commentator who arrives late does question whether he'll be able to squeeze his large torso into the tight fitting desk seated area. No such problems for me.

The Game

No sooner are they rolling back the tunnel canvas are we 'oohing' a missed opportunity as Chris Conn-Clarke first time fires over a curling pass for Justin Amaluzor to run onto. The Altrincham number eleven is electric on the right and bursts away, beating the Solihull high line, he's into the box but blasts wide, he really should have scored.

Amaluzor is lively and he's the main threat in a first half of very few incidents. Solihull are just coming into the game with a decent spell of passing but at the other end Amaluzor is in the box, racing to the by-line he crosses low and Alex Newby slides in from close range. An opening goal that has a travelling support of over 80 in raptures all tucked into the far right hand corner of my goal to the left.

That goal, scored at the opposite end to the away fans is all there is to cheer in a tight first half. Altrincham are defensively solid but fluid going forward whilst Solihull clearly missing Josh Kelly are neat without looking like scoring. Something needs to change for them in the second half if they're to get back into the game.

The Score

It's pretty much same again in the early stages of the second 45. Solihull manager Andy Whing however makes his first change on the hour and brings on striker Mark Beck. I was surprised to see him on the bench, he celebrated his 30th birthday in the week and immediately makes an impact with the home side now offering two strikers up front. The game is open as Solihull attack, but Altrincham look to counter and wrap things up.

Conn-Clarke is now the biggest menace, Amaluzor has been subbed after running himself out of energy, so it's the little Northern Irishman who's picking pockets and getting on the ball, but even he can't find a way through, before his manager Phil Parkinson decides to take him off for a centre half, and instead of search for another, Altrincham's intentions are to see this one over the line.

And that's what they do. Solihull huff late on but a defence marshalled by Jake Cooper and Lewis Baines holds through. It's been the perfect away performance from a side who consolidate fourth spot in the playoffs.

The Stars

Altrincham's 4-2-3-1 offers the four attacking outlets fluidity, flexibility and movement and some of the stuff they play is really neat and aggressive, in that they get the ball forward quickly and effectively and play to the strengths of there star quality players.

Because of that, they have to be disciplined defensively and the back four takes little risks, is solid and dependable player for player and more importantly is cushioned by Isaac Marriott and Elliot Osborne who are two intelligent midfielders who sit deep and provide the side with good defensive shape.

No doubt star man is Chris Conn-Clarke who many say is the best in the division. Small and dinky with a big chest and bulging calves, he has a low centre of gravity and can take on opponents either way. He has a good right foot and not a bad left foot. An attacking DNA that is almost Messi like the way he struts his stuff wearing number ten and playing pretty much where he likes.

Justin Amaluzor is also a real threat for different strengths, he's all about pace and power and on a couple of occasions had me 'woooh aloud' from his electric burst. Leggy and rangy, he should score more goals than he currently does.

Goalscorer Alex Newby is also a huge player for Altrincham and a class act. He grew more prominent during the game and got better as time went on, always making good decisions, a late runner from deep he sniffs opportunity but is also strong and good in possession, a proper player who's brother Elliot also previously played for the Robins.

For Solihull. Defensively their centre half pairing of Morrison and Whitmore stood largely firm and in midfield Maycock and Warburton shown glimpses of elegance but they were mostly outdone by Joe Sbarra who looked a lively diminutive threat cutting in from the left to get on his right foot.

They played a 451 system and lacked attacking options, Jack Kelly often isolated until the addition of Mark Beck. They'll miss Josh Kelly up front, but they'll miss him more if they only choose to continue with one up front. Andy Whing will probably revert to two up top in future.

The Verdict

Kelly leaving is a blow to Solihull's own playoff chances, they'll be clinging on desperately to a place in the top seven but with a good sixteen games to go 'clinging on' is not something they want to start doing.

Altrincham meanwhile look comfortable playoff fodder. Only three points separates them and Oldham in eighth, but I imagine they have enough star quality, are defensively mean enough and will score enough goals, to easily make the cut. A good team who have the right mix and right system for the players at their disposal. Testament to Phil Parkinson who has previously been earmarked for better available jobs. I can certainly see why.

The Teams

Solihull Moors: Nick Hayes, James Clarke, Kyle Morrison (Tyler Bruck 83), Alex Whitmore, Kade Craig, Jay Benn, Callum Maycock (Jon Benton 68), Gus Mafuta, Matty Warburton (Mark Beck 61), Jay Sbarra, Jack Stevens.

Altrincham: Matt Gould, Lewis Banks, Jake Cooper, Lewis Baines, Eddy Jones, Elliot Osborne, Isaac Marriott, Justin Amaluzor (Dan Mooney 70), Chris Conn-Clarke (Sam Roscoe 86), Alex Newby, Regan Linney (Dior Angus 80).

3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 3rd February 2024, Damson Park, Solihull (att 1,388).

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