A result like this usually comes along once in a season - a complete off-day and an embarrassing scoreline that sits as an anomaly in the result list. You expect it and it’s just a case of when it will happen. Examples from the recent past included the 4-0 drubbing away at Droylsden last season, ending a lengthy unbeaten run, and the twin 5-0 beatings by Nantwich Town two years before that. Unfortunately for us, we’ve now had two embarrassments in the same week.
5.25pm and I’m sat at Altrincham tram stop being drenched by the Manchester perma-drizzle. Through fogged-up glasses, I’m picking away at the bag of cold chips which was meant to offer some consolation after a result in which we were lucky to score one and even more lucky to concede just the six. It was the kind of grey northern scene that once inspired Lowry.
The day had started brightly - I had the Yorkshire Post front page, had enjoyed being fed and watered by Ilkley Brewery the night before as reward for writing an article on them and I genuinely believed England would beat France and reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals. I was wrong - they were 16-0 behind at half-time and from that point on, the day went downhill faster than an extra in Cool Runnings.
Altrincham was one of the few suburban Manchester grounds I haven’t been too and we hadn’t played them competitively for over a decade. They’d obviously stored up a great deal of resentment for us and unleashed it all on one afternoon. But for Paul Bastock, the width of the crossbar and some shoddy finishing, it could have been a record defeat, at least one in double figures. Only we could make Altrincham look like Barcelona.
The friendly chap in the club shop said before kick-off that they would have taken a draw and, knowing that confidence would no doubt be a little fragile from the midweek cup defeat at Kidsgrove, I would have gladly shaken his hand, signed a contract and walked off with a point. I doubt he would have accepted those terms at the final whistle.
Moss Lane is one of the better equipped venues in the league - although Altrincham have just dropped down from the Conference, so this isn’t really a surprise - though some of our following balked at the £13 entry fee. I knew there was a good reason for not ceremonially cutting up my student card after leaving Sheffield and here it was, a fiver off. The ground reminded me and Pickwell of somewhere else we’d visited, but neither of us could put our finger on it. It wasn’t dissimilar to Gainsborough actually, but with blue replaced by red and several advertising boards for manutd.com
The shit had clearly hit the fan after Tuesday night’s debacle and Gaffer Lee rotated the squad. Danny Sleath is clearly on the brink of leaving for a Conference club but had been made to travel to Manchester and made to warm-up in the interests of club discipline. He wasn’t even in the squad and it looks as though another of our leading lights is about to walk through the exit door. There were other changes as well.
The hundred or so travelling fans squeezed into a corner but early, vocal optimism soon turned into stunned silence. On the quarter-hour (or 14 minutes and 30 seconds to be precise - the Golden Goal competition winner obviously had to have an exact to-the-second ticket match to win the prize), Damian Reeves beat Kevin Austin to the ball and opened the scoring.
The hosts were clearly acclimatized to the unrelenting rain and started moving the ball around brilliantly on a slick surface. It was 2-0 shortly afterwards when James Lawrie drilled home a low shot and we were starting to fear the worst. Boston, by contrast, were happy to lump the ball forward and had no joy and a meagre solitary chance in the opening half.
Altrincham had four or five other chances to add to their lead and obviously scented blood. It took just 50 seconds after the break to settle the contest, when Reeves scored his second on the rebound, after Bazza had saved from Lawrie. 3-0. Ryan Semple and Jason Lee added a bit of spark for United and there was a brief flicker of optimism when the Gaffer volleyed home superbly on 65 minutes. Could the improbable comeback happen?
No. Altrincham could have been eight or nine in front by this point and they eventually broke through again - Reeves completed his hat-trick, then ex-Man United trainee Michael Twiss and Astley Mulholland gave the scoreline the one-sided complexion it deserved.
The difference between those other heavy defeats and this one was the absence of defiance from the supporters. At Droylsden and Nantwich we thought “f**k it” and bounced around and kept singing as the goals mounted against us. Here, we could do little else but laugh at our own ineptitude - at one point cheering each pass to the rafters - and stare on in the knowledge that the most miserable day of the season was now behind us. Surely?
Next Match: A rearrangement following our cup exit means an unexpected away to Histon next Saturday.