I'm really looking forward to this afternoon's game, despite the fact that we're the two dullest teams in The Conference-fewer goals are scored in ours and Altrincham's games than anyone else's-and the only goal in our two games last month came completely out of the blue.
Both those matches saw an interesting tactical battle of wits break out between the managers, and encouragingly Dean Saunders was often a step ahead.
Alty's boss, Graham Heathcote, deserves massive credit. His side is part-time, but they show a level of flexibility rare amongst sides that are able to work on things every day. In each of the five clashes we've had with them over the last two seasons Altrincham have adjusted smoothly during matches, adapting to circumstances adeptly, their players showing an ability to cope with a variety of positions. It's good to see, even if solidity is often their first aim.
In the F.A. Trophy games last month we started out playing 4-4-2 and failed to make an impact on Altrincham, who played three at the back and outnumbered us in midfield. In both matches Saunders switched to 4-3-3 and immediately took control of the game.
Will Saunders be tempted to start with a 4-3-3 today? Does he see Andy Mangan as the sort of striker who can play on his own up front? Would that allow him to accommodate Jamie McCluskey, who has put in two impressive substitute appearances this week, playing behind a front two for the first time for us last Saturday?
Or will he recall what happened in the tie that we lost: after hammering Alty for twenty-five minutes our domination ended when Heathcote responded by switching to 4-3-3 himself. The result? The tie returned to a tight, thrill-free tussle, and they got a scrappy winner from a set piece which they then defended easily.
That was one of the few games this season which actually conformed to Dean Saunders' claim that we consistently create chances; if he can find the formation to create a similar amount today then Mangan will get chances to score his first goal for us. The battle in the dugouts will be as crucial as that on the pitch.