AT the start of the season, nobody could have predicted how crucial a lanky 19-year-old loan player from Stoke would become to Alty's survival hopes.

But Ryan Shotton has been a sensation.

The 6ft 1in centre half has made a significant contribution at both ends of the field, shoring up Alty's defence, while also popping up with some vital goals.

Shotton has scored seven goals in 38 games for the Robins, with two of his most important coming in the 3-1 win over Salisbury on Saturday.

Alty only claimed three points against the Wiltshire side after a tactical change saw Shotton move up front.

His double strike overturned Salisbury's one-goal lead before Chris Senior completed the scoring late on.

And manager Graham Heathcote this week heaped praise on his loan star.

He told SAM Sport: "He's been fantastic and I can't speak highly enough of him.

"I'm always wary of bringing in loan players because you're not sure how they'll fit in, but his attitude has been fantastic.

"He showed he can be a handful up front. I've said since January that we would play him up there if we needed to and he's produced a few goals.

"He's a good footballer and good footballers can play wherever you ask them to."

But, despite his causing havoc as a makeshift striker against Salisbury, Heathcote said that doesn't necessarily mean Shotton will find himself starting in a new role in the final two games of the season.

"There's a difference between being thrown up there and starting up there," he said.

"When you're thrown up there you don't have the pressure to produce, it's just a case of nick something if you can.

"Starting up front, you're under serious pressure to score goals, especially considering the position we're in."