Macclesfield Parish 3 – 0 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Confidence was running high in the Northgate camp after three wins from their opening three games of the campaign. Causing an upset in the Charity Cup was followed by two strong league performances to fill the faithful fans with optimism at the start of a new season. Having struggled for any real momentum last year with two consecutive Saturdays proving the longest run of successive games, drive and energy were present within the squad now playing its fourth match in as many weeks. Coming up against bogey team Macclesfield Parish, such an infamously difficult place to claim points, was going to give them a real test though in these early stages. Having pulled off a surprise win over Kay Street United the week before, everybody was aware of the threat that Macc carried.
With injuries depleting the squad, only a bare 11 was able to make the long journey across Cheshire. James Sharrock returned in goal in front of a back four of Harvey, Holden, Clark and Taylor, the latter returning from his concussion layoff. Steve Scott lined up on the right wing with Theo Thomas on the left looking for the same kind of electrifying form that changed the game against Westwood. Mike Heathcote made his first league appearance of the year alongside Slade and Campbell in the middle, whilst Owen looked to continue his scoring streak up front.
A change of venue for the game meant that no changing facilities were available, and so Heathcote’s parents’ house just three minutes away became a makeshift meeting spot for the Tangerines. However, after the long journey, they eventually arrived at the ground at 10.22 and were told they would still have to kick off at 10.30. With the niceties of handshakes and prayers to fit into that time, two widths of the pitch and stretching during a team talk was the extent of the warm-up afforded to the visitors. In light of this, Northgate could have been excused for a sloppy start, but in reality, it was the complete opposite. A fast flowing, intensive start came from the boys who had just shown up and made the Parish players panic. Contending with a quite honestly ridiculous hill in the middle of one half of the pitch, which in itself was very narrow, conditions could not have been further from the first class facilities of last week at home. The game plan remained the same though: pass, move, play.
It didn’t take long to work out that this Macclesfield team were there for the taking. Shaky at the back, weak in the air, always hitting the long ball – Northgate’s passing game was ripping them to shreds. A few half chances came and went as the ball didn’t quite drop kindly or a defender closed the angle down just in time, but the confidence and belief was there. As time wore on, it became clear just what the pattern of this game would be like. The referee was breaking up play very often with fouls that nobody seemed to understand; captain Josh Slade the accused offender on several occasions for nothing more than he was receiving from the other side. Most frustrating for the visitors was when they thought they’d taken the lead, thanks to a superb chipped finish from Lawrie Campbell after a quickly taken free-kick from half-way inside the Northgate half, which took the Maccesfield defence by surprise. Celebrations were cut short however, as the referee brought things back and ordered the free-kick be taken a couple of metres away from where it was.
The patterns continued: Northgate attack; Macc long ball; Northgate clear; Macc given a free-kick; Macc long ball; Northgate clear; Northgate attack. Theo Thomas came closest to breaking the deadlock through hitting the post in amongst a goalmouth scramble, whilst Owen and Campbell also had efforts narrowly miss the target or blocked. Eventually, in similar fashion (against the run of play and through a stroke of fortune) to the previous week against Westwood, Macc took the lead. Winning the ball in the midfield, they played it to the winger who managed to fizz a teasing ball across the box. With a striker bearing down behind him, Harvey couldn’t let the ball go across his body so swung his boot at it, only to smash it into the roof of the net. Neither team could believe it, but Parish had the lead.
Whilst nothing else changed in the game and Northgate continued to seem the only team intent on playing the football, keeping discipline became the most pressing challenge. Decisions against now meant more and became more frustrating through chasing the game, but belief remained after being 1-0 down at halftime last week. A sucker punch was delivered shortly before the break though which changed the dynamic. Defence organised as they had been all half, the Macc men struggled to find a breakthrough, so took a pot-shot at goal from 20 yards. Clark braced himself for the block as the ball was aimed straight at him from close range, only for the striker to miskick the ball onto his standing foot. The resulting deflection looped it right over the back line to a teammate in an offside position, who eventually got the ball under control in space and finished with ease. Refusing to discuss the situation, the referee made his way straight back to the middle leaving Northgate incensed and in disbelief that they were somehow two goals down in a game they were dominating.
At the break, Clark called for calm. They had hit the post, had one disallowed, and made much of their passing game to disrupt the opposition defence. Like last week, the instructions were for belief and patience in the game plan knowing that one goal will wreak havoc on the Macc morale. Three goals were required and were more than within the capabilities of the team, but with no substitutes available, fatigue would surely be a foe in the latter stages if still chasing.
Renewed vigour in their hearts and minds, Northgate came out determined to press on and force their way back into the game. Holden continued to dominate proceedings by playing out of the back and appeared to be forging a good understanding with Clark in their 2nd game together in the centre of defence. Harvey and Taylor continued to make themselves available for balls at fullback and from there it would develop. Unfortunately for the visitors, Macclesfield also appeared renewed in vigour and with a belief that they could hold onto what they have with intensive pressing in the midfield. Too often a pass seemed to go from orange to blue shirts or even straight out of play; perhaps a sign of tiredness as time developed.
Chances then began to appear again and Northgate hit the post for the second time as Slade’s towering header from a Clark long throw bounced up and agonisingly against the woodwork. Heathcote had a glorious chance after Slade turned provider, finding his fellow midfielder in acres of space after a slip from the defender, but forced onto his weaker foot his effort went flying over the bar. A flurry of set-pieces then rained down on the Parish defence, with four or five corners in a row being expertly delivered by Campbell. Holden was winning headers to send it back across goal and the keeper just about did enough each time to tip the ball around the corner or over the bar. Another infuriating call from the referee then left everyone astounded as a corner to the back post was about to be headed back in by Owen, only for him to receive a two-handed push to the back no more than 2m away from the referee stood looking straight at it. At that point, minds began thinking it might be ‘one of those days’.
Rather than giving up though, Clark demanded more and the Tangerine army pushed on and advanced to a 3-5-2 formation, pushing Thomas up to partner Owen and Taylor and Scott to occupy the wingback roles. Without the option of rotating personnel though, little changed and Parish began to exploit the gaps appearing at the back as Northgate continued to push. Still feeling his calf injury from 10 days previous, Clark’s recovery runs for long balls became stunted and with Holden going on his marauding runs to join the midfield, the hosts pressurised the empty full-back positions. Harvey’s pace got them out of trouble on one occasion, as did a couple of excellent stops by Sharrock in goal. But the icing on the Macclesfield cake came as Taylor came storming across the pitch to tackle a striker, but in the process also wiped out Harvey in what looked like a scene from Takeshi’s Castle. This left the winger to pick up the ball unopposed and he drilled a ball across the box. Clark thought he’d done enough as he got a big toe on the ball to redirect it, but another Parish player lay waiting in the box just where it had deflected to. Controversially controlling the ball with his arm rather than the chest, he brought it down and finished to give the Macclesfield an unassailable lead. Protests fell on deaf ears as the referee walked away, and despite a brave and continued assault on the home goal right until the last whistle, it remained 3-0 at the end.
A bitterly disappointing defeat – and one that will be hard to swallow for some time – means that the win streak ends at three. Whilst not being a great performance with real cutting-edge, it was a solid display and one that certainly deserved more. The three-goal margin is undeniably flattering for the Macclesfield outfit, and it is too early to go claiming they are rightfully 2nd in the division, but in these conditions, they will be tough to beat at home. They return to Chester in January where they will be greeted with glee by many determined to right the wrongs of today. Next week though Clark must pick his men up for the visit of newly formed People’s Church, in what could be another close contest with the opposition also winning two of their opening three fixtures, including a tasty 4-2 victory of Kay Street United.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Martin Harvey (RB)
3. Mike Taylor (LB)
4. James Holden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Mike Heathcote (CM)
7. Steve Scott (RM)
8. Josh Slade (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Lawrie Campbell (CAM)
11. Theo Thomas (LM)
Man of the Match – JAMES HOLDEN