Macc Turn The Knife
Macclesfield Parish 3 – 2 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Eight months after their first competitive match, Northgate were at the end of their debut season. A rearranged fixture postponed due to a lack of Macclesfield players meant that the 12th May – the day of the SMCCFL Cup and Trophy finals – was the final date of the 2017/18 fixture list for the Chester outfit. Keen to avenge a 3-1 defeat at home a month earlier and finish the year on a high, Clark’s men made the long journey to Macclesfield on a bright and sunny morning.
Just two changes were made from the last game out at Champions, City Church. Josiah Mainwaring’s debut remained his only appearance of the season, whilst James Sharrock’s absence was more notable as it meant that there was no recognised goalkeeper in the squad. Russ Morgan came into the squad and was the man to pick up the gloves in a remarkable act of selflessness, and James Holden shook off his injury in time to claim his 6th appearance of the season. Given the personnel available and non-existent league position pressure, Clark elected to give a 352 formation another attempt having toyed with it earlier in the year. Ahead of Morgan, Clark lined up on the left of Hilsden and Slade – making his first appearance in defence since his MOTM performance at home against Oasis. Broomhall and Kapasi started in the key left and right wing-back roles respectively, with Elkington, Jones and Holden making up the middle three. Tonks and Owen teamed up at the top for the first time since the opening Charity Cup game of the season where they both scored against Oasis.
The game eventually got underway and early signs of the 352 working were good. It didn’t take long for the Macclesfield number 10 to make himself known again, moaning at the slightest nudge at every occasion. Northgate were doing their own fair-share of talking, but all as desired by Clark to organise this unfamiliar formation. Kapasi was involving himself well down the right with Slade always on hand to cover. It was the hosts however who broke through first, as the left winger preyed on the rare space and confusion created by and between Kapasi and Slade. With time to pick out a cross, he sent a looping ball over the whole defence and found, most frustratingly of all, the Macc number 10 who finished from 2 yards past the despairing Morgan and wheeled away in typically loud and annoying fashion.
Northgate were forced into waking up and upping their game following the goal. Jones began to lift the midfield, looking for the ball to feet and playing some nice, simple football again which began to unsettle the Parish players. Theo Thomas was introduced for Broomhall on the left to keep the wingbacks fresh with a heavy workload, and his attacking mentality brought an immediate change. Some strong running down the wing and link up play with Owen led to a couple of half chances, but nothing came of them. A few throw ins were bringing opportunities as Clark launched his trademark long ones into the box, with one frustratingly bouncing through everyone and out for a goal kick, and one falling at Holden’s feet who held it up well but couldn’t produce the pass or the shot from it.
Utilising the attacking partnership took time after playing most of the season with one front man, but soon enough things began to click. Tonks was throwing himself about and causing problems with his physicality as Parish couldn’t compete, allowing the movement of Owen to get into space time after time. Minutes after he couldn’t quite make it onto the end of a through ball, Tonks played an excellent diagonal pass across to his partner who finished confidently to score his 16th goal of the season. In a period of play similar to that of 30-45mins in the first leg of Liverpool vs Roma in the Champions League semi-final, it was as if Northgate had worked out exactly how to get through the Macclesfield defence and created chance after chance. 5 minutes after his first, Owen gave the visitors the lead after latching on to Holden’s looping through ball, beating the keeper to the ball and chasing down the deflected initial shot to ensure the goal was his. At 2-1, Tonks had a great run down the right and his cross tantalisingly missed everybody in the box, and another chance for Owen went begging as the defenders made things difficult for him. The defensive unit were by now working well together, shifting across well whilst Morgan was also growing in confidence in goal after a couple of good high catches and saves.
At the break, Clark was conscious that they led 1-0 during the home tie only to fall behind. Concentration and securing the next goal were the highest things on the agenda, hoping to finish the season with a hard fought win on this increasingly hot day as it was the month before. Club chairman Guy Lister was present for the first time of the year, keen to see the mental state of the players given recent rumours of unrest and support for Elkington amidst the up and down runs in March/April. Happy that the Tangerines had come from behind since he turned up, he offered his encouragement to Clark and the team at half time also.
Having stated the importance of concentration and the next goal, the feeling around the squad as Macclesfield scored the equaliser was an obviously frustrated one. Playing on gaps appearing between centre-backs and wing backs, Parish had obviously been tactically astute and were glad for a tiring Northgate side. With time to pick out easy passes the winger then cut inside and, seeing a gap, pulled the trigger with an early shot from 20 yards to wrong foot Morgan in goal.
Broomhall was reintroduced at right wing back for a tiring Kapasi, but his recurring injury saw him last only 15 minutes before having to limp off again for a reverse swap. At 2-2 the game entered a tense period of cat and mouse, with both teams believing they could win it whilst careful to not over-commit. With tiredness and a desire to push themselves, some late tackles and frustrations began to creep into the game. After moaning about fouls not given, the Parish number 10 was apoplectic when he was ruled to have handled the ball. Booked for dissent, he was removed from the pitch and sent home by the Macclesfield manager – though he still managed to make himself heard as he drove off down the road. Dave Tonks was the next man in the book as Northgate’s booking-free season was ended 20 minutes shy of the end for a culmination of late tackles. Several more long throws were sent in by Clark, with flick ons meeting some but without any follow up, whilst the goalkeeper was feeling confident and claimed anything that came too close to him with ease.
In an attempt to bring more energy and combativeness further up the field, Clark switched Slade and Holden around and the big man (Slade) made his presence felt immediately as he flew into challenges to pressurise the Macc men. Set pieces presented the best chances for the visitors who looked the most likely to knick a winner as Morgan was relatively untested; apart from by himself in a freak moment where he attempted to pick up the ball under no pressure, but kicked it against his own post where it thankfully returned straight back into his arms. Despite pushing men forward though, the breakthrough couldn’t come and as has been a recurring theme through the season – Northgate were punished for not finishing the job. A miskick from Hilsden sent the ball high into the air, and Clark was unable to volley the ball clear and slipped in his attempt. This left the Parish striker through on goal with defenders unable to catch him, and after a controlled run he picked his spot and smashed it into the corner to win the game with just 3 minutes left on the clock. A couple more set-pieces were launched into the box as Macclesfield earned themselves another yellow card for a bad foul on Elkington, but the ball never quite fell right for the men in orange and they found themselves on the end of another defeat that they could have claimed the points for earlier in the season.
In his final team talk of the season, and in his post-match press conference, Clark embodied the frustration of his team. It was another match they could and possibly should have won, but fell on the wrong side of the result. However, their previous defeat to Macclesfield was very much a ‘rolling over’ without a challenge, whereas this performance had much more grit about it. Quick to point out that a 4th place finish in a debut season featuring no regular training resembled success, Clark was full of encouragement for his squad as a whole. The change from the start of September to eight months later is a big one, with team morale, togetherness and work rate all much improved. On another day this could have been a very different result, but Northgate will take stock and learn from this as they have on other occasions. It has been one of the most successful debut seasons ever seen in the SMCCFL with 6 league wins, giving Clark much hope and many areas to build on for next year.
1. Russ Morgan (GK)
2. Josh Slade (CB)
3. Matt Hilsden (CB)
4. Jonny Clark (CB)
5. Ali Kapasi (RWB)
6. Mark Broomhall (LWB)
7. Ben Jones (CM)
8. Rob Elkington (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Dave Tonks (ST)
11. James Holden (CAM)
12. Theo Thomas (LWB)
MAN OF THE MATCH – Alex Owen