Northgate 5 – 4 Macclesfield Parish
SMCCFL Division 3
Three defeats in their previous three games against Macclesfield Parish gave Northgate’s Cheshire rivals the status of ‘bogey team’, with the Chester outfit conceding 3 in each frustrating outing. Hoping to feed off the buzz of the dramatic late turnaround against Westwood last week to claim a point, Clark was hoping for a first win of 2019 and to right the wrongs of former fixtures.
Aiming to do just that was a squad that had several changes from last time out. Coleclough, Davies, Elkington, Holden, Stringer and Tonks were all unavailable, and so in came Heathcote, Jones, Scott, Thomas and newcomer Alex Clayton hoping to make an impact on his debut. James Sharrock took his place between the sticks for the fourth successive match, fuelled by a pre-match hot drink combination. A back four of Harvey, Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall set the line behind a central midfield trio of Jones, Slade and Campbell, whilst width was provided by Steve Scott and Theo Thomas to support the familiar spearhead of Alex Owen.
The early stages of the game looked very much like a confident Northgate side picking up where they left off with 3 late goals, and pushing men forward the Macclesfield men didn’t seem to know what to do. The breakthrough came after just 15 minutes when Martin Harvey delivered a pinpoint cross from the right to Owen who scuffed his shot on the volley, but thanks a wandering goalkeeper flapping ineffectively he was able to just direct it into the goal.
Pressure continued to grow and Northgate’s passing game was pulling the opposition defence around, easily making space to exploit. The lead was doubled in familiar fashion, with a touch of ‘déjà vu’ for Martin Harvey in particular, as Slade made a trademark strong run with the ball,, delivering a hard, low cross into the box that the onrushing defender could do little about other than turning it into his own goal.
The visitors then started to expand their play a little more and got some tidy players on the ball to try move the ball forward and get through any gaps that may have appeared. Led by a giant of a centre-forward, Parish were finding their man to hold up the play but organised defending meant that any half chances were mopped up and space was closed down; with Broomhall notably getting his head on a couple of important long balls forward.
Northgate stepped it up another level though, driven on by a hard-working midfield. Jones was demanding more from everyone around him, settling down play on the ball and being the fulcrum for all moves forward. On 30 minutes Scott was replaced by Heathcote, and it was then time for Theo Thomas though who, minutes after a storming run down the left side of the pitch all the way through to the box, created the 3rd goal. Moved to the right wing at the time of the substitution, the winger saw Owen in space again in the box and after some good work managed to lift a delicate ball over to the striker who finished at the second time of asking after an initial block from the keeper.
Goals didn’t stop there either for the hosts, as a strong aerial display from Hilsden and Clark saw the latter’s header back from a long ball find Slade who slid in a lovely through ball for Lawrie Campbell who picked his spot and stroked home to make it 4-0. It was all looking comfortable for Northgate and appeared to be the kind of match and score line they’ve felt they’ve deserved for several weeks without luck.
However, a soft free-kick given away just outside the box from Hilsden allowed Parish a shot on goal. Having spurned a few set-piece chances already from direct positions, Northgate knew what to expect but a quick and dipping shot bounced awkwardly just in front of Sharrock to evade him and hit the back of the net to give Macclesfield hope.
Half time came not long after the setback which meant that although full of encouragement for an excellent and dominant first half, the message from Clark was to not switch off and remain confident and manage the game properly now still with a 3 goal lead. Alex Clayton came on to make his debut in place of the impressive Theo Thomas, but not before Slade and Jones also had the opportunity to reinforced the view that ‘managing the game’ didn’t mean slowing down, and the intensity would still be required. In a disappointingly familiar Northgate style though, the period of collapse soon came.
Another needless free-kick was conceded 25 yards out from goal, and the ball into the box took a strong deflection off a shoulder in the wall, taking the ball on a high looping trajectory into the top corner where Sharrock was helpless. The Macclesfield men were now full of adrenaline and believed themselves to be back in the game at 4-2.
Dropped heads, diminished confidence and drained discipline all combined with decreasing energy levels to see a period of poor play from the hosts. Positional play was lacking structure and as communication all but disappeared there was over-committing in certain areas at the same times; gifting the opposition space. Despite cutting out some build up play and several half chances, the defence eventually were split apart twice in quick succession to somehow allow Macclesfield to equalise and successfully nullify Northgate’s previously held 4 goal lead.
With 20 minutes left to play, Martin Harvey made way for Steve Scott in his more comfortable role as right back in a bid to give some fresh legs and turn things around. Clayton was causing problems with his pace whenever given something to chase down, and Owen and Heathcote were battling hard at the top and left as well; but ultimately the final piece of quality was missing.
As time wore on and both sides began to realise just 1 goal would now surely win the game, it became a more tense and cagey affair. Northgate’s back four stepped up a gear and became more resolute, most notably Broomhall who continued in fine form to be in the right place at the right time making important interceptions and tackles. The hosts then thought they’d won it as another superb run from Slade down the right channel, linking up with Clayton, saw the captain look up and find Campbell unmarked on the edge of the box. Northgate’s 2nd highest marksman looked for all the world set to finish his 2nd of the game but instead blazed it over the bar to everyone’s amazement.
Still the battle went on and as tired legs grew weary, Slade continued to drag the team forward with the ball from the middle. Latching onto a through ball from Clayton he drew the goalkeeper out wide and rounded him, only for him to find when he looked up it was only Owen surrounded by defenders available in the box and he had to settle for winning a corner. Jones’ set pieces were good testing the resolve of the Parish players, as were an increasing number of Clark long throws; with a couple of balls in bouncing agonisingly in front of goal, and Owen flashing one difficult volley over the bar.
Calling on the belief gained from Westwood, Clark knew his team would never give in and had the ability to pull it off late again. And they did.
With just 2 minutes on the clock, a long throw from Clark was headed back towards the wing but only as far as the side of the 6 yard box. Both Campbell and Hilsden chased it down to recycle the ball, with Campbell leaping highest to head it back across goal and straight to the grateful head of Magic Mike Heathcote who nodded it into the net to the huge celebrations of everyone in orange. Concentration and discipline to see out the remaining minute was all that was needed, and Clayton then found himself extremely unlucky to not have had a debut goal – the referee blowing for full time at the moment the winger pulled the trigger from 25 yards, sending an arrow of a shot low into the bottom corner in vain.
This was another dogged display from Northgate, reaching deep into the wells of their character to pull a result out of the bag. Whilst overall a win is no less than the hosts deserve, there is much food for thought for Clark and the squad as to how to overcome these periods of ‘switching off’ that have so nearly been so destructive to results. Celebrations for now though as the curse of Macclesfield is lifted, and it is now 7 points from their last 3 league games. Although a promotion push looks very unlikely at this stage of the campaign with just 6 league games remaining, the aim of finishing in the top 4 is still very much on in this kind of form.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Martin Harvey (RB)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Steve Scott (RM / RB)
- Josh Slade (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- Lawrie Campbell (CM)
- Theo Thomas (LM / RM)
- Mike Heathcote (LM)
- Alex Clayton (RM)
Man of the Match – MARK BROOMHALL