SMacc in the Face
Northgate 1 – 3 Macclesfield Parish
Coming in off the back of two big wins, Northgate were full of confidence going into their first ever fixture against Macclesfield Parish. Following postponements in October, December and January, both home and away matches were moved to the business end of the season, but with nothing more than pride and a potential shot at 3rd place for Northgate, there was a feeling of relaxation around the dressing room on what was quickly becoming a very warm morning.
With Clark making his return after two absences, he was keen to continue the winning form Elkington had overseen. Having not played since the snowy encounter of -2°C at Kay Street, the sunshine coming down at 20°C the Tangerine Fortress made it feel like a completely different world. Among the absentees for this game were MOTM winners from those two victories; Josh Slade and James Sharrock. Dave Tonks, Mark Roberts and Steve Scott were also missing, as top scorer Alex Owen returned with a point to prove as well as Wade Crank, Ben Jones and Matt Ward who lined up as the only winless member of the squad. Electing for the now classic 451, Crank started at right back alongside the familiar line of Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall in from of Davenport in goal. Thomas was rewarded for his fine form with another start on the right, Heathcote took up his station on the left, with Elkington, Jones and Morgan providing the strength in the middle behind Owen.
As Macclesfield came out onto the pitch in their traditional light blue and white stripes, players’ minds were taken to thinking of Argentina vs Holland and what a classic this match would be. However, watching the warm up shots fly over the bar quickly dismissed the memories of the Bergkamp goal in ’98 as he avenged the English penalties defeat. The game got underway and it was the oranges that looked and performed the brighter early on. Owen was making some good runs but not quite managing to latch onto the balls through, and the midfield were dominating in the air. It didn’t take long to realise that this would be a tight one, and as one Macc winger appealed for several early decisions it also became clear that it could be a tense one that the referee needed to control. The most contentious decision of the whole game came relatively early for the man in the middle when, faced with the onrushing Alex Owen, the Macc keeper came out of his area and palmed it away from the striker. What could easily have been the end of his game was looked on favourably however, and only a caution was given for the offence. The resulting free-kick was then saved by the keeper down low in the corner just to add to the home side’s frustrations.
After just 15 minutes, the Crank ankle took a knock which meant an early switch around. Broomhall, having started strongly against the whiney winger, moved to right back and Heathcote slotted in as Ward came on to the left wing. The pace of Ward began to have an impact, running in behind the full back into good positions, but the final ball rarely came to him with enough time to make something of it. Jones was commanding play in the centre, and began to link up nicely with Elkington and Morgan with some free-flowing football which ended up with a couple of half chances for Owen, Morgan and Ward but all failed to trouble the goalkeeper. A succession of long throws were causing worry for Macclesfield, as Jones, Morgan and Elkington all got on the end of flick-ons only to see the ball sail wide of the mark or straight into the keeper’s hands.
It was all Northgate as Clark and Hilsden seemed to be reuniting perfectly, ably assisted by Heathcote and Broomhall to snuff out any danger. With Davenport looking confident claiming any high ball that came into the box, Macc’s only real chance of the half came on the counter-attack, as a corner from Jones was cut out early and sent long. Having raced through a gap in the defence the striker only had Davenport to beat, but sent it just wide of the post. This warning sign brought out a response from the hosts who finally got the breakthrough soon after. The ball found its way out to Thomas wide on the right who went on a trademark run into the heart of the defence. Surrounded by defenders, he somehow managed to get a pass away that ricocheted off a couple of Parish players and it fell kindly to Owen just outside the six yard box. Not panicking, he took his time and picked his spot to put home his 15th goal of the season.
Half time arrived with the score still at 1-0 and things seeming rosy in the sunshine. The league’s tightest defence was on course for another clean sheet; their 4th of seven home league games, and the opportunity for 3rd place was still there. Encouragement and instructions to concentrate came from Clark, knowing all too well the perils of second half collapses from earlier this season. Thomas came off for a rest, allowing Crank back into the fold taking his place on the wing.
A tense and shaky first 10 minutes ensued as Northgate looked to keep their noses in front, but Macc had come flying out of the blocks at the restart. Chasing down lost causes and being more productive with the ball, chances were coming thick and fast and Davenport was called into action to save on more than one occasion. Eventually though the pressure told after a succession of set pieces. A low cross was driven from the corner towards the edge of the box, and the Macc man beat his marker to the ball and chipped it deliciously into the top corner of the far post out of reach of anyone.
With the visitors buoyed, they were now noticeably the more vocal and pro-active around the pitch; exploiting any space left by Northgate players out of position. A ball forward into the striker’s feet drew a foul from Clark as he closed down the play, and before he could even get back up and into position the ball had been played forward into the space behind for a free runner to appear clean through on goal and he finished calmly to put Parish ahead. Suddenly 2-1 down, Northgate didn’t know what had hit them. They had to respond, but a response didn’t come.
Two became three in a horrible twist to the Spice Girls’ classic hit. A routine through ball was played to the striker from the midfield, and as Clark stuck out a leg to make a routine tackle, he could only bounce the ball back onto the attacker’s leg allowing him another free run at the goal in which he showed good composure to clip it into the top corner. It was a real body blow. From a position of such stability the game had completely turned on its head and Northgate didn’t know where to look.
Broomhall took a breather as Thomas was reintroduced on the wing, bringing Crank to full back again but there was little effect. The stuffing had been well and truly knocked out of the Tangerines who were by now struggling to keep up with the intensity of the Macclesfield play in the heat despite them not having any substitutes of their own. Quiet and second to react, it didn’t look good. After weathering the worst of the storm though, signs of life began to show again but still the spark of quality never really appeared. Morgan was working hard, bringing the ball down and spreading it in between the lines of the opposing midfield and defence, but the Macc back four stood firm and closed any doors that were knocked on. Ward and Thomas continued to work hard out wide running with the ball and getting into good positions, but the final ball never found its target.
Naturally as Northgate pressed higher up the pitch in search of goals, more space began to open up at the back as well. Davenport was resolute though and pulled off a couple of excellent saves down low to the corner to keep them in the game. Notable efforts in the final 20 minutes came from Jones who struck powerfully but over the bar in a shot that perfectly resembled the warm up, Clark doing similarly but wide after finding himself in space bursting forward, and Ward hitting a volley over the bar after a knock down from a throw in. Morgan and Owen also had half chances but couldn’t test the goalkeeper enough as that eventually became the overall theme.
As the referee blew, the hosts looked absolutely spent. Unfortunately for them, this had also been the case for large amounts of the second half and Macc had taken advantage. A dominant first half will be pleasing for the returning manager, but game management and closing out games will be high on the agenda for the future. With just two away games left and just pride to play for now, the emphasis will be on the enjoyment of the football and looking back on everything that has been learnt over a big first season for the club. Next week a trip to champions City Church, a club with a 100% winning season apart from their defeat here in Chester, will provide a tough test but an immediate opportunity to bounce back.
1. Ben Davenport (GK)
2. Wade Crank (RB / RM)
3. Mark Broomhall (RB / LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Ben Jones (CDM)
7. Theo Thomas (RM)
8. Rob Elkington (CDM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Russ Morgan (CAM)
11. Mike Heathcote (LM / LB)
12. Matt Ward (LM)
MAN OF THE MATCH – Ben Davenport