Rose Turns Out To Be A Thorn – for Macclesfield.
It’s only September yet today’s contest at the Globe Arena was a six-pointer in every sense of the term. In the red Corner: twenty-second placed Morecambe with a pathetic three points from eight games played so far. And in the Blue corner: Macclesfield Town, one position lower in the relegation positions and with only two points on the board to show for their efforts. A win for Morecambe today and a draw against struggling Grimsby next Saturday could literally transform the Shrimps’ season. But a mere draw against the Silkmen today – or, heaven forefend – a loss – would put Jim Bentley’s men even further in the mire than they already are with Christmas – usually the time when the fortunes of football clubs become more clear – still some time away in the future. But the headline which even the Premiership-centric BBC’s Radio Five Live actually picked-up on before the match was that Macclesfield have failed to win in League Two for 49 games – a typically meaningless statistic considering Town’s absence from the EFL for so many years recently.
So there was a lot to play for in the greater scheme of things. On a lesser scale, there was also personal pride to think about. Macclesfield’s Michael Rose was the Skipper of the Shrimps last season but was one of the first players to be jettisoned at the end of last season. Personally, I could well understand this: his performances last season were generally below par and whatever pace he may have once possessed seemed to have disappeared altogether. He also had a tendency to throw his toys out of the pram and picked-up far too many cards for needless fouls or simple petulance. At this level of football, being good at taking free kicks is not sufficient and Rose’s all-round game was not good enough for the EFL. But would he be inspired to excel today against the club who rejected him only a few short months ago?
Talking about the head-to-head record between the two clubs is pretty meaningless. Their history stretches back to the 1960s and the Northern Premier League and the men from Cheshire have been out of the EFL for the last six years. Two words will certainly make both sets of supporters feel wistful when they look back into history though, particularly bearing in mind their current woes: Sammy and McIlroy. The former Manchester United star and Northern Ireland Manager took both of these teams into the Football League for the first time ever.
It was dry and sunny at times by the North Lancashire seaside both before and during the game. With both teams in their first-choice strips, it was quite like old times for those of us ancient enough to remember the inaugural Northern Premier League. And that applied to the football played during the opening period too. Far too little skill; far too many long balls and a seeming collective inability to string a move of three or more passes together successfully. Rhys Oates produced a fierce shot after six minutes which was straight at Keiran O’Hara but Macclesfield ‘s only shot on target was from Michael Rose, whose only other notable contribution to the game until that point had been a bit of afters following a tackle on A-Jay Leitch-Smith. Despite the sometimes noisy interruptions by the commendably large number of away supporters, it was quiet enough at times to be able to hear Barry Roche encouraging his team-mates to “Settle Down!” from his position in the Morecambe goal. With 37 minutes on the clock and following a Morecambe corner, there was a clash of heads between two Macclesfield defenders. Callum Evans was down and probably out for quite some time afterwards and was finally stretchered from the field about five minutes later. Let’s hope his injury is not as serious as it looked at the time. Things then went from bad to worse almost immediately for the visitors. Rose launched himself into a horrendous foul – feet first; studs up – against Alex Kenyon and was immediately shown a straight red card by referee Geoff Eltringham. Good riddance to him. Even better move to have got rid of him – this stupid, nasty foul not only let down his team, his Manager and the fans of his club, it also effectively ended Alex’s contribution to the game: he had to hobble off shortly afterwards. But at least his leg was still in one piece – it very well might not have been.
So the half ended with Mark Yates’ beleaguered team under the cosh: a key defender missing and one of his new signings dismissed. Without a tremendous save by O’Hara from Oates right at the death and a swerving shot from Liam Mandeville which swept past him but also just missed the top left hand corner of his goal, they already would not have been on level-pegging.
The second half saw the visitors doing their level best to hold on to what they had: a draw. But they only managed to do so for a quarter of an hour. Following yet another attack down the Morecambe right flank, Liam Mandeville was able to flick a low cross past O’Hara at his far post to put the Shrimps into a lead which their more positive approach to the game had probably just about merited. With half an hour scheduled to play, the only way the Silkmen seemed likely to equalise was from a set-piece – their in-play performance lacked penetration at any point of the contest. But equalise they duly did: veteran Danny Whitaker fairly walloped the ball home from close range after the home defence had failed to deal with a long-throw from James Pearson on the Macclesfield right. With twenty minutes still scheduled to play, the team in blue briefly got on top but their bubble was well and truly burst after 76 minutes. O’Hara had worked wonders to keep a low shot from A-Jay out by getting down quickly to his right and palming the shot away after seventy-four minutes. But he was helpless as Andrew Tutte launched the ball into the Macclesfield half in a counter-attack just two minutes later. Andy Fleming was the first to react and ran down the centre of the pitch to unerringly beat Town’s goalkeeper with a calm finish. After that, the Silkmens’ heads visibly went down and the Shrimps were the first to get to every ball. If either of the two teams were going to score again, it was only going to be the men in red.
The win pushed Morecambe one position up the table above Grimsby. And guess who they are going to be playing this time next week?
The last time Morecambe played Macclesfield in League Two was on a Tuesday night in February 2012. Although they only won one-nil, you had the feeling even then that the Cheshire team were already doomed – as proved to be the case. This wasn’t evident today though: although they slipped to rock bottom of the EFL, they didn’t seem to be completely hopeless to me at least. And whatever else: their supporters were a real credit to them.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (C); 2 Zak Mills; 16 Sam Lavelle (Y); 3 Luke Conlan; 4 Alex Kenyon (8 Andrew Tutte 45 mins); 14 Josef Yarney (Y); 15 Aaron Wildig (9 Vadaine Oliver 71 mins); 8 Andy Fleming; 14 Liam Mandeville; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith; 18 Rhys Oates (11 Kevin Ellison 76 mins).
Subs not used: 21 Mark Halstead; 24 Joe Piggott; 22 James Sinclair; 25 Ben Hedley.
Macclesfield: 1 Keiran O’Hara; 19 James Pearson; 5 Fiacre Kelleher; 6 Jamie Grimes (20 Peter Vincenti 78 mins); 8 Tyrone Marsh; 17 Callum Evans (18 Callum Maycock 38 mins); 3 David Fitzpatrick (C); 24 Michael Rose (R); 13 Nathan Blissett; 16 Malachi Napa (10 Harry Smith 66 mins); 23 Danny Whitaker.
Subs not used: 25 Luke Simpson; 4 Keith Lowe; 9 Scott Wilson; 15 Ben Stephens; 22 Koby Arthur.
Ref: Geoff Eltringham.