Jen Kelly – a.k.a. Cheshire’s Revenge / The Word Nerd – brings ilovemacc her own take on the highs and lows of The Silkmen
You never quite know what you’re going to get with a game of football. The most built up, eagerly anticipated games can be a huge let down with nothing exciting to note. And the ones that you expect to be a foregone conclusion can turn out to be the most exciting, the most nail biting, the most talked about. And I’m not just talking about goals.
Goals are a brilliant and important part of the game, obviously. But there are so many more ingredients that go into making a truly perfect 90 minutes. Sublimely timed tackles, controversial decisions, pin point passes. Yellow cards, red cards, penalties, super substitutions, songs and songs and more songs…
Yesterday was one of those games that had it all, including the goals. What the hell was in those half time oranges?!
A slow start…
The realistic among us knew that getting anything out of the FGR game would be a tough ask. Having suffered the cruel defeat of Tuesday the team would be understandably tired and probably a little pissed off. The Crewe game had taken another victim in the shape of McCourt, depleting our already threadbare squad. Forest Green were doing well, up in 9th and edging closer to the playoffs. Confidence will have been high in the FGR camp as they trundled up the M6. Taking on ‘struggling’ Macclesfield would be just another day at the office, surely?
The first few minutes of play did nothing to settle the nerves. It was an ambling start with no evident urgency on display from either side. Possession was fleeting from the home side, with every won ball counteracted by a poor follow up. Fitz seemed to be struggling with the basics, and Archibald was doing a lot of running with no result.
Our first chance, if you could call it that, was after 6 or 7 minutes. O’Keeffe and Archibald managed to combine to get the ball through to the advancing Kirby. The pass was too short and was easily dealt with, but it was the first flash of anything resembling a shot.
As the game wore on and started to settle, FGR took the reins. There were a few simple gathers from Mitchell before he made his first real save from a hard shot at the centre of his goal. He slapped it away rather randomly, but thankfully it had enough on it to be removed from the danger zone. We were second best and when the opening goal came on 17 minutes, it took no-one by surprise.
Winchester, who had been involved from the off, took the ball across the pitch and had plenty of room to find the gap and slot home. The reaction around the ground was muted, helped in part by the lingering air of inevitability from the home stands. The FGR fans celebrated quietly as we trudged back to the centre, sighing heavily.
If you fall over it’s a foul, right?
After the goal the visitors looked comfortable and in control. Their control seemed to extend to the referee, who was happily handing out free kicks all over the pitch ever time someone fell over.
Of course, we weren’t helping matters. We were sluggish and off the pace, always half a step behind a Forest Green who were implementing their plan with ease. They were in no rush and seemed happy to work their chances carefully. A moment on the 25th minute perhaps summed up Macc’s game to that point, with Kelleher trying to play out from the back and finding no-one to pass to. He advanced forward with the ball through a static midfield, flicking halfheartedly at an FGR player and immediately losing possession. The resulting break thankfully came to nothing when the shot went well wide, but it was another lucky escape for the Silkmen.
It seemed we were all off the pace somewhat. Even Andy Worth was suffering, announcing that O’Keeffe had gone off when FGR made their first substitution! The pressure must be getting to him!
As the clock struck 3.30pm Macc finally started to join in. We had a good period of possession which ground out a free kick and a few crosses, one of which could’ve come good if only Harris was a few inches taller. Frustratingly we could see from the terraces what the team were trying to do, but indecisiveness and general dithering was getting in the way.
More dispossession and wayward passes followed and, although the game had evened out somewhat, there seemed no danger of any more goals for the afternoon. There was a subdued feeling lingering over the fans and even a chorus of “we want Amar out” from the SLE sounded forced. Yes, we definitely do want him out, but am I the only person that is so sick of singing (or talking) about it?
The last action of note in the first half was Kelleher channelling his inner gymnast in the box and doing the splits followed by a rolly-polly to clear the ball. He went down holding his groin and we all pondered whether Captain Kel would come out for the second half.
A game of two halves? You’re not kidding!
As we watched Tythy Juniors fire shots at wonky neon posts during the break, the terrace talk was focused on the dressing room. What would you say to the team if you were Kennedy? Would you rip them a new one and put the fear of God* into them? Or would you put a proverbial arm around them, telling them that they just had to keep going? The jury was out, but as the teams returned to some polite claps, we weren’t totally sure what to expect.
Turns out, you should always expect the unexpected!
Macc came out of the blocks much quicker at the second time of asking. Right from kick off there seemed to be more urgency, more confidence from the home team. We had all just settled in for what looked like a more positive half when the referee pointed to the spot. Penalty to FGR.
O’Keeffe was the villain, shouldering the FGR player and sending him bouncing off across the grass. It looked soft at the time and having now watched the highlights I’m still not overly convinced it was a penalty, but the lack of appeal from those on the pitch speaks volumes. With every face pointed towards the John Askey terrace, it was all in the hands of Mitchell. And Mitchell’s hands came good, with a strong save to grant us a lifeline. As a collective cheer of delight and relief rose from the stands, it seemed things were looking more positive…
Within a few minutes, Macc went up a gear. Up the other end Horsfall attempted a bicycle kick on goal. It came to nothing but hinted that the half time talk had been a simple one; stop pissing about and get some shots in! The whole team was more clinical, working the greasy pitch to their advantage.
Refreshingly it was FGRs turn to block some shots. Kirby, Ironside and Archibald all had a pop and some strong defending was all that stood in the way. Harris, who had come in for the injured McCourt and made a good account of himself, came off on the hour for Osadebe. It seemed this was always part of the plan, as the team shifted to the next stage.
Paddy immediately made an impact. He started frustrating FGR with his clever feet, giving Ironside more room and opening up the pitch. The penalty save had obviously done more than keep the score down; it seemed to have revitalised the home team and injected a bit of belief.
We were right to believe…
Fifteen minutes is a long time in football..
After some good play from both sides, the next roll of the Macclesfield dice was to bring Stephens on for Kirby. It was a positive sub and another one that made an immediate impact.
Ben Stephens is a definite talent and FGR didn’t seem to quite know what to do with him. He threw himself into the game and the resulting 4-4-2 proved to be the absolute right call.
Paddy messily won the ball over on the left. Legs everywhere, he pushed the ball over to Stephens. Back to goal, he controlled well and battled 3 defenders to play back to the hovering Ironside. With 5 players in green ahead of him, Joe took a touch and then fired through the crowd to calmly slot home, leaving FGR wondering what had just happened. It was a fitting reward for our number 9, who had worked tirelessly and was starting to show what all these managers seemed to see in him.
From the restart FGR looked rattled. They carved out a few chances that all flew off down London Road, but they seemed stunned that they were now fighting to save the 3 points they had perhaps thought were in the bag. The game was anyone’s for the taking now and, with the clock ticking down, it seemed both sides were up for the challenge.
What happened next was another non-goal moment that would turn out to be crucial. Macc had won a corner and, as the ball bounced back to the edge of the box, some dithering about lost possession. Forest Green broke and cut through the lonely Fitzpatrick like butter. Only O’Keeffe managed to break with the forward and was left careering down the pitch, chasing down the advancing forward. O’Keeffe chose to tackle, taking the player down as well as the ball. There could be no argument that it was a red card.
We all agreed that it was the right call by O’Keeffe. It was almost a sure thing that the attack would’ve come good, and O’Keeffe was left with little option. His sacrifice meant the scores stayed level and, although we were now a man down, we were still in with a chance.
That chance was well and truly taken just 4 minutes later. Take a bow Arthur, take a bow my son…
Pick that one out the net!
There are goals that won’t make the headlines. There are scuffed shots that trickle in, deflections and rebounds, fumbles and pinballs. There are goals that are nothing to write home about but are match winners, or even season-changers. There are well-worked team goals, tiki-taka’d into the net after a collective piece of skill.
And then there are absolute worldies.
We’ve all seen them. The goal that comes from nothing, hit so sweetly that you struggle to find the right adjectives to do it justice. That was Arthur’s goal, and more.
Having reorganised after O’Keeffe’s dismissal, the Macc 10 had continued to press. Blyth had come on for Ironside as part of a plan that had been formulated before the red card. After another wasted free kick the ball found its way back up to the Star Lane End, but the half-chance came to nothing and the play fell back to Arthur.
Arthur was in the centre of the pitch, about 35-40 yards out from goal. He took a touch to control and placed the ball on his left foot. As he unleashed the shot from the volley, it was one of those efforts that you just knew would find the net. He hit it perfectly, with just the right amount of weight to dip at the net, slotting sublimely over the flapping Logan and nestling the ball happily in the onion bag. As arms were thrown aloft, the look of glee and astonishment on the faces around me proved what a special shot it was. As the players chased after the celebrating Arthur, Paddy and Whitehead turned to each other with jaws on the floor. Even the FGR fans clapped, begrudgingly. Show me a better goal across the leagues this weekend…I’ll wait…!
A sliver of light at the end of a very long tunnel?
With less than 10 minutes left of the game, it was Macc’s to lose. We went deep, with all but Blyth behind the ball. FGR tried to salvage something but never really looked like coming back, and the Macc players seemed determined that this would not be a case of deja-vu.
As the fourth official flashed 4 minutes added times, you could feel the 1,500 home fans twitching and hand-wringing and counting every second to victory. The ball came out into the crowd on the LRT for a Forest Green throw and there was a collective shout to “keep the ball”. Anything to waste a few seconds. We had been here so many times before but this one was not getting away from us.
The whistle to signal the end was a sweet sound indeed, and the cheer that greeted it was one of joy and absolute relief. Arthur deserved his MOTM award for the goal alone, although my pick was Ironside. It’s the best I’ve seen him play and for me he put the game in our hands with his opener. Mitchell also deserves recognition for a game-changing penalty save, with O’Keeffe a close third for making the decision to sacrifice himself to stop a goal. In fact, every single player can hold their heads high with that second half performance.
In Kennedy’s post-match interview, he gave us an insight into what type of manager – sorry, head coach – he is. He showed honesty by expressing his disappointment in the first half performance. He showed his knowledge when talking about formation and plans and style of play. And he showed humanity when he confessed his love for both Joe and Arthur. In this day and age it’s so refreshing to hear an intelligent interview from a manager – SORRY, head coach – who is not afraid to talk truthfully about the game and about his players.
With Morecambe and Stevenage both dropping points again, the gap between us and them is opening up. As tempting as it is to look up the table to where we should be (15th place, for anyone who’s not looked already!), we’ve got to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt. Tuesday will bring another tough challenge, with a long trip to Newport to contend with, but it’s one I feel we’re equal to.
And with news that we’re back at Egerton to add to the most positive feeling that is starting to shine through, am I the only one thinking that the light at the end of this gloomy, depressing tunnel is starting to get brighter…?
*Other celestial beings and idols are also available
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