Monday, 28 December 2015

26/12/15 Review: Macclesfield Town vs Tranmere Rovers

Macclesfield Town 1-2 Tranmere Rovers (National League)
Moss Rose

It had been Seven Weeks since my last outing to a match, my longest run of the season so far, which had put a halt to Pint of Football Reviews whilst I was in Pantomime mode at work (Oh no your not, of yes you are, etc.). So needless to say that a rare day off on Boxing Day would have me chomping at the bit for some true festivities in-front of a bumper Moss Rose crowd, so much so that my friend Will travelled all the way through from Yorkshire once again to see the lads take on Tranmere Rovers. Nicknamed the "Super White Army" (and definitely not "The Trannies", as I kept calling them), the Merseyside club suffered the same fate as the Silkmen did in 2012 as they finished bottom of League Two in the 2014-15 season and joined us for the tough battle to get back to the sacred land of the fourth-tier. The season for Rovers had been average so far, with mid-table mediocrity being on the cards. Owning the biggest ground in the Conference, they travelled in numbers too and had decent support with them, but this would surely only continue as long as the footballing quality meets the fans' expectations. Macc, on the other hand, had been continuing in their push for a return to League Two, but in typical fashion we had started to show cracks just at the time where we needed to get the crucial wins. The fact of the matter was that both sides would be expecting to win, and therefore I predicted that we'd be in for a bore draw. 1-1 was my pre-match prediction, even though we'd only had 2 draws all season (the least in the Conference).

Time to work off those Pigs in Blankets, lads
After eating the undisputed classic Boxing Day butty (Turkey, Stuffing and Gravy) and listening to the Stoke vs Man U game on the radio, I began the drive out of Stoke and towards Macc. On our way we passed Leek Town's ground and saw the advertisement for their Monday Derby match against top of the table Stafford Rangers, and due to the laws of Christmas we got exited about the prospect of the match being on the day after today's match, only to realise later that it was in fact a day earlier than we'd thought and therefore one we couldn't attend. We arrived and took our seats in good time for the game, with even enough time to grab a dugout beer and a chat. Upon my first Boxing Day match experience I was thrilled to see the amount of fans at the game, both home and away, and also highly-excited about being back at Moss Rose, where I belong. Since my long-trip down to Fratton Park on my last match, I was very grateful to be back amongst familiar surroundings and almost instantly I spotted many faces of locals I'd chatted to in the past. With a few minutes until kick-off, and after an unsuccessful trip to the Club shop in search of Boxing Day bargains, we got to our seats and cheered the lads as they came out. With an obscure start to the match, Tranmere kicked-off in what was deemed by the ref as a "false start", and therefore ordered them to try again. I never knew that you could get the kick-off wrong.

The Super Whites, playing in Luminous Yellow 
As soon as the second kick-off was taken we were under way and a high-paced start led to chances at both ends from the off. Macc had a cross into the area which looked dangerous, and the resulting counter-attack from Tranmere led to a corner. Sloppy and almost non-existent defending from the Silkmen led to an early opener from centre-back Steve "The Silver Fox" McNulty and the vast away support were in a Winter Wonderland. Macc 0-1 Tranmere. Even after this early goal, the match didn't take much of a settle down, with both sides running on the fuel of yesterday's roasties and charging down the opposition from the front-line. Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who had scored Blackpool's first ever Premier League goal just over 5 years ago, was playing well and looked to pull the strings for Tranmere, despite his poor form of late. Amongst the chances for the away side, the rare spark of good play from Macc and the odd save from Shwan Jalal, the crowds from both sides were often left chanting "You don't know what you're doing" in the direction of today's referee, Mr Yates. It is often noted that the refereeing in the Conference level isn't great, but I think that the particularly strange thing about this ref was his attention to detail in terms of "non-contact" fouls such as foul throws, diving and of course the many many offsides that were called. A moment of comedy to note early in the game was from impact of the high-wind around the ground (there's probably an Xmas dinner based Sprout joke to be made there) and the discomfort that Jalal and the Silkmen defence were subject to because of it. Goal-kicks were struggling to meet the half-way line, attempted clearances from Andy Halls were heading straight into the feet of the opposition and the midfield battles for headers often ended up with both players losing sight of the ball's eventual landing spot. As we came towards the half-way point of the match Macc really started to press, with Holroyd popping in some low-crosses and Paul Lewis making charging runs at the opposition defence. And surely enough, just before the half-time whistle, the Silkmen equalised through the Lionel Messi of Conference football, the Cheshire assassin, the man with more goals than anyone else at this level, it was of course another goal for Kristian Dennis. Macc 1-1 Tranmere. His well-timed run and header led to a happy half-time score which meant we were still in it for the win at this stage.

As expected, the half-time whistle blew shortly after and we headed back to the dugout to line up for a brew. With the usual bar being shut for Boxing Day VIP's and meals, we were forced to resort to standing in the 30-minute queue with half of the ground, which would ultimately lead to missing some of the second-half. For one youngster it was too much- as he approached the front of the line, he fell to the ground in an unconscious heap and the Doctor's team carried him off to the First Aid Room. I didn't attempt to replicate this, and instead decided to return to my seat empty-handed and without brew.

The Rovers fans were ready to give it their all in the Second-half
Upon re-entry I was greeted by the beautiful Blue sky overhead and the clouds swept through the air with the strong gusts. Back on the pitch, I asked an old chap if I'd missed anything and he turned to me and said, "Just a goal". I wasn't sure if he was telling the truth or not, so I checked my phone just to be sure (he was lying, still 1-1!). Macc re-started the game in a similar fashion to how they'd ended the first 45, with some solid attacking play and using the wind to their advantage this time. Tranmere seemed to make it past the hour-mark knowing that with a game to play in 2 days time and the wind preventing a lot of their long-ball game play they would have to either take a risk and change tactics to try to get the winner, or sit back and attempt to settle for a decent away point. Unfortunately for the home-side, they chose the prior. Taylor-Fletcher had come off at half-time, being replaced by former Silkmen player Ben Tomlinson, and the shape of the Super White Army was somewhat more tightened in the midfield, which allowed them to remain comfortable in defence and fairly balanced when going forward with the attacking trio. After absorbing a lot of Silkmen attacking play, they countered and in an almost identical way to the first goal, a corner was conceded by the home-side and the big defenders ploughed into the box. A ball was whipped in and this time it was Ihiekwe, centre-back partner of McNulty, who applied the headed goal to put Rovers back in the driving-seat. Macc 1-2 Tranmere. There was to be no further action in the goals department, with the rest of the game being filled with more of those prior mentioned refereeing decisions which tormented fans from both sides. Firstly, a dubious looking back-pass from a Macc player was deemed to be no issue in the ref's eyes, despite there being no real case to suggest that the pass was anything but a play back to Jalal. Then we saw two players go in the book for diving, of which the second of these incidents saw Macc Midfielder Paul Lewis receive his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Between all of this, an away player fell to the ground and was booked as well, and before any of these actions, the Tranmere keeper was given a yellow for time wasting during the first-half. In fairness, the ref seemed to make these decisions based on logical thinking and was probably right 90% of the time, but when you are officiating a Boxing Day clash between two sides in the midst of the Conference it is often the sort of decision which leaves the fans spitting out their leftovers if the result goes against them. The game drew to a close and Tranmere were thrilled to take the spoils, whilst me and Will took joy only from the fact that the clubhouse was re-opened for us to grab a post-match beverage whilst awaiting the presentation of the Player of the Match Award, which today went to the creator of Dennis's equaliser, Chris Holroyd.

Career Highlight, or point of career where you wish you hadn't bothered?
The fans eagerly awaited Holroyd emerging from the dressing rooms, and then proceeded to watch him slowly walk across the pitch, up the stairs and into the clubhouse, before taking a picture with the match sponsor and giving a reassuring smile to all. It's moments like these where, as a player, you would love to grab the POM bottle of Champers, walk out on to the pitch and crack it open whilst everyone watches. However, being the professional that he is, he took the bottle with him and walked back to the dressing rooms- following a tough loss, I doubt he'd be sipping on it tonight. Shortly after, we were joined in the clubhouse by a few more of the players who had come in to say hello to fans who were in attendance in big numbers today, with over 3,000 in attendance. The highlight for us was approaching shot-stopper and Iraq international, Jalal, for a cheeky picture. To prevent awkwardness, I commiserated him on the team's loss and praised his efforts to keep us in the game. He was Player of the Match, in my opinion.

Maybe next time, Shwan