Sunday, 29 January 2017

28/01/17 Review: North Ferriby United vs Macclesfield Town

North Ferriby United 0-2 Macclesfield Town (National League)
EON Visual Media Stadium

Today's game would be another famous Macclesfield Town away day to add to my growing repertoire and with a 150-mile trek from Stoke-on-Trent to start the day, I would eventually find myself in the sleepy East Riding of Yorkshire village of North Ferriby for today's National League fixture.
Being from Flamborough Head originally myself, this area of the world is very familiar to me and it was of great nostalgic comfort to know that I would be heading "back 'ome" for a weekend of footy- which would double-up nicely as a trip back to Bridlington to see my family too. North Ferriby has been a popular team around our end for a few years now and they have taken on the title amongst some as the local team to follow of late, since the reform of Scarborough back in 2007. When I was a young en (about 15 years ago!) all of the best footballers would strive to play for Scarborough's Junior sides, before eventually settling for Bridlington Town if they were lucky. However, with Ferriby rising up the leagues in the past 10 years or so, a few lads I played with as a teenager went on to train with the West Hull-based club. Most notably I played alongside fellow Schoolmate Sam Belcher in a 6-a-side team, and after his spell with North Ferriby he now turns out for Hall Road Rangers. The club, known as "The Villagers", are now playing their first season in the National League and are fighting to stay in the highest League they've ever competed in.

Macc Town made the trip East today
I don't want to go on too much about what an incredible achievement it is for the club to be at the highest level of Non-League football, as they have worked very hard to get here on their own merit, but I am just going to lay out a bit of a timeline of the club to state just how far the club based in a village of just 3,800 people have come. At the start of the millennium, the Villagers played in the Northern Counties East Football League and won promotion to the Northern Premier League (Level 8) in 2001. In 2013 Ferriby won promotion to the then Conference North, and in their first season their they finished 2nd in the table and just missed out on back-to-back promotions. In the 2014-15 season they rose to fame amongst the many who hadn't followed their colossal rise so far, as they beat Wrexham on penalties at Wembley to lift the FA Trophy. And as if all that wasn't enough, the club still had more to give last season and they won a dramatic promotion to the National League as they beat AFC Fylde in the Playoffs. Amazing stuff!

Enter for Magic
Today's opponents, my beloved Silkmen town, came to Ferriby's EON Visual Media Stadium for the second time this season, having beaten them 4-1 back in a pre-Christmas FA Cup Qualifier. This would undoubtedly be one of the smallest grounds that the Silkmen away fans would watch their side play at this season, but that wouldn't mean we'd be taking the Yorkshire side any less serious than the high and mighty of Lincoln City or Tranmere Rovers. With the Silkmen still hoping and praying for a Playoff push themselves- with wins over Tranmere and Dover in the League already in 2017, plus a couple of FA Trophy victories on top- Macc were sitting just six points adrift of the Playoffs despite having two games in-hand over some of their rivals. It hadn't been all smiles for the Cheshire side though in 2017, as three starting midfielders have already been sold on to League sides in the dreaded January transfer window. Jack Mackreth, Paul Lewis and Danny Rowe have left for Bury, Cambridge United and Ipswich Town respectively and this will be another, albeit familiar, test for John Askey to try and keep the winning mentality going. Danny Whitehead, who signed for Wigan Athletic from Macc last January, was back on-loan and making his first start since his return and I was looking forward to seeing him back where he belongs at Macclesfield Town. On my journey to the ground, I pondered my pre-match prediction and after seeing the Villagers take down fellow strugglers Southport and York City since the New Year, I decided to play a cautionary guess of 2-1 to the Silkmen.

Are we there yet?
I arrived in North Ferriby much earlier than anticipated and had over an hour to spare before the match, so I did what any good Yorkshireman would and whipped out my packed lunch box so that I could tuck into a steak pie and crisps in the car. Parked up at the local Co-op, I wasn't sure at this point where the ground was due to a lack of signage around, but thankfully as I stretched my legs I saw a fellow Macc Town fan's car parked up and so I assumed I was close-by. It turned out that I was, although it took me a good thirty minutes to realise exactly which direction to head in. After an unintentional tour of the village, passing the church, the train station, a Persian rug sale and various school fields, I encountered the FOURTH person in that time who noted my blue scarf and lost look who asked, "are you looking for the football ground?". With thoroughly explained directions ingrained into my tiny brain, I finally saw a lady in a hi-viz jacket from afar and waltzed over to the ground with still thirty minutes to spare. Enough time for a pint and a ponder on how I could get lost in such a small place.

There's a bar here, somewhere
With that minor embarrassment behind me, I headed straight for the very busy clubhouse and as I entered the door I was greeted by a friendly mix of home and away fans who were all enjoying the last few minutes of Liverpool's shock FA Cup exit to Wolves. One man entered shortly after me and instantly approached me to say "you found it then!"

It doesn't help when the only sign is right outside the ground
The ground itself was as basic as I'd imagined, with one long Stand running the length of the pitch being the only seated area. The areas behind both goals were bare and the main highlight was the fairly new-built toilet blocks. Joking aside, the club had obviously done a lot of maintenance work and I'm sure that much of the money the club raised and won from recent successes will have all been ploughed into getting the ground up to date with the FA's rules and regs to be able to compete at this level. The main thought that ran through my mind as I glanced around was how incredible it was that this ground is in the division above Kidderminster's Aggborough ground.

It's not always the size that matters
With 3pm fast-approaching, I guzzled down the remains of my beer and headed out in anticipation of the two sides emerging for the game ahead. Fun fact: the last time I watched Macclesfield play in the East Riding, they beat Hull City 2-0 in the League Cup at the KC Stadium- how times change. Referee Karl Evans, supported by the humorously-named potential superhero character Michael Crusham, got the game underway and the opening exchanges did not disappoint. When Macc are at home, I always seem to think that the away side set out to use dirty tactics, mind-games and foul-play to try and get under the home sides skin- and today, it certainly seemed that the Silkmen defence were doing the same to try and rattle the North Ferriby attackers. After a few cheeky shirt-tugs that were unseen by the officials, one Villagers fan expressed his early frustration by stating "if he'd done that in the street he'd be done for assault". It is so rare to have home and away fans mixed, for obvious reasons, but today's audience being intermingled made for a good amount of friendly-banter with the comments flying around.

Accents galore
On the pitch, Macc had started the better side and inside the opening 10 minutes the first big chances had gone begging. As Ferriby's Rory Watson ran out wide to pursue Chris Holroyd, he came out and left an open net, meaning that when the Macc attacker gained the ball, he crossed it in to an on-rushing Mitch Hancox who headed his effort on to the bar. Holroyd's rebound was well blocked after this and eventually Hancox had a second header which steered clear of the goal. Shortly after this, Ferriby were almost gifted a goal as veteran defender Pilkington made a rare mistake with an intended header back towards his goal, which was intercepted by Sam Cosgrove out on the right. He tried to take advantage but was closed down too quickly to have a shot or provide a cross to supporting team-mates. Pilkington knew that he'd been lucky there, but not as lucky as he was about to become at the other end. On 17 minutes Macc won a corner and after a clever chip from Danny Whitaker was guided towards the unmarked centre-back he let rip a volley into the net, via two Ferriby deflections. Ferriby 0-1 Macc. With an early goal established for the visitors, the odds seemed stacked against Ferriby, but that hasn't ever stopped them trying before and with Sam Topliss looking solid at right-back and Curtis Bateson having a step-over or two up his sleeves, there was every chance that a quick-counter or a bit of pressure from top scorer Reece Thompson could lead to a goal or two for the home side.

Clouds, stay away!
It wasn't to be though and Macc continued to press on for a second. Just minutes after the opener, Kingsley James was set free from the home defence and his one-on-one run would eventually leave to a big save from Watson. Ferriby were let off the hook this time, but just before the half-hour mark Danny Whitehead was left with too much space at the edge of the box and his precise finish stroked into the bottom-corner of the goal to give the green and white shirts a mammoth task if they wanted to gain anything from the game. Ferriby 0-2 Macc. The best chance of the half for the Villagers came to Thompson on 40 minutes but the striker failed to add to his 6 goals for the season as he went in for a close-range header with his eyes closed, brushing it wide. A few disgruntled fans headed back to the bar with a few minutes to play still, and the biggest cheer from the home fans came when the ball nestled awkwardly upon a tall bush in the distance. I also started to gander around to the bar ready for half-time, and as I did I just about saw another Macc chance denied. This time Danny Whitaker saw his effort cleared off the line. Although I hadn't been too impressed with North Ferriby's defence so far, nobody could deny that they had a fight and passion about them and on a good day that is sometimes enough to grind out results.

0-2 Half-time
The second-half started well for the home team and they pressed well in the opening 10 minutes. At one end, a very good save had to be forced out of Scott Flinders to deny a comeback, meanwhile Watson was being subjected to some mild-mockery from the travelling fans at the other- "your bird's on Tinder, Watson!" seemed to get the biggest laugh from the Ferriby shot-stopper. The final 30 minutes was fairly subdued, with the odd chance being wasted at either end. Holroyd managed to hit the post for Macc from a discreetly chipped cross-cum-shot, before setting up Hancox minutes later for a goal which was ruled-out for offside. Ferriby went close themselves as the rain started to pour, with another close-range header being squandered this time. As the weather changed quite dramatically I thought for a moment that I'd heard thunder rumbling above the Stand, only to realise later on that the ground sat adjacent to the railway and with it running upon higher-ground it made a hefty clatter as it ran past Grange Lane. The final couple of decent chances fell to the Silkmen again who could've had 5 or 6 in truth, and it was this time the substitute Ollie Norburn who had a shot cleared off the line, before Whitaker's rebound was deflected on to the bar. The game would end 2-0, but not before a Ferriby striker summed up his side's luck today by running in one-on-one before falling flat on his face into the wet grass. The 429 in attendance could only raise a chuckle, but it was game over for the beaten home side and they'd gone down to a decent Macclesfield Town showing. Having seen them face the highs of beating Hull at the KC, to the lows of being relegated from League Two at Southend United's Roots Hall, this ranks somewhere in the middle as a nice, but not spectacular, victory to move the side up to 8th in the League.

Good win for the Silkmen
With the rain still spitting down, I made a quick dash back to the car, ready to continue my journey to Bridlington. Thanks again to North Ferriby for a good game of football- I for one am hoping that this club continues to thrive and whether it is at this level or the National North, I'll be keeping an eye on their further progress.

Next stop- Nan's house for a beasty Roast!

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