For a ground-hopping Macclesfield Town fan, an FA Trophy Quarter-Final away day at Champion Hill is basically unmissable. With this weekend being mine off from work, I was London-bound again in search of another great ground- and hopefully safe progression for the Silkmen into the Semi-Final. As I've done when making trips to Wembley and the Old Spotted Dog in the past, I made use of taking an opportunity to visit family in Southend so that I could make a proper weekend of it.
Arriving in the South-East of London after driving through the dreaded traffic of our country's capital city, I was surprisingly chuffed to see a Sainsbury's located right next to ground- meaning that free parking and post-match snacks would be in store. With this being a big-tie for both sides, this match was one of the rare occasions that the Hamlet had to make tickets available before the fixture date. Knowing that they'd be popular, I purchased mine so that I could be guaranteed to join almost 3,000 others at the home of the Isthmian Premier side as their National League opponents came to see what all the fuss was about.
Sitting in 9th place in the fifth and seventh steps on the English Leagues ladder respectively, this Quarter-Final fixture came about after the visitors had so far eliminated Altrincham, Sudbury and Forest Green Rovers, meanwhile Dulwich started their campaign back in October and since beating Lowestoft Town, they have gone on to sweep aside Chesham United, Winchester City, Royston Town, Whitehawk and most impressively Braintree Town. That famous 5-2 Replay win for Dulwich is what set-up today's match and as I entered the ground I could feel the anticipation of the home crowd for another "giant" killing against John Askey's men. Since the start of 2017, Dulwich have only lost one game- against strugglers Canvey Island- and in February they have won one League game as well as games in the London County's Cup, Alan Turvey Trophy and FA Trophy. Yup- they've been busy! In the meantime, the Silkmen have been making steady progress in the National Premier and with good back-to-back victories against Eastleigh and Braintree, they would be hoping to dump a second Isthmian side out of the competition.
Macc were lining-up with a strong starting eleven and from the kick-off you could tell that the away side weren't willing to let the home support and their underdog side get the better of them in the early knockings. By far looking the strongest side, Macc had an early corner which didn't test, but on eight minutes they made the most of a long-range free-kick. From my view it looked like it was 25 or so yards out and with a central position Luke Summerfield, on loan from Grimsby, pelted his drive goal-wards and surely enough it found the back of the Dulwich net. Hamlet 0-1 Macc. At this stage the home-side looked rattled and the Silkmen continued to press for a second. Summerfield hit a second free-kick into the wall on 12 minutes and Holroyd hit over from close-range on 17 minutes. The following goal-kick from Preston Edwards in the Hamlet goal went straight into the path of Summerfield and he reacted with a pinpoint chip that went into the goal again and seemingly give the away boys a big early advantage- and also causing one away fan to shout out "you're so shit, they didn't even put your name on your back!". Hamlet 0-2 Macc. With Macc threatening to run away with it against they're part-time opponents, Dulwich managed to sort themselves out and start to play a bit of football with just under half-an-hour played. The Hamlet number 11- sorry, didn't catch his name- looked to be the man pulling the strings for the hosts and with 25 minutes on the clock they won a corner. A mixture of determination from the side in pink and blue and a poor defensive clearance from the white-shirted Silkmen eventually meant that a third set-piece would be scored from in the game, as Quade Taylor prodded a goal in to send the majority of the crowd into cheers as the deficit was halved. Hamlet 1-2 Macc. From then on, it is fair to say that Dulwich Hamlet believed in themselves and they were well up for this game now. As the half went on, the home team came close again as one of the strikers had a dig, and they almost notched again from a corner just before half-time. The away gathering certainly looked ready for the break and we all hoped that Askey would give the lads a pick-up in time for a big battle in the second-half.
As the whistle blew I looked over to the away fans and spotted the Macclesfield Town announcer shouting loud and proud for the side- obviously enjoying his time off from Moss Rose and telling the Cheshire locals where they can purchase their pies. During half-time I spent the whole 15 minutes in a queue for the clubhouse, not necessarily for a drink either, but just to see what it was like as I continued my usual scout around the ground. As 14 of the 15 minutes passed, I finally made it to the end of the queue to enter the bar, only to then see a giant hoard of people waiting for a drink. I quickly exited and was just in time for the restart.
I made it around to the opposite goal-side alongside the rest of the away support, who had swapped over with the home fans, just in time for Macc's first chance of the half. Some great work by stand-in captain Kingsley James, who I'd seen win this competition back in May 2016 with Halifax Town, led to a pass into the box which fell to Chris Holroyd. Unfortunately the Silkmen top-scorer could not get the ball from out of his feet to hit home and the ball was easily defended. We continued to see Dulwich turn the game in their favour possession-wise and they almost grabbed an equaliser from yet another set-piece as Holroyd this time came back to defend and ended up thrusting a header towards his own goal. The pressure continued and for me, Neil Byrne was having the best game for the visitors as he cleared and dealt with all that came his way. With just ten minutes left to go, there was a stoppage in play as Summerfield was bundled to the ground and this led the home fans to pick out the bald, pasty figure of Macc veteran Danny Whitaker. As Summerfield received treatment, the home fans shouted out "you're just a shit Jonjo Shelvey, shit Jonjo Shelvey!" and the away fans raised a smile amongst their concern for the man who'd scored a brace earlier in the game.
The clock ran down and with just three minutes of the ninety left, there was to be a deserved late twist in the tale for the home-side. In a truly magical fashion, Ash Carew hit a wonder-strike and surely enough it went straight past Flinders and the fans were in dreamland once again. Hamlet 2-2 Macc. Although I was gutted for Macc, who now have to host a replay against the Hamlet, I also felt somewhat happy for the over 2,000 fans who would at least get to see their side in the hat for the semi-finals. In truth, the hosts could have nicked it late as Carew fired a 30-yard strike towards goal again in the 94th minute, but this time the shot was saved and the resulting corner came to nothing.
|Made it with plenty of time to spare|
|Hamlet vs Silkmen|
|Not if these lot have anything to say about it|
|2-1 at HT, which was my pre-match prediction for the result|
|That's a lot of people wanting a pint!|
|Thinking back to the good times- the goals and the pre-match Bratwurst|
|Let's hope they don't make this sort of mess at Moss Rose|
I left the game and headed back through the traffic-ridden streets as the rest of the Macc fans went their separate ways. Some of them were going to stay the night and head to Wembley tomorrow for the League Cup Final, whereas others had to long trip home to make. I am yet to decide if I'll be able to make it to the Replay on Tuesday night, due to a late finish at work, but if not then I am hoping to at least make a trip to see Sutton Coldfield Town versus Marine. Either way, I'll be back on Tuesday!