Wednesday, 21 February 2018

21/02/18 Review: Tranmere Rovers vs Macclesfield Town

Tranmere Rovers 1-4 Macclesfield Town (National League Premier)
Prenton Park

Last night's game between Tranmere Rovers and Macclesfield Town needed little introduction and would sit up there with Chelsea vs Barca and Dumbarton vs Greenock Morton as being one of the games of the evening- especially if you are a non-league fan! Yes, this 2nd vs 1st battle had been brewing for a while and although Macc had beaten previously 2nd place Aldershot Town at the weekend, Rovers had been on fine form themselves and with 15 points from a possible 21 it looked like tonight's game would be a true battle between the top team in the division and their in-form hosts. Both sides may have recently suffered a shock pummelling at Mill Farm, which incidentally is where my last write-up came from in the National League, but aside from that both clubs have been more than happy with progress of late and it was time for me to finish work early, jump in my little red car and make the near 70 mile ride up to Birkenhead. What more could you ask for on a chilly Tuesday night?

Top of the table clash, here we go

I arrived at Prenton Park feeling a mixed sense of optimism and excitement and with 30 minutes to spare before kick-off I headed for a walk around the stadium. From the outside, this 16 thousand capacity stadium looks the real deal and as the fans piled in I made my way around to the Cowshed stand and into the concourse for a pre-match can of Foster's with the Silkmen faithful. The innards of Prenton Park's bar area was decent for an away terrace and had similarities to that of Meadow Lane in Nottingham, meaning there was plenty of option for the travelling few hundred Macc fans. I didn't explore the food stand, but when I eventually headed to my seat I couldn't help but sniff out one chap to my right who was scoffing a tray of fish and chips- decent scran is that! Inside the ground I stepped out to the old floodlit green rectangle which was surrounded by Tranmere's mass of blue seating standing tall and a few thousand fans all ready to cheer on the home side. Tranmere Rovers are one of those clubs who have at some point been there and seen it all, from mid 90's success in the second tier of English football in which they almost made it to the Premier League, to winning the Lancashire Combination League in 1914 and 1919. More recently, Rovers made it all the way to the 2000 Football League Cup Final and were it not for Leicester City's Centre-Back double-scoring Captain on the day the Merseysiders could have overcome the likes of Muzzy Izzet, Robbie Savage and super Emile Heskey. Since falling out of the Football League in 2015 Prenton Park has still managed to draw in good crowds, drawing the highest averages in the division since joining it and finishing 6th and 2nd in the process. The Silkmen, on the other hand, would be looking to return to the Football League following 6 years of lurking in the National League Premier.

Can we do it? This lot are certainly hoping so
Up until now my greatest away day as a Macc Town fan was probably a League Cup game in which we shocked Championship side Hull City with a 0-2 win at the KC Stadium, thanks to an Emile Sinclair double, and although I've seen us take wins from North Ferriby, Chester and even Winsford United, I also have sour memories from travelling with the Silkmen too. As previously mentioned, I saw our 6-0 pasting at the hands of AFC Fylde, but that was nothing compared to seeing my beloved Silkmen have the FA Trophy taken away in the Final against York City, or even worse than that the trip to Roots Hall to see our final League Two game following relegation. That 0-2 defeat from a gutless Macc side against Southend United will now sit at the opposite end of the spectrum to what would turn out to be an awesome away victory on this evening in the North-West.

Even Dulwich have made the trip up
I'd predicted a 1-1 draw today and that would have been a nice return of 4 points from 2 top of the table clashes within 4 days, but Askey and the lads had other ideas. "He's one of our own, he's one of our ooooown. Sir John Askey, he's one of our own" was the chant shouted loudest and proudest from the away contingency as we looked to show support for the Manager who has been heavily linked with a move to Grimsby Town in the past week or so. The Ref got the game started on time and as the crowd sounded from the Tranmere Kop we were all set for an exciting night. To say that we made a poor start is an understatement and when former Silkmen forward Connor Jennings hit the first strike over the bar in the 5th minute a few of us started to look at each other nervously, with that sense of "here we go again" brewing. Next up Andy Cook went through on goal and he forced a great one-on-one save from Shwan Jalal, at the cost of a Tranmere corner. Just before the half-hour mark Cook had the ball in the Silkmen net but his mockery towards the away fans soon turned into a glare at the lino, who had raised the flag to deny the big man. Speaking of big men, I found myself drifting towards a conversation in which an elderly couple had obviously made the discovery of footballing anomaly Steve McNulty. I love it when people first see the grey-haired, beer-bellied monster defender- who is notorious at this level for being a tough cookie for opposing attackers to break down.

0-0 as we approached the break
I remember clock-watching from the 30th minute or so and hoping that if we made it to half-time alive we could regroup and come out to try and take the game to them in the second-half. That could have worked out well for us, but Danny Whitaker clearly hadn't been following the script- the 37-year old midfielder took down an injury time pass into the Tranmere box before tapping home the game's opener in practically the last kick of the half. Tranmere 0-1 Macc. The next 15 minutes were spent back in the concourse singing "Oh, Danny, Danny!" and other chants, whilst feasting on canned lager. I got chatting to a few lads I'd seen at a couple of previous outings and before I knew it it was time to sup and get back out to see how the rest of the game would pan out. Tranmere started the second-half strongly again and with the added bonus of kicking towards their Kop, which appeared to be a big, albeit temporary, boost for Cook in particular. Having missed several chances during the first 45, the ex-Barrow man took his chance off of a right-wing delivery and he added a deft header which sank into the net to level things. Tranmere 1-1 Macc.

The half-time beer was gone and so was the lead
With the scales tipping yet again, this time back toward the hosts, the game was poised and with McNulty now pulling out 360 spins on the ball I thought anything could be possible. Elliott Durrell had been inconstant until now and although he looked threatening with the ball at his feet, he'd often been left alone out on the right in the first-half and it would be Macc's decision to bring him into the game that ultimately made the difference. In the 55th minute he was given the ball and allowed to burst towards Davies's net, which he did so to devastating effect before shooting into the net and restoring the Cheshire side's lead. Tranmere 1-2 Macc. Having now pulled ahead for the second time, Macc began what was a huge effort in 11 minutes of top quality football that culminated in 3 goals and of course a massive three points. Macc continued to go forward and when Liam Ridehalgh hand-balled in the box, we couldn't believe our eyes as Peter Wright pointed to the spot. Bald-headed beauty Danny Whitaker stepped-up and slotted the penalty home, meaning that the match (and League) was now ours to lose. Tranmere 1-3 Macc. Riding on a wave of mass confidence, the Silkmen continued to dominate and when Durrell got his chance to run at the Rovers defence he again punished them with a brilliant strike which showed many similarities to his first, apart from Davies couldn't even get a tip on this one as it flew past him to seal the game. Tranmere 1-4 Macc. In truth, Macc could have scored more and as "Norburn, what's the score? Norburn, Norburn, what's the score?" chants reached another former Silkmen player, Tranmere's only response was to have a shot from range which went out for a Macc throw-in. With no subs or tactical changes for the hosts, the visitors saw the game out with ease.

FT, 1-4. We're going up with a tenner in the bank!
With Aldershot and Wrexham drawing, Sutton's 3-2 win at Torquay meant that they hop into 2nd place and sit 5 points behind Macc at the summit. For Tranmere, the next outing will be a trip to 17th place Maidstone United, meanwhile the Moss Rose will host Macc vs Maidenhead United on Saturday. As I'll be working, my next Silkmen game will be away at Boreham Wood at the start of March, who may well be in 2nd place by then! See you there Silkmen Army!