SKELMERSDALE UNITED 1 MACCLESFIELD 4
By Neil Leatherbarrow
Skelmersdale United made a brave attempt at home to the runaway NPL Division One West Champions elect on Saturday; Macclesfield went into the game with 24 victories under their belt from 32 league games and finished the day thirteen points clear at the top of the table.
The result though doesn’t even begin to tell the story of this match, it was as expected highly competitive, after all Skem were chasing a play-off berth having won five consecutive games and the visitors have a championship to play for, Macclesfield took an early lead but Skem levelled before the half hour mark and from then on it was anybody’s game.
However referee Pete Brown managed to raise his yellow card twelve times (seven times to Skem, five times to Macclesfield) and in many opinions it certainly wasn’t a rough game, on 74 minutes the inevitable happened, James Murphy received a second yellow and was off, a minute late Ste Milne also got a second yellow and Skelmersdale were faced with having to play the last quarter-hour down to nine men and for the neural a game that could have gone either way was completely spoiled.
There was a large crowd at the Community Ground and there was an expectant atmosphere when the teams took to the pitch, Macclesfield in their change pink shirts.
It was the visitors that took the early initiative, in the third minute Alex Curran fired a shot from the left that went across the face of the Skelmersdale goal, followed soon afterwards by Neil Kengni blazing over the Skem crossbar from a decent position.
In the eighth minute things did get a little heated after a challenge by Skem’s Tom Freeman that in fairness justifiably fetched the opening yellow from Mr Brown.
In the tenth minute Macclesfield got due reward for their pressure Dan Sweeney lifting the ball over Skelmersdale goalkeeper Joel Torrance and although it was cleared off the goal-line a goal was given and it was 1-0 to Macclesfield.
Macclesfield went close to making it two on 18 minutes, but keeper Torrance saved from a Luke Murphy header.
In 22 minutes Skelmersdale equalised. For a minute or so Skem pushed Macclesfield back and won a second consecutive corner, the ball was driven into the six yard box and after losing his marker Callum Lees thundered a header into the Macclesfield net from about four yards out.
The game noticeably became a more even fight from this point on, for Skem a Declan McLoughlin free-kick was saved by Macclesfield goalkeeper Will Stanway and down the other end former Premier League midfielder Mark Duffy saw his free-kick deflected for a corner.
Curran had a shot saved by Torrance’s legs just before the interval, but the main thoughts over the half-time brew would conclude that Skem had a real chance and were causing the league leaders some serious problems.
Three minutes after the restart Skem went close again, after a Duffy foul on James Murphy the resulting free-kick was only partially cleared, Martyn Jackson latching onto the loose ball sending a vicious dipping shot just over the Macclesfield crossbar.
In the 68th minute Macclesfield keeper Stanway pulled off a magnificent save from a James Murphy shot, the high flying big money boys were starting to sway and their Football Director Robbie Savage sat in the stand was visibly getting very anxious as he jumped to his feet several times.
Six minutes later everything changed. It wasn’t a particularly bad challenge with which James Murphy conceded a free kick in the Macclesfield half, but referee Mr Brown was pressured by a posse of men in pink, a yellow card was raised and seconds later a red card and the Skelmersdale number eleven was off.
Less than two minutes Ste Milne was slightly late and he was dealt with similarly by Mr Brown. Reduced to nine men Skem faced an impossible task and what was a really enthralling match was turned into a procession.
When another two minutes later former Premier League striker Nicky Maynard made it 2-1 to Macclesfield the Skelmersdale supporters might as well have gone home there and then.
Skem deserve the utmost credit for pushing the away team back for the next ten minutes, but with the big numerical disadvantage it was always going to be a futile effort, when Curran and Kane Drummond netted for Macclesfield in added time it meant the scoreline had a flattering margin to it. For seventy five or so minutes Skelmersdale really had matched them and the two sending’s off had really been the difference on the day.
SKELMERSDALE UNITED: Torrance, Hagan, Freeman, Jackson, Lees, Bell. Morris ©, Gallagher, Milne, McLoughlin, Murphy J. Subs Gerrard, O’Brien, Herbert, Prescott, Grayson
MACCLESFIELD: Stanway, Pemberton, Lee, Fensome, Mendy ©, Murphy L., Kengni, Duffy, Sweeney, Hardy, Curran Subs Cowan, Maynard, Thorpe, Grimshaw, Drummond