With promotion perhaps only 90 minutes away, City were held to a decent point by a committed and decent Macclesfield side marshaled by ex-City boss Brian Horton. Mike Scott is "wind-swept and interesting" as your match reporter.
The day started with City 90 minutes away from sealing promotion, a prize so coveted by the club's supporters for the last 20 years. It ended with guaranteed promotion at least a week and two games away, but that shouldn't diminish the fact that a good point was claimed against Macclesfield, a committed and organised outfit at the head of the form table along with the Tigers and our recent vanquishers Northampton. We can't expect to breeze through these end of season fixtures against opposition fighting, literally, for their careers as the end of season contract lottery looms on the horizon. There were too many City fans - at least around me - totally ignorant of the fact that the opposition have a right not to lie down and hand us promotion on a plate.
That said the Tigers didn't help themselves. Despite opening his City goalscoring account Marc Joseph again looked error-prone as 3 times in the first half he struggled with wind-borne swirling balls and presented the opposition with possession in dangerous areas. Only the excellence of Delaney's covering and the poorness of Macc's first half play saw to it that these mistakes didn't get the ultimate punishment. Strangely, as Macclesfield pressed City back into their half in the second period Joseph's play improved - it's almost as though he needs the pressure in order to perform at his best. The dying wind must've also helped.
No such turnaround for Alton Thelwell, he had a wretched time for the whole ninety minutes. It got to the stage midway through the second half when, with a competent deputy on the bench in Hinds, I thought Taylor would've withdrawn Alton for the player's own good. He was given a torrid time by the Macc attacking midfielder Harsley who played the second half "in the hole" and immediately latched onto Thelwell as the weak link in the back four. Time and again Thelwell was caught out of position, wrong footed in the tackle, looked ponderous on the ball and sliced clearances into touch or straight at a Macc midfielder. Leaving him on was doing neither City nor the player any favours and it was testament to Taylor's faith in the young Londoner that he left him on for the full 90. That said, I think Thelwell plays with the burden of the "ex-Premiership player" tag and all the expectation that implies, when in reality he never really made it at Tottenham and was no doubt afforded a lot more time on the ball at White Hart Lane by Charlton Reserves than he is ever likely to get in Division Three.
Junior Lewis was also on the pitch, got in one or two tackles, often failed to keep up with play and gave it away a lot. Best I leave it there, I think.
So City lined up with one change - Lewis returning for France, Green switching to the right - on a breezy but sunny afternoon as follows:
Macclesfield started nervously, perhaps sensing the importance of the occasion, the size of the away support and the perceived threat of the high-flying visitors. They resorted, with the strong wind at their backs, to play a long ball game that gave Joseph the aforementioned collywobbles a few times but otherwise rarely threatened the City goal. That they often overhit their high balls was the main problem, and Macc posed few threats to City as the normal Tigers slow-first-half-good-second-half routine was reversed. Macclesfield were clearly up for the challenge mind, as after five minutes both Allsopp and Green were felled by late lunging tackles a matter of 1-2 seconds apart. Ashbee struck the resulting free kick deep into Macc's box to Burgess whose cross-header was cleared for a corner. As City's players huddled Macc's defenders looked on with surprise, but as the huddle sprung apart and the ball was delivered by Green, Burgess nodded on at the near post and Joseph, behind the far post and unmarked, lashed a low shot into the far corner for 1-0. Shirt off and bare chest jutting out proudly, Joseph was rightly pleased with his first five minutes' work.
It wasn't to continue quite in that vein. After intercepting a through ball Joseph tripped and allowed Carruthers a clear sight of goal but his poorly struck shot was saved by Myhill. From a corner Burgess cleared to Green at the near post and the flame haired Whitehavian scuttled into space on the left. He drew his defender and fed Allsopp in masses of space, central to the goal, 25 yards out. But Allsopp elected to shoot early and failed to beat the well-received Steve Wilson with a well hit but poorly directed effort. It was the sort of chance that Allsopp was bagging most weeks last Autumn, and a two-nil lead may have finished Macclesfield off.
Not so, and soon another Joseph error, a backwards header whose intended destiny wasn't clear, but which ended up at the feet of the dangerous Tipton, was tidied up by the covering Delaney. From the resulting corner Potter found space beyond the back post and guided a careful header goalwards that beat Myhill but was nodded off the line by a cool Burgess. As the ball was cleared Priest was booked harshly for felling a City player (Burgess again, I think). With the long ball providing little joy, on the half hour Macclesfield briefly tried to pass the football. This clearly confused Junior Lewis as he stood and watched while Priest played the ball past him to Carruthers. Carruthers in turn found Tipton who was presented with an excellent shooting chance, but he drove a weak shot at Myhill. Awoken by this, Lewis then got a good foot in amid a series of flying tackles and fed Green who thumped a shot narrowly wide. From the clearance Joseph again served a dreadful header straight to Tipton's feet, but once again the striker, normally so dangerous against City, failed to capitalise.
As half time closed in the Maccsters started to exert more influence and won a series of corners. From one of them Welch looped a header onto the crossbar and Carruthers had his shot blocked from the rebound. Three further corners in stoppage time were swung in dangerously by Harsley but were dealt with - the final late scare was from Harsley himself as he wriggled free of his marker and struck a low shot from the edge of the box that was diverted wide in the six yard area. Carruthers was booked for being rather rude to Ashbee and trying to lure him into a headbutt.
At half time the Division Three scores were eagerly scanned. City winning, Torquay winning and Lincoln drawing. Two out of three to seal promotion day, come on ten man Donny!
The City win seemed to be well within our compass, and the usual second half upping of tempo immediately came good as Burgess fed Allsopp who thumped a wasteful shot high over the City fans and out of the ground (and possibly Cheshire). Then Burgess saw a back post header slip just wide after the anonymous Elliott put in across after strong work centrally by Allsopp. But Macclesfield had changed their shape now and advanced the diminutive but tricky Harsley into an advanced position just behind the front two. City never picked him up sufficiently, Ashbee had enough to do covering up the cracks while Lewis jogged around aimlessly while Joseph and Delaney were fully occupied by Carruthers and Tipton. This in turn led to City being pushed back into their own half and as a result our attacking threat abated.
This pressure finally had its end result when a long throw was cleared by Lewis but the recipient out wide (presumably the long throw specialist Payne) was not closed down and his deep cross found Tipton beyond the back post completely unattended. The striker crashed his shot home from practically the same blade of grass as Joseph scored his in the first half, and parity was restored.
Macclesfield were now fired up further and for about 10-15 minutes were first to every tackle and rocked City severely. Good defending and a bit of luck kept them at bay, but their main threat was always down the left where Thelwell was given a torrid time. Taylor changed things on 72 minutes as France came on to give Thelwell some help, the ineffectual Elliott being withdrawn and Green moved to the left. Allsopp was also withdrawn, he had lived on scraps during the second half and appeared to have lost concentration, so Walters came on. Thelwell was spared his withdrawal and moments later he was booked for a late tackle that didn't seem too nasty from our distant perspective, but was perhaps the latest in a long line of mistimed efforts that drew the fussy referee into using his pen and paper. A rare Macc sojourn down the right won them a free kick which the tall defender Welch headed just over. But as the last ten minutes approached Macclesfield's challenge, much like the strong breeze that had now disappeared, faded and City, inspired by strong running from Walters and alert play by Burgess, carved chances that could've sealed an unlikely victory. Green drove a shot narrowly over after a short free-kick on halfway. Then City flooded the Macc box for a free kick, Joseph swung in the clearance, Burgess headed down and Walters was denied by a last ditch tackle. The corner found France at the back post unmarked, his header was deflected wide. The second corner was headed goalwards by Walters and cleared off the line. City had one more corner in stoppage time but the ref blew for full time as the ball was struck, much to the confusion of everyone in the ground.
All in all, after a strong City start this was a point well won. Macclesfield have been fired up by the splendid Brian Horton since his arrival a month ago and are now safe from the dreaded drop to the Conference - a fall that a modest club like Macclesfield may never recover from. They will have their local derby with Chester to look forward to next season, while City will head to Southend seeking another point, maybe three, to add to our promotion push. It will then be down to the revenge match against Huddesfield to see if we can seal our promotion with a win - even a Torquay victory at Cheltenham wouldn't deny us if the Terriers were tamed. If Huddersfield do get a result then things could well be taken to Yeovil after all, a point there would almost certainly get the job done. We're close to the finishing line, just hang in there boys!
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Green, Ashbee, Lewis, Elliott; Burgess, Allsopp. Subs: France (for Elliott, 72), Walters (for Allsopp, 72), Hinds, Forrester, Musselwhite.
Goals: Joseph 6
Sent Off: None
MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Welch, Carragher, Payne, Abbey, Potter, Priest, Widdrington, Harsley, Carruthers, Tipton. Subs: Rogers, Munroe, Whitaker, Miles, Ross.
Goals: Tipton 64
Booked: Carruthers, Priest
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: C Webster
Last revised: April 18, 2004