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Cards cling on after stirring Macclesfield fight-back

Glen Harrington - 13th April 2013

Cards cling on after stirring Macclesfield fight-back Woking 5 Macclesfield Town 4
Blue Square Premier
13th April 2013


If ever there was a ‘game of two halves’ then this was most definitely it, as the Cards managed to condense both their best and worst 45-minute performances of the season down into the same fixture.

Garry Hill’s side were cruising by the break, two ahead inside the opening ten minutes through Billy Knott and Kevin Betsy, before a Jayden Stockley penalty made it three. Stockley grabbed his second with a fine solo effort before Knott completed his brace of goals with a smart finish.

A beleaguered Macclesfield, playing their fourth game in only seven days, could have been forgiven for giving up the game at the break, but they did anything but, Waide Fairhurst getting the Silkmen on the scoreboard with a wonder strike from 25 yards.

Guy Madjo, Fairhurst and substitute Arthur Gnahoua all narrowed the deficit further as Woking visibly crumbled under the pressure of their visitors' unexpected revival, and were left clinging on in the final seconds before escaping with all three points.

The home side began the game with the same starting 11 that had played so well against Wrexham last week: a 4-5-1 formation with Betsy and Gavin McCallum starting either side of lone striker Stockley.

Managerless Macclesfield, who had lost their last four matches and were without a win in six games prior to their trip to Kingfield, which contributed to the departure of former Lewes and Farnborough boss Steve King last week, started in a 4-4-2 formation that included former Cards' favourite Keiran Murtagh in midfield.

Proceedings could not have begun in a better fashion for the Cards, who were ahead inside three minutes. McCallum’s cross from the right-hand side was met by the head of Stockley, whose effort looped up and over goalkeeper Rhys Taylor, who could only brush the ball with his fingertips on its way past him. The Silkmen briefly thought they had escaped when the Cards striker saw his header thump against the crossbar, but thankfully for the hosts Knott was on hand to turn in from close range.

Four minutes later and the lead was doubled as a tenacious Mark Ricketts (pictured) won the ball for his side on the left-hand touchline, midway inside the Macclesfield half, before playing the perfect ball inside for Betsy, who made no mistake in elegantly curling his effort past Taylor into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.

Despite some rather alarming defensive frailties the visitors clearly carried a threat going forward, and were unlucky not to get at least one goal back after testing Woking stopper Elvijs Putnins three times in quick succession. Ex-Stevenage player Peter Winn first saw his free-kick saved, before having a second long-range effort also kept out. Jack Mackreth then tested the Latvian again with a shot from a tight angle.

But even with their dominance of possession, territory and chances, Macclesfield could just not halt the Woking goal-rush at the other end: Knott stealing the ball off the toe of Mackreth in the visitors' penalty area, before being sent sprawling by the midfielder’s attempted recovery. Stockley made no mistake from the penalty spot, lashing his strike past the despairing dive of Taylor.

Clearly struggling with the wet, windy conditions and the increasingly unpredictable playing surface, the game was not without its fair share of mistakes, and Putnins was lucky to escape unpunished after spilling the ball at the feet of Madjo, only to recover in time to push the ball away from the striker at the last second.

Unlike their opponents, Woking were in the mood to take each of the first-half chances that came their way, some wonderful flowing football producing two more excellent goals. First, Betsy picked up possession in midfield and played a wonderful defence-splitting pass to set Stockley through on goal. This allowed the striker the time to produce a perfectly delicate chip, lifting the ball over the on-rushing Taylor and into the net. And this was shortly before Stockley turned from scorer to creator, holding the ball up on the edge of the Macclesfield penalty area before laying off for Knott to fire confidently past the Silkmen’s keeper.

Half-time: Woking 5 Macclesfield Town 0

Perhaps with one eye already cast towards promotion-chasing Grimsby Town on Tuesday evening, Woking withdrew skipper Mark Ricketts at the break, bringing on in his place on-loan youngster Bradley Simmonds.

Macclesfield, who were sent out very early ahead of the second half, started surprisingly brightly, and might have got a foothold sooner had Murtagh done better with his effort from the edge of the Woking penalty area, which instead flew just wide.

On the hour mark the Silkmen did have their goal, Fairhurst producing an absolutely stunning strike that flew past Putnins in the blink of an eye before continuing on into the roof of the net.

As the Cards began to drop deeper, under pressure for the first time in the game, the visitors' confidence rose and their ever-improving style of play began to look increasingly threatening.

Woking soon withdrew Jack Parkinson in favour of John Nutter, with Mike Cestor moving to centre back, but it did little to stem the Silkmen’s momentum as Putnins was finally punished for not holding onto a cross, as he failed to hang onto Winn’s ambitious centre from the left flank, and Madjo prodded the ball home.

Joe McNerney headed Woking’s best – and indeed only – effort of the second half into the arms of Taylor before Macclesfield got their third, Fairhurst picking up possession just inside the Woking penalty area with his back to goal, showing great strength to hold off the challenge of Adam Newton, turning, and firing his shot past Putnins.

Gnahoua, a late replacement for the injured Sam Wedgbury, was also causing the Woking defence real problems, his shot across goal from the left-hand side rolling agonisingly wide of the right-hand upright.

Two minutes into the four added on for injuries and stoppages, and the Macclesfield substitute did become the sixth player to get his name on the day’s score-sheet, collecting Murtagh’s clever pass before lifting the ball over Putnins and into the net.

Pandemonium reigned as the visitors threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Cards in the final few moments, even forcing a late corner which the hosts managed to desperately scramble clear. In the end, it was Woking who had just enough to hang on to the most incredible of victories, in a result that few would have predicted following these two sides' goalless encounter at Moss Rose last month.

There are many possible explanations for the change in fortunes after half-time: the ever-worsening conditions were definitely favouring the team kicking towards the Kingfield Road terrace, the team with the wind and the rain behind them. Over-confidence must also have been an issue for a team that had played so well and were so dominant in the first 45 minutes. But more than anything credit has to be given to Macclesfield who, in mid-table with very little to play for, on a bad run of form, on a miserable day, without a manager and in the midst of a third away game in five days, produced a second-half showing that fell agonisingly short of what few would dispute would have been a well-deserved point.

However fortunate the Cards were to get away with their less than spectacular second-half showing, they can still be happy with their excellent first-half efforts, and will be relieved to have escaped with the victory that much of their earlier work comprehensively merited.

After just one defeat in their last nine league matches Woking now sit ninth in the Blue Square Premier standings, a point behind Dartford in the quest to be the country’s best part-time team, and three adrift of Garry Hill’s 65-point target with two matches remaining. The first of those is this coming Tuesday evening when we entertain play-off contenders Grimsby Town.

Woking: Elvijs Putnins, Adam Newton, Mike Cestor, Joe McNerney, Jack Parkinson (John Nutter 68), Mark Ricketts (Bradley Simmonds 46), Billy Knott, Lee Sawyer, Kevin Betsy, Gavin McCallum, Jayden Stockley (Brett Williams 73)

Unused Subs: Aaron Howe, Brett Johnson

Goal(s): Knott 3, 34, Betsy 7, Stockley 22, 28

Booked: Betsy 77

Macclesfield Town: Rhys Taylor, Ryan Jackson, Thierry Audel, Pablo Mills, Peter Winn, Jack Mackreth, Kieran Murtagh, Sam Wedgbury (Arthur Gnahoua 81), John Paul Kissock, Waide Fairhurst, Guy Madjo

Unused Subs: Andrew Mills, Antonio Amores, Jay Burgess, Carl Martin.
Goal(s): Fairhurst 60, 83, Madjo 71, Gnahoua 90

Booked: Mackreth 37

MOTM: Mark Ricketts – His importance to the team was underlined by the fact that the Cards were five goals to the good when he was withdrawn from action. His calming influence in midfield was sorely missed in the second-half.

Attendance: 1,543
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