Game 82 of the 14/5 season
The final league game for Macc of the 14/15 season, certainly no end of season feel to this one however! The hosts had seen themselves fall from a top 5 spot pretty early on and had bumbled along in the bottom half of the league, without ever looking likely to get relegated. The visitors had been in the play-offs for 21 consecutive weeks, but had fallen to sixth after a damaging away defeat to Forest Green.
Macclesfield still held out hope for some final day drama, with several permutations possible. Due to a pretty average goal difference, an away win was required above all else. This victory coupled with anything less than a win for Forest Green or a defeat for Eastleigh would see the Silkmen make the top 5 and contest play-offs for the first time since 2004/05.
The Silkmen welcomed Andy Halls and Waide Fairhurst back from suspension, but were without the ever reliable George Pilkington who was sent off against Dartford. Torquay were at virtually full strength.
For the neutral this game may not have provided much excitement, but it was what was at stake that made this one of the longest 90 minutes I have watched in a long time. Macc started off well though, to temporarily calm the nerves of the visting fans. The mood was also lifted by an early goal for Kidderminster away at Eastleigh, which moved the blues back into 5th.
Torquay then appeared to wake up and realise that this stage of the season means that contracts and future livelihoods are on the line. Macclesfield stopped passing the ball around and the home side threatened to make the break through, with the dangerous combination of ability and pace on show down both flanks through Ajala and Daniel.
Typically, this threat was dealt with, only for Torquay to find another route to open the scoring. A superb block from Alex Grant rebounded into the path of Briscoe who shot through a crowd of legs and into the bottom corner. This goal deflated the Silkmen who began to look like a side that were mentally and physically drained.
The second half started no better, with the Silkmen attempting to bypass midfield and get at the home sides back four, which merely played into the hands of the belligerent pair of Pearce and Downes. Worse was to follow as Eastleigh grabbed an equalizer against Kidderminster, which brought it down to a straight fight between Macc and Forest Green.
Barnes-Homer was introduced, as the Silkmen ramped up the pressure on the Gulls defence. Just as it looked like Macc had run out of ideas, Fairhurst headed home after a long throw was flicked on to the far post. With Forest Green still goalless with Dover, one more goal would put Macc back in 5th.
Unfortunately Torquay hadn’t read the script and arguably finished the better of the two sides. Their pace down the wings continued to cause problems, as Macc poured forward; this provided at outlet for the home side and relieved pressure when it would have been easier to remain camped inside the 18 yard box.
There were two glimmers of hope for the Silkmen, a Turnbull free kick after 80 minutes, was tamely flung over the bar, with the skipper seemingly desperate to avoid hitting the wall. The best opportunity was reserved for Fairhurst, who with just a few minutes left managed to escape Downes for the only time all game, to find a yard of space centrally just outside the box. Usually the striker would look to curl an effort into the corner, but the moment got to him and he tried to burst the net, only to cut across the ball and skew his shot well wide.
Full time 1-1, with Forest Green only drawing, the Silkmen effectively one goal from making the play-offs.
The players were distraught at the final whistle, but the supporters stayed behind to applaud them down the tunnel after what has been an exceptional season, despite the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs. It was nice to be able to grab a word with some of the players as they made their way onto the coach, and clear that it had affected many of them pretty badly. Senior players such as Danny Whitaker and George Pilkington will have had a hard job to act as the voice of reason. Not an enjoyable 244 mile drive home.