REPORT: MACCLESFIELD 1 – 1 TOWN
The Town had to settle for a point on the day Paul Buckle left Kenilworth Road as a Waide Fairhurst goal 15 minutes from time cancelled out Andre Gray’s early goal.
It was a frustrating performance from the Hatters which saw a highly contested midfield dominate proceedings despite the hosts having keeper Rhys Taylor dismissed and playing a large spell with 10-men.
Paul Buckle's departure earlier in the day left Alan Neilson, Carl Emberson and Stuart Cash in charge of first team matters for the trip to Macclesfield. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner returned to the starting line up after he completed his three match suspension along with Steve McNulty who returned to the side after his cup ineligibility ruled him out of the Millwall clash.
Former Hatters Yaser Kasim, John Paul Kissock and Matthew Barnes-Homer all started for the Silkmen who prior to kick-off lie above the Hatters in seventh.
The Hatters started instantly with Jon Shaw and Gray again wreaking havoc. Gray retained possession in the middle of the park before slamming an audacious effort goal wards. The outside of his right boot flew the ball goal bound before it slammed off the upright and Shaw couldn't net the follow up from the edge of the area.
A cagey opening saw the majority of possession stored up in the centre circle and one of the main architects amongst the brawlers Jonathan Smith who nearly gave the Hatters the lead. Gray raced away from his marker before cutting back just behind Smith who's attempt at goal was snuffed out by Pablo Mills.
Gray then netted to give the Hatters a 15th-minute lead after a comfortable tap in from close range. A looping pass from Smith found Shaw who chested the ball instantly and while the Macclesfield fans roared for an offside flag Shaw's effort was rebuffed by Rhys Taylor. The ball ricocheted to Gray who slotted the ball home to give the Hatters an early advantage.
Macclesfield retaliated instantly with a threat of their own. A searching pass toward the far post found Wade Fairhurst unmarked who controlled the bouncing pass and drilled goal wards. With Tyler beaten Henry recovers to clear off the line.
It got worse for the hosts as Taylor saw red on 21 minutes. Gray raced through on goal before being hauled down by the keeper and was instantly dismissed by Mr Kavanagh. Kasim replaced by makeshift keeper, midfield man Peter Winn.
The hosts set about rectifying their situation as they went on the front foot. Barnes-Homer and Fairhurst were again foiled by Henry and McNulty in a stubborn Hatters defensive line. Former Hatter Barnes-Homer who has been in fine form in front of goal, could have levelled the tie on 40 minutes as Ryan Jackson swung in a teasing cross from the right. A deep cross evaded everyone except Henry and Barnes-Homer at the far who could not connect under pressure from the Town skipper.
A crunching tackle from Smith retained possession in the middle of the park before shifting the ball to Shaw out on right. His early pass gave Gray a chance to scamper away. The Town goalscorer took a quick look up before ripping his shot early towards the far post. Winn allowed it to bobble past the upright as the Hatters ended the first half 1-0 up.
The Hatters replaced Rendell at the break with JJ O'Donnell on to replace the front man. O'Donnell shifts out to the wide left of midfield for the Hatters.
Both sides took a while to continue the tempo of the first half and 10-man Macclesfield tested Tyler from range 10 minutes into the second period. Kissock tricked his way inside before passing possession to Murtagh who shot from range into the grateful grasps of Tyler between the sticks.
Gray continued to run the Macclesfield back line ragged as Smith gave him another searching ball to chase. Gray leapt away from the defenders and prodded the ball towards goal as Winn narrowed the angle. The initial effort looked to have slipped through Winn's legs but clipped up off of his thigh allowing him to cling on to the bouncing ball behind him.
It was end-to-end football at Moss Rose as the hour mark passed as Murtagh again came close. Skipping away from two Hatters challenges the Macclesfield midfield man flicked the ball into the far corner with the outside of his boot. His effort was seen wide by Tyler who soared across his goal to ensure nothing would creep inside the bottom corner.
But heavy Macclesfield pressure finally paid off when Fairhurst struck with 15 minutes remaining. Patient build-up saw Murtagh play in Fairhurst who shot across Tyler and saw his effort nestle in the corner via the inside of the post.
Stuart Fleetwood was introduced as time closed in on the Hatters and his impact was immediate. A brilliant, quick link-up between the substitute and Gray worked the latter an angle to shoot. His effort could not find the target however, and Winn watched it soar over the crossbar.
As the fourth official held the board aloft Shaw volleyed Fleetwood into an advanced position. Fleetwood dropped the shoulder on Mills and raced past the defender before arrowing his effort towards the top corner. Winn seemed to get the faintest of touches on the ball to deflect it against the crossbar for the final Hatters attack of the evening.