Super Hatters go six points clear after late win
Gray 9, 82
The Hatters surged six points clear at the top of the table after a late winner from two-goal Andre Gray helped the Town record their first ever win at Macclesfield and stretch the unbeaten run to 21 games.
Gray struck in the ninth minute before the home side roared back to level before half-time through left-back Danny Andrew’s shot.
In the face of a barrage of pressure from the home side the Town then went and won it when Gray scored his 19th of the season eight minutes from time.
In the Town’s first game in 16 days, boss John Still gave debuts to defender Fraser Franks and Pelly Ruddock – the latter his first game since joining permanently from West Ham.
And the 400 travelling Hatters fans celebrated the perfect start on nine minutes when Gray struck. The Town’s leading goalscorer raced down the right, cut inside and lofted a shot over Macc goalkeeper Rhys Taylor. The ball clipped the post and rolled over the line with Paul Benson in close attention.
The Hatters almost nabbed a second on the break a minute later when Benson stode forward but Macclesfield closed ranks and prevented the striker from belting a shot at goal.
Macclesfield responded well to going behind, however, as they pinned the Town back in search of an equaliser. Peter Winn, who played in goal in the fixture here last season, flashed a shot wide on 14 minutes before Franks did well to throw himself in the line of Chris Holroyd’s shot on the edge of the box a minute later.
As the half wore on so did Macc’s continued pressure as both sides wallowed around on a pudding of a pitch only passed fit after two afternoon inspections.
The Town were working hard to keep the Silkmen at bay but the pressure kept coming from the in-form home side and on the half-hour Holroyd should have levelled when he fired wide with the goal at his mercy after a mazy run goalwards.
Two minutes later the Silkmen spurned yet another gilt-edged chance when Scott Kay thundered a first-time shot over the crossbar with the goal gaping following a right-wing corner.
Under the cosh, the Hatters’ best opportunities were coming on the break and on 36 minutes a peach of a pass from Luke Guttridge allowed Gray to speed clear but his left-foot shot was deflected over for a corner. Benson then headed the subsequent flag-kick over the bar at the near post.
However, six minutes before the break, and with the Town clinging desperately onto their lead, Macc levelled. Holroyd couldn’t find a way past Steve McNulty on the edge of the box so laid the ball off to Andrew and his first-time shot from 20 yards arrowed past Mark Tyler.
All of a sudden Macclesfield sensed a second but the Town cleared and almost forced a chance themselves with Gray and Guttridge combining before the move broke down.
Macc did miss a great chance to take the lead on 41 minutes but skipper Danny Whittaker failed to make a proper connection from six yards when surely putting his boot through it would have made it 2-1.
The Town then raced up the field – or, rather – Ruddock raced up field and after blocking his way past two challenges raced through one-on-one with Taylor but the midfielder elected to shoot early with an effort that flew over the crossbar.
The chances kept coming after the restart: Ronnie Henry doing brilliantly to close down a shot from Winn a minute into the second period before the Town then came close themselves.
Firstly, Cameron McGeehan’s header from a Guttridge corner was expertly tipped behind by Taylor on 48 minutes before Guttridge tested Taylor again a minute later with a low shot from distance that bounced off the uneven turf.
The Town, however, were indebted to a stupendous range from Tyler on 55 minutes to keep the score 1-1. Mackreth was again the instigator, crossing for Boden and his shot on the turn from six yards was somehow kept out by the gloves of the Hatters’ number one.
Both sides continued to create chances. A brave block in the Town box – apologies nobody was sure who – denied Macc’s Steven Williams’ blast, before the Hatters sprang clear: Ruddock releasing Gray to thump a shot just high and wide on the hour.
Another block – this time from Franks – prevented a Holroyd volley from finding a path to goal on 68 minutes as Macc upped the ante again.
However, the Town weathered the Macc onslaught and grabbed a second with just eight minute left. Scott Griffiths’ long throw bounced in the box and into Gray’s path. With his back to goal the striker turned and hit a low shot into the bottom corner to the delight of the travelling Town fans on the terrace behind the goal.
As the minutes ticked down the Town were thankful to two final incredible pieces of goalkeeping from Tyler in the last two minutes of normal time. His first was a breathtaking reflex stop to turn over a Holroyd header before he pounced on the loose ball in the six-yard box moments later following Whittaker’s deflected shot.
In four added minutes, which seemed an eternity, the Town somehow held on. Tyler almost slipped to hand Macc a chance before Franks did brilliantly to clear in as the hosts had one final kick but the Hatters held on to record a famous and vital victory.
TOWN: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty, Franks; McGeehan, Guttridge, Ruddock, Howells; Gray (sub Lawless 88), Benson.
Subs: Justham, Cullen, Charles, Lawless, Robinson.
Attendance: 1,705, including 401 freezing Town supporters.