Macclesfield Town left their loyal fans speechless yet again last night, as Nathan Blissett’s 89th minute winner sent our phenomenal side three points clear at the top of the National League.
In many ways the captivating performance on show served to act as a microcosm for the season has a whole.
It oozed pride, determination and tenacity – but more than all that, it spoke volumes about this side’s will to win against all the odds.
These are the characteristics which have undoubtedly exemplified this remarkable campaign so far and when the team’s backs were against the wall, they only had to look over their shoulders to see their army of devoted followers willing them on.
We are truly as one.
Both sides looked to assert their authority on the game straight from the kick off and with barely a minute on the clock, a fluent Gateshead move was only brought to an end when Danny Johnson was flagged for offside as he bore down on Shwan Jalal’s goal.
Sixty seconds later the visitors had ‘keeper James Montgomery to thank as he pulled off a breathtaking save to deny Tyrone Marsh. Elliott Durrell had stormed down the right wing, before his pinpoint cross found Marsh six yards from goal, yet his close range effort was somehow deflected wide by The Heed stopper.
Our wizard on the wing was conjuring up more magic three minutes later as he left his marker for dead, before firing a low cross along the six yard line which agonisingly evaded the advancing Mitch Hancox.
On nine minutes Danny Whitaker drifted a corner in from the left and this was met by the head of George Pilkington, yet he could only manage to steer the ball wide of the far post as Macc looked to break the deadlock with the least amount of fuss.
Former Silkmen defender Scott Barrow then looked to continue his rich vein of form for The Heed as he surged through the midfield, yet he couldn’t find Jordan Preston with his intended through ball and the danger passed.
On 14 minutes it was Nathan Blissett’s turn to reek havoc within the Gateshead defence, as he powered his way down the right hand flank before cutting inside and fizzing a powerful drive inches over Montgomery’s bar.
The hosts then had to withstand a period of concerted pressure from Steve Watson’s men, yet Jared Hodgkiss in particular showed his class as he calmly dealt with everything which was asked of him.
Montgomery then made a fine save to deny Durrell’s twenty yard drive on 18 minutes, and the former Middlesbrough apprentice was called into action again sixty seconds later as he produced another world class save to deny Nathan Blissett’s half volley from fifteen yards.
Mitch Hancox drove the rebound inches wide of the near post, but at that point there was no doubt that the league leaders were laying siege to the Gateshead goal in a manner that only they can.
Just two minutes later Whitaker pulled a corner from the right back to Durrell, who innovatively found Marsh five yards from goal – yet he was denied by a desperate gaol line clearance by Barrow.
Keith Lowe then fired over the bar from another Whitaker corner, yet the former Kidderminster defender brilliantly tracked back to halt Preston’s surge into the box shortly after.
On 31 minutes the visitors passed up a real opportunity to stun the Moss Rose faithful, as Preston’s corner from the right was seized upon by Johnson – yet Jalal was well placed to claim his close range effort.
Seconds later Macc had a raucous penalty appeal waved away as Durrell flew into the Gateshead penalty area and went down under Scott Barrow’s challenge.
Referee Evans was having none of it though, as he waved the protests away – much to the distain of the home contingent.
After terrorising the visitors defence for much of the opening 35 minutes, Durrell was then forced to vacate the pitch as he appeared to strain his groin muscle following a fairly innocuous challenge.
The sight of our much loved winger walking down the tunnel was one which infused the Silkmen faith with a copious amount of apprehension ahead of the promotion finale, yet it is hoped that the injury is not as bad as first feared.
Watson’s men were clearly buoyed by Durrell’s departure, as the closing stages of the first half saw both sides frantically seeking to break the deadlock.
On 43 minutes skipper Jared Hodgkiss sent a venomous twenty five yard strike just wide of the target and right on the stroke of half time, Paddy McLaughlin fired over Jalal’s bar from an acute angle.
The mood in Butch’s Bar during the interval was undoubtedly one of anticipation, with everyone believing that Sir John’s side would come out for the second period and secure another home victory with one of our infamous Star Lane End sieges.
Yet the visitors unquestionably came back out in the ascendancy and just three minutes after the restart Scott Barrow fizzed a twenty yard drive at Jalal’s goal which the Iraqi brilliantly managed to hold onto.
With all three sides of the ground willing the team forward, Macc began to turn the screw and only a remarkable chain of events stopped the deadlock being broken on 51 minutes.
Montgomery pulled off another spectacular save to deny Marsh from twelve yards out and then somehow managed to kick the ball away from Whitaker who was all set to bury the rebound.
David Fitzpatrick was then desperately trying to make himself room for the shot, before laying the ball back to Whitaker who fired fractionally over the bar.
The touch paper was then lit, as our loyal fans vociferously showed everyone what they are made of and how much our collective dream really means to each and every one of us.
Mitch Hancox then headed a Whitaker corner from the left straight at Montgomery and this was followed on 64 minutes by a tenacious run through the heart of the Gateshead defence by Danny Whitehead which ended with his twenty yard thunderbolt being deflected wide of the right hand post.
The resultant corner was pulled by to Tyrone Marsh by Whitaker, who cut inside before smashing the ball at Montgomery who made another fine save to preserve his clean sheet.
Sir John’s side were now playing expansive football which is some of the best seen at the Moss Rose in decades and on 67 mins another pulsating foray into the Gateshead half saw Danny Whitehead strike a ferocious thirty yard drive at goal which was deflected into the arms of a thankful Montgomery.
The Heed retained their potent offensive threat despite the hosts dominance however and with fifteen minutes left on the clock Shwan Jalal produced a phenomenal save with his feet to deny Wes York from ten yards out.
Our blood pressure was sent racing yet again two minutes later, as a rare Montgomery error threatened to hand Sir John’s side a fortunate breakthrough.
Mitch Hancox battled to create space on the left hand side of the area, before he fired a powerful drive at goal which the Gateshead keeper let slip through his hands.
His blushes were spared when the ball dropped over his crossbar, yet the event undoubtedly spurred everyone on for one final push.
Our heroes clearly had their hearts on their sleeves as they battled for every ball, yet Watson’s defence gallantly repelled the barrage with valour.
On 86 minutes a long David Fitzpatrick throw was latched onto by Hancox, yet he could only fire into the side netting and with the clock ticking down all three sides of the ground defiantly united in the hope of a dramatic last gasp winner.
With barely a minute left on the clock the Moss Rose faithful were sent into delirium, as Nathan Blissett powered the ball home from close range to finally break the deadlock.
The outpouring of raw emotion, both on the pitch and the terraces was something which simply can’t be put into words.
Yet again the odds were stacked against us and yet again we have defied them – together.
This wasn’t not just a goal, it wasn’t just three points, nor was it about returning to the National League summit. It was another statement from this compelling side that we have an unshakeable belief that our cherished dream will soon be a reality.
As the final whistle blew, I must confess that there was a tear in my eye when I stood and applauded each and every one of the team of the pitch.
These are the days which will be remembered for a lifetime, irrelevant of what happens over the next few weeks.
In years to come we will look back on games such as this and be proud so say “I was there”.
These memories will last until our dying day and nobody will ever be able to take them away from us.
Macclesfield Town: Jalal, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Lowe, Pilkington, Durrell (Evans 37’), Marsh (Wilson 82’), Blissett, Hancox, Whitehead, Whitaker
Subs Not Used: Ramsbottom, Kennedy, Burgess
Gateshead: Montgomery, Barrow, Kerr, Byrne, Fyfield, Peniket, Johnson (Green 61’), Burrow, Preston (York 70’), McLaughlin, Penn
Subs Not Used: Vassell, McNall, Hanford