On paper, yesterday saw Macclesfield Town extend their lead at the National League summit to nine points after a hard working victory over Chester at the Moss Rose.
Yet it reality, the game elicited far more than that and showed just why we have defied all the odds throughout the season – doing so with an unbreakable unity which infiltrates every level of the club.
The game really should not have gone ahead and when Head Groundsman Gary Lewis put the call out for volunteers, an army of willing helpers braved the inclement conditions to battle against Mother Nature.
The sight of those loyal fans getting absolutely drenched, as they forked the pitch in hope more than expectation is one which sums this whole club up.
They were desperate to get the game on and provide Sir John’s side with the opportunity of gaining another crucial victory in pursuit of our collective dream.
At just after half past eleven, one set of heroes made way for another as the Referee deemed the pitch playable and we awaited our side marching out in front of a bumper Moss Rose crowd.
The game got underway in frantic fashion, as both sides looked to assert their authority within the opening exchanges.
With just three minutes on the clock Harry White set off on a mazy run down the middle of the pitch, before his effort on goal deflected off Keith Lowe and resided safely in the arms of a well placed Shwan Jalal.
The league leaders then began to get the ball down on the floor and play the sort of entertaining, expansive football for which they are undoubtedly now renowned for.
On 6 minutes skipper Jared Hodgkiss hit a blistering drive from the edge of the area which he was unlucky to see fly marginally wide, but that lit the touch paper within the terraces as they urged their side on.
White then hit a low drive across the face of goal for the visitors, yet Macc were agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on 10 minutes when the two Danny’s combined which resulted in Whitehead firing a low cross along the six yard area which fractionally evaded an advancing Tyrone Marsh.
Despite their lowly league status, our Cheshire rivals were proving to defy their position and looked a fairly assured outfit for much of the first half.
It is testament to our phenomenal rearguard that the visitors did not create that much in the way of clear cut chances, despite having endured a monumental battle at Woking three days earlier.
On 17 minutes Jared Hodgkiss showed all his valuable experience when he managed to pressurise White into heading Gary Roberts’ corner from the right wide of goal and two minutes later White proved to be the danger man again as he fizzed a low effort wide of Jalal’s right hand post.
Midway through the first half Callum Evans surged down the right, before his pinpoint cross was glanced just wide of Andrew Firth’s far post by Nathan Blissett as Macc looked to turn the screw.
Sixty seconds later George Pilkington showed why he is still regarded as one of the best defenders in the National League. He outwitted Roberts in the Macc penalty area ,as he tried to latch on to Andy Hall’s cross from the right with consummate ease.
On 26 minutes Keith Lowe battled against two Chester defenders, before he brilliantly found Danny Whitehead on the edge of the box who smashed his low drive wide of goal.
Sixty seconds later it was the visitors turn to threaten again, this time the danger was nullified when Shwan Jalal majestically rose in between two Chester forwards to claim Shaun Hobson’s dangerous cross from the left.
The home side were beginning to dominate proceedings by this point and pivotal to this was the role of the legend that is Danny Whitaker.
He orchestrated the midfield in a way only he can and every time he picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, everyone sensed that magic was about to happen before our very eyes.
Just before the half hour mark Whitaker was pulling the strings once more, as he fought his way through the Chester midfield before laying the ball off to David Fitzpatrick who hammered his twenty yard attempt over the bar.
On 32 minutes Keith Lowe exemplified the confidence levels within the squad, as two deft turns embarrassed Harry White whilst in addition drew copious amounts of cheers from the Silkmen faithful.
Two minutes later the influential Craig Mahon burst through the midfield, before unleashing a fierce strike which sailed just wide of Jalal’s right hand post.
Mitch Hancox then blazed over from thirty yards out, but as the first period ebbed towards it’s conclusion the home side looked to secure the breakthrough.
Four minutes before the interval Danny Whitaker pulled a right wing corner back to Danny Whitehead, before he saw his goalbound effort deflect off Ryan Astles to signal another set piece.
This time, Danny pulled the ball back to Keith Lowe who drilled his attempt over the bar from the edge of the area as the siege undoubtedly began.
On 43 minutes Callum Evans picked up on a loose ball in the box before hammering over Firth’s bar from fifteen yards out and in many ways the half time whistle was only welcomed by the visitors as the rain started to pour once more.
After Sir John had rallied his troops for battle during the interval, the hosts unsurprisingly came out for the second half brimming with confidence.
Just five minutes after the restart Mitch Hancox showed all the fight and perseverance of a cage full of lions, as he battled for the ball before his cross from the right was headed inches over the bar by Danny Whitaker.
Three minutes later the deadlock was broken however, as George Pilkington tenaciously fought for the ball on the edge of the Chester area before he found Hancox who played the ball off to Danny Whitehead twenty yards from goal.
The former Wigan midfielder struck the ball with the inside of his boot and caressed it past the outstretched Andrew Firth, into the bottom corner of the net.
There was never any question of Macc settling for a one goal lead at this point and three minutes later Tyrone Marsh cut inside from the right before firing over the bar from twenty five yards out.
On 58 minutes Danny Whitaker went close to doubling the lead as he looked to lob Firth thirty yards from goal.
The visiting ‘keeper’s pulse must have been racing as he tracked back, but he would ultimately deny our midfield legend as the ball dipped into his arms.
Sir John’s side then had Shwan Jalal to thank for a breathtaking save on 64 minutes which preserved our lead.
The ball was whipped in from the right by Andy Halls before breaking to James Jones, whose powerful volley from ten yards out was spectacularly tipped over the bar by the Silkmen stopper.
It was truly one of the saves of the season from the Iraqi and one which could well have monumental consequences in the coming weeks.
To their credit Chester kept battling away as they looked to restore parity – they certainly didn’t look like a side who are threatened with relegation fears and undoubtedly played their part in what was an entertaining second half.
On 71 minutes Danny Whitaker stormed down the right before sending a teasing cross along the six yard line which left Firth in no mans land.
The advancing cavalry of Blissett and Marsh were unlucky not to connect with the ball, which would undoubtedly resulted in a second goal in front of a raucous Star Lane End.
The hosts confidently sprayed the ball about majestically in the closing stages, in what was another staunch exemplification of how much confidence runs through the entire squad.
Jalal was forced into another fine save ten minutes from time, stopping White’s half volley from the edge of the area to deny the visitors an undeserved equaliser.
Substitute Kieran Kennedy could well have extended the lead on 84 minutes, as he fought his way through the Chester defence before striking the ball straight at Firth.
Macc saw the game out in their usual professional manner and with Sutton on the wrong end of a 3 – 0 hiding against Bromley, moved another step closer to the National League title with what was undoubtedly a true team effort.
Macclesfield Town: Jalal, Hodgkiss, Lowe, Pilkington, Fitzpatrick, Evans, Whitehead (Burgess 60), Whitaker, Hancox, Marsh (Kennedy 80), Blissett.
Subs not used: Ramsbottom, Wilson, De Girolamo,