Macclesfield Town extended their lead at the top of the National League to ten points yesterday, as they emerged from Stonebridge Road with a share of the spoils in what proved to be a highly controversial encounter.
The hosts undoubtedly started in the ascendancy and within sixty seconds Corey Whitely found his way to the byline, before smashing a low cross into the six yard area which caused all manner of problems until Lowe hacked the ball clear.
Three minutes later it was Whitely who proved to be the nuisance once again, as he cut inside from the left and hammered a low shot at goal which Shwan Jalal did well to get down to.
A minute later and the visitors threatened for the first time when a flowing move ended with Nathan Ashmore bravely claiming Mitch Hancox’s cross from the left – despite being under copious amounts of pressure by Nathan Blissett.
Although The Fleet were passing the ball around with confidence and intent, the Macc defence gallantly stood their ground as they fought for every tackle.
The experience of Jared Hodgkiss and George Pilkington in particular shone through in the early exchanges and on 13 minutes our “Mr Consistency” heroically shunned Danny Kedwell in the area and won a free kick for the visitors in the process.
Sixty seconds later the league leaders fought back, as they looked to silence the vociferous home following.
Danny Whitaker powered his way forward, before Macc were awarded a free kick twenty five yards out. Scott Burgess stepped up to take it, yet the ball failed to dip in time to send it into the top left hand corner of the goal.
The match begin to open up and 15 minutes Sean Shield’s cross from the right was glanced wide by Kedwell, before Burgess did well to create space for a twenty five yard strike at goal which flew over the bar.
Jalal came to the rescue once again on 18 minutes, after Kedwell’s flick ran straight into the path of Luke Coulson whose low drive was brilliantly stopped by the Iraqi.
Two minutes later Nathan Blissett threatened to run through on goal and only a perfectly timed interception by Chris Bush denied him at the last second.
The home side remained a potent threat, with Danny Whitaker and Scott Burgess in sublime form, as they broke up play and valiantly looked to spearhead offensive threats at every opportunity.
The deadlock would be broken on the half hour mark when Jared Hodgkiss’ ball over the top of the Ebbsfleet defence was latched on to by Burgess and he took ‘keeper Nathan Ashmore out of the game before Blissett fired home from close range.
The pendulum swung in favour of the visitors in more ways than one with that strike – as not only did Sir John’s side have the lead, they began to play their own brand of expansive, flowing football which strikes fear into all our opponents.
The Fleet were attacking largely on the counter at this points, yet it took a phenomenal interception from Jared Hodgkiss to deny Andy Drury a free run at goal ten minutes before the interval.
The former West Bromwich Albion defender was then in the thick of the action at the other end of the field, as his cross from the right was pristinely headed on by Blissett and only a last gasp claim from Ashmore stopped Mitch Hancox from doubling our advantage.
The half ended with David Fitzpatrick bravely putting his body on the line to block Whitely’s powerful free kick and as the sides left the field, the visiting faithful paid homage to another inspiring first half from their blue and white heroes.
The second period began with Sir John’s side well in control, as they searched for a second goal.
Three minutes in, Nathan Blissett’s acrobatic effort ten yards from goal was charged down by Dave Winfield – with the defender needing treatment for concussion after feeling the full force of the shot.
On 51 minutes Tyrone Marsh left his marker for dead as he flew down the right hand flank, before his cross was desperately parried away from goal by Ashmore with Hancox setting himself for a tap in.
Danny Whitaker’s innovative strike from the edge of the area then went marginally wide of the left hand post, as the hosts appeared to look rattled by the siege which they were being subjected to.
The lead was almost doubled on 53 minutes when Mitch Hancox let fly from twenty five yards out, yet Winfield was on hand to bravely head the ball clear.
Immediately after David Fitzpatrick fizzed in a cross from the left, which Tyrone Marsh could only blaze over the bar as he raced into the six yard area.
On 59 minutes the breakthrough did come however, as Danny Whitaker’s corner from the left found an unmarked Tyrone Marsh and he slammed his header past Ashmore to the delight of the away following behind the goal.
It was no more than our play had deserved and at this stage, we looked set to return to the Moss Rose with maximum points.
Ebbsfleet knew that if they were to stand any chance of claiming anything from the game then they had to throw everything they had at Sir John’s side – and even that would probably not be enough.
Kedwell struck a ten yard strike over Jalal’s bar on 64 minutes, yet a minute later the hosts were awarded a penalty when Shwan was adjudged to have taken Winfield down in the area.
Local hero Kedwell stepped up to take the kick and calmly slotted the ball home to halve the arrears with twenty five minutes left on the clock.
With Macc now showing all the tenacity and fight they could muster to keep the home side at bay, striker Nathan Blissett was then bizarrely dismissed when he collided with Winfield.
The Plymouth loanee was clearly body checked by the home defender and in the immediate aftermath Referee Marsden had not deemed the incident even worthy of a foul.
Yet Fourth Official David Spain summoned Marsden over and after consultation, the striker was inexplicably shown the red card.
There is no doubt that the decision was erroneous at best and Sir John has already confirmed that the club will appeal against it.
What we could not do of course, was find out the result of that appeal instantly and as such, our heroes were forced to conclude the battle with ten men.
On 76 mins Shwan Jalal injected a dose of calmness into the ranks, as he confidently claimed Marvin McCoy’s dangerous throw in from the right hand side and on 77 minutes the away contingent breathed a sigh of relief when Whitely’s speculative effort drifted high and wide.
Parity was to be restored two minutes later though and once again Referee Marsden elicited controversy in the lead up to it.
Danny Kedwell unquestionably barged into Scott Burgess on the right hand flank, yet the signal was given for the free kick to be awarded to the home side.
From there, Daryl McMahon’s side worked the ball to Dean Rance on the edge of the area and he struck a sublime effort back across goal which nestled into the corner of the net.
Jalal then made another fine save as Kedwell latched onto a cross from the left, as the hosts sensed that a winner would follow.
Over the course of the season much has been said about this squad’s grit and determination in front of goal, yet for a time those qualities were called for in abundance as Ebbsfleet tried to muster an undeserved winner.
The troops soaked up everything that was thrown at them and could easily have claimed a winner themselves on 85 minutes when Hancox’s pinpoint free kick from the right was headed agonisingly over the bar by substitute Kieran Kennedy.
George Pilkington then proved why is is revered by the entire National League as he denied Myles Weston with a clinical challenge to deny him a clean run at goal and this was followed by Scott Wilson’s dangerous cross from the right being fortuitously being parried to safety by Ashmore.
Skipper Jared Hodgkiss defiantly rallied the team for a final push, but as the final whistle blew everyone knew that we had collectively given all we had in coming away with a point.
For those loyal fans who had made the journey down via Moose Tours, everyone’s eyes then turned to events in Fylde where Sutton United would claim a half time lead against the Lancastrians.
Shortly after arriving at Northampton services, Jonny Smith equalised for the home side and when Danny Rowe hit Fylde’s winner security staff must have thought that the place was under siege with the jubilation which poured out.
In many ways of course they would have been right – in that despite the injustices of earlier in the afternoon, they had served to merely strengthened our resolve as we head ever closer to the National League title.
Ebbsfleet United: Ashmore, McCoy (Weston 68’), Rance, Winfield, Clark, Drury, Kedwell, Shields, Coulson (Wabo 61’), Bush, Whitely
Subs Not Used: Connors, Powell, Miles
Macclesfield Town: Jalal, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Lowe, Pilkington, Marsh (Wilson 82’), Blissett, Hancox, Evans, Burgess (Kennedy 85’), Whitaker
Subs Not Used: Ramsbottom, Baba, De Girolamo