Macclesfield Town moved within three points of the National League title on Saturday, as they secured a hard working point against a Leyton Orient side intent on spoiling the party.
In front of a bumper Moss Rose crowd, our heroes knew that victory would all but clinch the championship with two games left to play and begin the encounter on the front foot as they looked for an early breakthrough.
With barely sixty seconds on the clock a deep Jared Hodgkiss cross into the Orient area was headed towards goal by Nathan Blissett, yet the ball flew fractionally wide of Dean Brill’s near post.
On 8 minutes Mitch Hancox’s ball upfield was headed clear by George Elokobi and as the ball broke to Danny Whitehead on the edge off the area, the Moss Rose crowd held their breath in anticipation.
Our midfielder maestro could only fire his effort straight at the Orient ‘keeper on this occasion however, allowing him to make a comfortable save.
A minute later the visitors created their first real opportunity, as Josh Koroma’s corner from the right was headed wide of goal by Elokobi.
The visitors gained confidence from their missed opportunity and embarked on a spell off concerted pressure in front of the packed Star Lane End.
On 10 minutes George Pilkington bravely blocked Koroma’s venomous drive from the edge of the area by laying his body on the line for the cause, as the Silkmen rearguard stood up to the challenge posed with their usual level of valour and commitment.
On 12 minutes the champions-elect came forward once more, as Mitch Hancox soared down the left hand flank before seeing his pinpoint cross glanced agonisingly wide from the head of Danny Whitehead.
Justin Edinburgh’s side then begin to dominate possession, yet it would be the hosts who broke the deadlock on 17 minutes.
Jalal’s long kick into the Orient area was flicked on by Blissett and Hancox then brilliantly laid the ball off for Danny Whitaker who surged into the penalty area, before firing home with a low drove into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
Danny turned away to celebrate by pointing to the Silkmen badge on his chest, after what we all hoped would be a title deciding strike.
Sir John’s side were catalysed by the goal which promised so much and on 21 minutes an epic goalmouth scramble in the Orient penalty area was only diffused when Koroma sent the ball out for a corner.
With the hosts at this point playing the expansive, free-flowing football for which they are nationally renowned for, Callum Evans was then withdrawn after picking up a knock and replaced by Scott Burgess.
The East Londoner’s were many people’s tip for an immediate return to the Football League at the start of the season and they began to show why as they looked to silence the raucous Silkmen following.
On 26 minutes David Fitzpatrick brilliantly denied Koroma with a full bloodied block ten yards from goal and sixty seconds later, Macauley Bonne’s free kick was deflected into the arms of Jalal by Nathan Blissett.
Just before the half hour mark Scott Burgess cut inside from the left and floated a delicate cross into the area, which found Blissett ten yards out but his header was superbly saved by Brill to deny Macc a second.
Much of the remaining action in the first half was confined to midfield duals and as such chances came at a premium at both ends.
Sir John’s side did edge the possession stakes, but the team were forced to fight for every ball by an Orient side who proved equally as tenacious.
Parity was restored three minutes before the interval, as a corner from the right couldn’t be cleared and Koroma fired home from close range to silence the home faithful.
After Sir John had imparted his words of wisdom on our blue and white clad warriors, the side marched out for the second period looking to lay siege on the opponents goal like they have done so many times previously.
Despite this it was the visitors who looked most likely to claim the contest’s third goal and three minutes after the restart, only a phenomenal Keith Lowe interception denied Koroma a free run at goal.
Both Koroma and Joel McAnuff proved to be in fine form as Macc tried to placate Orient’s attacking threat, with the latter in particular brilliantly marshalled by David Fitzpatrick.
Macc’s first real chance of the second period came after 57 minutes when an innovative free kick routine on the edge of the area allowed Danny Whitehead to fire at goal, yet this flew over Dean Brill’s bar to safety.
Sixty seconds later Mitch Hancox went down in the area after cutting inside from the left, the whole of the Moss Rose screamed in protestation yet Referee Wright waved them all away with solid conviction.
Orient then began to set the tempo of the game, as Sir John’s side defiantly battled away looking for an opportunity at the other end.
On 67 minutes it was the Orient contingent’s turn to be frustrated by the Referee, as a long free kick into the box was cleared by Lowe – with the visitors vehemently claiming a handball offence had been committed.
Shwan Jalal was then forced into action as he was quick off his line to deny substitute David Mooney a run at goal and with eleven minutes left on the clock, Scott Burgess saw his low drive from the edge of the area desperately blocked by Ebou Adams.
Mitch Hancox then warmed Brill’s gloves from twenty yards as the Orient ‘keeper made a fairly routine stop to deny Macc what surely would have been a winning goal – yet as the game ebbed towards it’s conclusion the visitors began to lay siege to Jalal’s goal.
Four minutes from time Craig Clay pulled the ball back to McAnuff who fired over the bar from the edge of the area and two minutes later Macc had David Fitzpatrick to thank for an absolutely unbelievable block to deny David Mooney following a goalmouth scramble.
Sir John then threw Kieran Kennedy on to bolster the defence, as Macc saw out the game to claim another crucial National League point.
With all three sides of the ground applauding their heroes off the pitch, Orient’s George Elokobi saluted the Star Lane End and reciprocated the applause.
It is not often you see an opposition player doing that at any level and for that, he gained my utmost respect.
The Silkmen faithful then gathered in the club bars, as they nervously awaited the Tranmere result – hoping that Aldershot could muster up a victory at Prenton Park.
In the end it was not to be, but we will gather together once again tomorrow evening as this dramatic season draws to a conclusion.
Macclesfield Town: Jalal, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Lowe, Pilkington, Marsh, Blissett, Hancox, Evans (Burgess 25), Whitehead (Kennedy 89), Whitaker.
Subs not used: Ramsbottom, Wilson, De Girolamo
Leyton Orient: Brill, Widdowson, Elokobi, McAnuff, Bonne, Koroma (Mooney 62), Ekpiteta, Clay, Brophy, Adams, Ling
Subs not used: Grainger, Lawless, Judd, Happe