Nathan Arnold’s 87th minute goal against the run of play inflicted Macclesfield’s third defeat in four games, losing pace with the pack towards the top of the table.
The visitors lined up with former Silkman Ben Tomlinson
in attack, scorer of Macc’s quickest ever goal last season. His sharpness seemed to have rubbed off on his new team mates, with Dan Bradley shocking the Silkmen by firing past Lance Cronin from 20 yards after just 12 seconds to find the net for the fifth successive game.
Macc took some time to get going after the early set back and the first real foray into the Reds’ box came on 11 minutes. Keiran Murtagh found Jack Mackreth out on the right and from his cross Chris Holroyd’s attempted overhead kick seemed to take the ball away from strike partner Matthew Barnes-Homer.
On 15 minutes Pablo Mills met Murtagh’s free kick with a firm header, but from around the penalty spot it was no real test for keeper Jon Stewart.
The Silkmen were level ten minutes later when Holroyd reached Mills’ ball down the right before Ross Killock in the box, the Macc man nodded it past the defender and was then flattened leading to the referee pointing to the spot. Leading scorer Barnes-Homer stepped up and confidently smashed low into the bottom left corner for his eighth of the campaign.
As the half wore on Macc became more dominant and on 33 minutes Theo Streete’s poor header on a ball forward allowed Holroyd to race away down the right channel. With Barnes-Homer screaming for the ball in the centre, the loanee forward failed to spot the pass until the defence had got back, his eventual ball rolling tantalisingly across the face of goal but couldn’t be turned in.
The first period ended with a rather ill-tempered spell – a fracas in the centre circle leading to a long talking to for a number of players and scorer Bradley went into the book for two fouls within quick succession.
A second Macc goal was ruled out moments before half time with a flag up against Barnes-Homer before Murtagh blasted home from just outside the box. Protests that the ball had come through to him from a boot of an Alfreton player fell on deaf ears and the final chance of the half came at the other end with Arnold’s drive skidding a few yards wide.
Alfreton came out for the second half looking dangerous initially, with a stroke of luck giving them a fantastic chance of regaining the lead. Craig Braham-Barrett’s clearance smacked off the side of Anthony Wilson’s head and bounced straight to Tomlinson who lifted a fantastic ball over Nat Brown and perfectly into Arnold’s path, who was denied by the legs of Cronin.
The winger went close twice more in the first few minutes of the half, firstly when he was fed on the edge of the box he turned and beat Brown for pace and again was thwarted by Cronin’s legs. Seconds later he ghosted in to meet a ball in from the right before the defence and keeper but fortunately he couldn’t get enough of a connection and it flew wide of the far post.
Stewart made a great save on 66 minutes when Murtagh’s inswinging free kick from out on the left looked to be perfect for Mills but the defender failed to get a touch, leaving the keeper little time to palm it wide of the post before it crept in.
The introduction of John Paul Kissock led to the Silkmen having a spell of around 20 minutes almost camped in the Alfreton penalty area without finding the key final ball to turn possession and territory into another goal.
Murtagh and Mackreth both were denied appeals for penalties when it looked like they were having their shirts tugged out on the right of the box, before Kissock also went down under a challenge in the box but was booked for diving.
Barnes-Homer’s ambitious first time effort from 25 yards was always rising too high to trouble the keeper, before the visitors’ keeper finally booked for time-wasting over his goal kicks.
With ten minutes to go Mills glanced Kissock’s corner well wide from eight yards and substitute Sam Wedgbury’s effort from outside the box flew just over.
Wedgbury unfortunately was left with his head in his hands just minutes before full time, when after pinning the Reds back in their own half for the vast majority of the second half gifted the visitors an unlikely victory. The young Macc midfielder’s pass across the defence was intercepted by Arnold, who was then clean through on goal and calmly slotted past Cronin into the far corner.
Macc managed one final chance with Barnes-Homer reaching a long ball over the top before the keeper, but his lob not only went over the head of Stewart but also over the bar.
A frustrating afternoon ended in a second successive home defeat and in a game which Macc were on top for long periods. In under a month Macc have now slipped from the top of the table to ten points off the lead and will need to end their current winless run soon to keep in the promotion hunt.