Macclesfield were left to rue what might have been as they were condemned to a 3-0 defeat to Crewe Alexandra this afternoon.
Clinical finishing from the hosts proved to be the pivotal factor between both sides – the Silkmen had opportunities in abundance, however Mark Yates’ side lacked the killer instinct to repeat their goalscoring form from Tuesday night.
An excellent finish from Charlie Kirk and a brace from Jordan Bowery sent the Silkmen packing with a harsh defeat, despite Macc dominating possession for large periods of the game.
It was quite nearly a catastrophic start for the Silkmen when Bowery’s cross was met by the out-stretched boot of Fiacre Kelleher - the ball fortunately deflecting past the post, and not into his own net.
But Yates’ side responded well to the hosts opening period of danger with Harry Smith proving to be a reliable outlet for Macclesfield when attacking. A series of Macc corners followed, ultimately resulting in Jamie Grimes heading wide from 12 yards out.
As the game progressed the Silkmen began to ask more questions of their opponents, this time enjoying success down Crewe’s left-hand side. Debutant Jordan Ponticelli fashioned a chance from the edge of the area, before captain David Fitzpatrick’s curling effort was saved low by Ben Garratt.
Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup hero Kieran O’Hara was at it again after 15 minutes, as Bowery raced onto Callum Ainley’s ball and firing his effort which was excellently saved by the Manchester United loanee.
The Silkmen responded with a well-worked chance of their own as Malachi Napa neatly turned Kevin O’Connor prior to feeding Ponticelli, but the 20-year-old just couldn’t quite make enough contact on the ball to test Garratt.
Then came the breakthrough. Collecting the ball 25 yards out, Kirk curled an unstoppable effort into the top right corner to give Crewe the lead.
The 31st minute proved to be a case of Jekyll and Hyde for Macc. Searching for a deserved equaliser, Maycock launched the ball forward to a chasing Ponticelli but as a result the Coventry City loanee pulled up hastily. Play ensued and the resulting clearance from Perry Ng landed at the feet of Harry Smith, and after an interchange with Maycock the ball was sent out to Napa on the left whose sumptuous effort was parried away by Garrett.
Crewe’s second blow came in the 40th minute, with winger Kirk playing a major role once again. His looping cross was met by the head of former Aston Villa striker Bowery, despite the best efforts of O’Hara to sprint out and punch the ball away.
Half-time loomed and Ainley was quick to test the impressive reflexes of O’Hara – there is a reason as to why Manchester United rate the goalkeeper so highly.
The second-half brought a change in personnel and with it came a change in shape. Yates abandoned the 4-4-2 approach from the first-half and instead Macc adopted a 3-4-1-2 system, with substitute Miles Welch-Hayes filling the right-wing back position.
The tactical switch made an immediate impact, and the Silkmen came flying out of the traps in the second-half. The aerial presence of Smith and Nathan Blissett provided Crewe with numerous problems, and the new shape gave Fitzpatrick and Welch-Hayes plenty of room to manoeuvre out wide.
Two delightful chances in five minutes dropped for Blissett; his snapshot inside the area was excellently saved by Garratt, before the 28-year-old threw himself at a Fitzpatrick cross just moments later that was once again kept out by Crewe’s number one.
The referee Carl Boyeson was keen to impose his anti-timewasting approach to the game; Crewe full-back O’Connor was cautioned for his lethargic throw-in proceedings, even if it was in the 57th minute.
Macc continued to press their opponents intensely – Napa enjoyed plenty of possession in and around the Crewe penalty area, but just couldn’t quite muster a clean shot off. But with the pressure lurked a danger, and O’Hara had to be on hand once again to prevent Bowery from adding his second and sealing the game for the hosts.
The game passed the 66th minute mark and this time Napa looked to have buried one of his efforts… but once again his goal-bound strike was bravely blocked by Crewe captain George Ray.
Just two minutes later Crewe countered… and Bowery did indeed have his second and Crewe’s third. Chasing the game, Macc were exposed at the back and a bursting run from James Jones put the Silkmen on the back foot. The midfielder sent in a looping cross that was too high for Kelleher, but there was Bowery waiting to finish and put Crewe three goals to the good.
The goal proved to be the fatal blow to Macclesfield’s afternoon, and the game at this point had sizzled out. Long range efforts from Danny Whitaker and Fitzpatrick sailed harmlessly over the bar, and once again Napa seen another of his efforts blocked.
It’s a harsh learning curve for this Macc side, but one that they can take positives from. Napa proved to be a bright spark for Yates’s side when moving forward, and the Oxford United loanee could well be a vital asset for what lies ahead this season.
Macclesfield Town: O’Hara, Pearson, Kelleher (Vincenti, 77’), Grimes, Fitzpatrick ©, Evans, Maycock (Welch-Hayes, HT) Whitaker, Napa, Ponticelli (Blissett, 35’), Smith
Unused substitutes: Taylor, Lowe, Marsh, Arthur
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt, Ng, Nolan (Hunt, 19’), Ray ©, O’Connor (Nicholls, 77’), Ainley, Jones, Wintle, Kirk, Bowery, Miller
Unused substitutes: Richards, Raynes, Porter, Lowery, Reilly,
Attendance: 3,914 (672 Macclesfield supporters)
By Jaquob Crooke