Whilst it was satisfying to finally get a game under way, Macclesfield Blues were left frustrated by Saturday’s performance against Luctonians. Although they managed to secure the win and the four points in what was a tight and closely-fought contest, they could not secure the bonus point which would have maintained their 15 point lead at the top of National League Two North.
Never the less, a line has now been drawn under that. What now matters is what happens at the weekend when Macclesfield Blues take on Sandal. The Blues won comfortably when the teams last met at Priory Park, but head coach, Giles Heagerty, knows that things may well be different this time round. Here’s what Giles had to say.
Were you surprised by the way Luctonians approached the game, given that they’d sat off and were happy to trust their defence the last time the sides met?
“Not massively if I’m being honest. We just didn’t know how they were going to approach the game. Our approach was to make sure we played to our strengths. We played some really excellent stuff out there, and left at least three scores on the park. Unfortunately, what we didn’t deal with very well was their threat at the breakdown. Because of that failure there are now three things we need to address: our ball carrying and presentation, the amount of physicality we put into the contact area and lastly we need to look closely at our management of officials.”
“We’ve certainly got better at that last aspect, but we still need to do more work. It became abundantly clear during the last 20 minutes of last weekend’ game that Luctonians did not want us to be able to play at the tempo we wanted to play at. We conceded a number of penalties during this period at the breakdown, but it was obvious to everyone that they were doing certain things which were aimed at preventing us from playing at speed. Whether what they were doing was legal or not is down to a matter of interpretation by the officials. My own view, both during the game and watching the play back afterwards, was that the ball was being illegally slowed down and action should’ve been taken. From here on in we’ve got to manage that better.”
What exactly do you mean by ‘manage’?
“Well, we certainly need to make more of an effort to draw it to the attention of the officials! We can make all sorts of improvements to ball carrying and ball presentation, but there comes a point were as a group we’ve got to be saying to the officials – look, something’s going on here that’s preventing us playing the way we’ve been playing for the rest of the game: do something about it.”
Do you think these are the sorts of tactics you might face from other mid to lower-table teams in the weeks to come?
“It’s hard to say really. In general, the teams at the bottom of the table who are fighting for their lives, and therefore have something to play for, will give you one hell of a game. The same applies to teams at the top. It’s in the games against mid-table opponents where teams are reasonably content with their league position, that you tend to see a drop off in intensity, and that can stifle performance and creativity.”
“Having said that, however, what we’ve found since we’ve been top of the league is that opponents will always bring their best game because they want to take us down a peg or two. But if we want to continue to stay on top in this league we have to be able to deal with teams whose sole aim is to frustrate us. We have to rise above that, and raise our game. On Saturday we didn’t do that, even though we managed to take 4 points. From now on I don’t want us to be satisfied with getting a job done: I want us to do more than that.”
Sandal are currently lying mid-table: are you expecting then to try and frustrate you?
“No, I don’t think so. There are a couple of things about Sandal that would suggest to me that that won’t be the case. It’s their first season in National League Two and they’ve done exceptionally well. They also have a fantastic home record. I can’t be absolutely sure, but I don’t think they lost a home game at all last season. That gives you some idea of what they’re capable of at home.”
“When they came to Priory Park they came with significant momentum, but we were able to limit them to just one penalty. That will serve as motivation enough for them to want some sort of revenge.”
“Although Sandal are relatively comfortable in mid-table, they’ll still be looking over their shoulder, particularly as teams like Broadstreet and Luctonians are picking up points. I suspect this is going to be one of those years where rather than being a question of a bottom three, you could be looking at a bottom six or seven teams, and that could make the season finale very brutal indeed. I’m certain Sandal won’t want to get dragged into that.”
What are Sandal’s principle strengths?
“They’re a team that’s been together a long time. In fact, I think most of their players have come up through the age groups, so they know each other’s game well. They have 3 brothers who play in the front row. They’ve also got a very good pack and a couple of tasty backs. They are a really well organised side and they work hard for each other. They showed they thoroughly derived their promotion last year, and they’ve shown they thoroughly deserve their current position in National League 2 North. If we want to get anything out of the game, we’ll have to do as we did at Priory Park and neutralise the threat their pack poses. What we know for sure is that the game will be competitive, but that’s exactly what we want.”