A clash between the leagues two heavy-hitters occurred at Priory Park on Saturday. Billingham had gone unchallenged in the previous 10 matches, winning all games and in the process accumulated 47 points.
Macclesfield on the other hand sat in 3rd place, carrying an impressive five game winning streak going into this fixture. An additional weapon in Macc’s arsenal came in the form of the home crowd. No team had won here this season and with a packed Priory Park, the atmosphere was electric, and the stage set.
Macc needed to start strong but it was Billingham who scored first with just two minutes gone. Matthew Kirby received a pass who stepped two players to go under the posts. With the conversion scored by Peter Evans it was a real shock to most spectators.
After a sustained period of play, mainly centred in the middle of the pitch, the visitors scored their second try of the day through Luke Wilson in the 17th minute. He had been fed a short pass which exploited a gap in the defence, combined with a hard line it resulted in a try under the posts leaving the score 14-0.
A reaction had been needed and it came in the form of the forwards and a dominant scrum. After Sam Broster was held up in goal, Macc used their scrum to earn a penalty try in the 28th minute. Prior to this, Macc had been awarded three scrum penalties in four minutes. Kieran Clark was given a yellow card for Billingham for the repeat infringements.
Despite trailing 14-7, Andy Appleyard’s side had picked up the physicality in their defence and it was lifting the crowd. Unfortunately for Macc the last points of the half came from a drop goal from Evans 30 metres out.
Macc may have been trailing by 10 points at half time, but the game felt closer than the score line suggested. A sense of frustration could be picked up from the supporters as they knew a few chances had been missed during the half. Although the lead belonged to Billingham, there was a sense of anticipation amongst home supporters that the deficit could be overturned.
Anticipation turned into belief in the 47th minute. Sam Broster ran wide only to cut inside two defenders and left them clutching thin air whilst the try was finished under the posts. Returning skipper Tom Morton added the extras to make the score 14-17.
The pendulum swung again, but this time towards the away side as Martin Hopley scored the third try of the day for the away side. A wide cut out ball fell into the winger’s arms and he comfortably finished in the corner. Evans missed the conversion which left the score 14-22
In the previous game against Wirral, Macc started the comeback to victory in the last 10 minutes. The Priory Park faithful had all reason to believe it could happen again as Tom Morton in the 71st minute slotted over a penalty to leave it just a one score game.
Billingham combined great discipline, game awareness and good territorial play to close the game out. Most of the remaining minutes had been fought inside Macc territory which didn’t allow a chance to fall the home sides way.
After the final whistle, it was a great sight to see the whole crowd stand up and applaud both sides who gave it their all. If this game can produce a positive going forward, it is that Macc is a team that can challenge anyone and has a loud and loyal supporter base that will keep going until the end. The next fixture is an away trip to Rossendale on the 7th December, which gives an extra week’s worth of training sessions to prepare for the next game.