Morpeth 10-13 Macclesfield
These 2 teams last met in week 2 of the season, when Macclesfield hosted a 31-21 win in the sunshine. They came into this encounter in 4th place, while Morpeth sat 3rd from bottom, winning 4 out of 13 games so far this season.
It was a lengthy trip up to the North East for the Cheshire side, and it took a while to shake off any sluggishness from the journey or cobwebs from the Christmas break, as they hadn’t been in action since 14th December; it resulted in what was a scrappy first half where the first score didn’t come until the stroke of half time.
Both sides struggled to make an impact in the first period, with a stodgy pitch making conditions difficult and a host of handling errors on display. It looked like the home side were going to break the deadlock with their fist attack, as impressive number 8 Oliver Dynan broke from the base of a scrum, on half way, but was pulled down just short, and his offload was snaffled by the defence.
After that early scare, Macc went on to enjoy the bulk of possession (59%) and territory (59%). The scrum was a mixed bag, while the visitors also seemed to be working their way trough the list of potential ways to lose the ball: with 2 mauls turned over, 2 intercept passes, a number of fumbles in contact and breakdown turnovers. Fortunately the home side were unable to escape their half even with the wind at their backs.
Macc had 7 opposition 22 entries in the first 40 minutes and had to wait until the last of those to score. The North Easterners couldn’t keep their discipline and repeatedly allowed Macc access to their red zone, but without being punished, until Josh Redfern managed to power through the defensive line in a regulation carry off 9, busting through and finishing from 18 metres to bring first half proceedings to a close (0-5 Davies missed conversion).
Roles reversed in the second half, with the men in blue only enjoying 29% of possession, and after spurning an early opportunity when Jordan Simpson was pinged for taking out a defender with a decoy line, Macc only visited the home side’s 22 once more in the game as they struggled on their own lineout and were inconsistent at the scrum, but it was a scoring visit with Sam Broster finishing a 1st phase move off the scrum from 25m out (0-10 on 58 mins – Davies missed conversion).
The travelling side hadn’t looked in too much danger until this point, but Broster’s score appeared to awaken the home side, who looked the more physical side all day; helped with a number of the Priory Park outfit’s forwards recovering from illness, and struggling to maintain their discipline in defence.
It was from one such penalty that the locals put to touch and the back row burst through from a back peel, with Dynan finishing in the corner, before Simpson converted to make it 7-10 on 66 mins.
Morpeth were in the ascendancy and a little chip over the top on half way bounced favorably away from Will Davies and toward the chasing backs who gathered and broke. Myles Hall managed to kill the attack for Macclesfield, but was sent to the bin as a result. Morpeth took the 3 points to pull the scores level, with 12 minutes to play, but spilled the restart reception and the Priory Park side, bolstered by the introduction of Dan Percival in the front row and James Oliver in the back row, found the power to force a penalty which Davies dispatched from left of centre to re-take the lead 10-13 with 6 minutes left.
Macc spent the bulk of the rest of the game defending with 14 men and did so with a resolve as they repelled multiple attacks on the edge of their 22, yielding multiple pens, before finally forcing an error out of their opponents, and Captain Morton was able to clear to make the result safe.
This was by no means a good performance from Macclesfield, but if you had offered Head Coach Andy Appleyard 4 points before the nearly 4 hour trip, he would have bitten your hand off, as this was a very big potential banana-skin dodged!
Appleyard said post match: “Well we’ve got the win, that’s what we wanted, obviously it was a stretched target for 5 points, we just didn’t seem to get there today, so yeah, a good result for us, but I just think we had plenty of chances to do better”.
Eyes turn now to Ilkley at home next week who sit stranded bottom of the league with 6 points, and the chasing pack will have been given fresh title hopes as Billingham suffered their first defeat of the season away at Sandal.