Return of the Macc
One of my favourite recent discoveries in the world of football blogging is Magic Spongers, a well-written collection of rants and rambles about the sporadically beautiful game.
I’m not sure whether he’s Magic or Spongers, but Macclesfield Town fan Rob MacDonald is fifty per cent responsible for its output. And Macc are on the up…
One FA Cup first round replay passed by without too many mentions as Macclesfield Town knocked Southend United out of the competition at Roots Hall, ending a run of six straight defeats there in all competitions.
Both ties somehow contrived to end 2-2 and the Silkmen progressed by the squeakiest of squeaky winning penalties. And alright, Macclesfield might have been a slightly different angle of spin or a couple of last ditch clearances away from an FA Cup exit, but the lottery of the shootout was kind to a man who deserves it more than most.
Macclesfield boss Gary Simpson came into the role amid personal and professional tragedy following the death of Keith Alexander back in March. Having met at Boston United as players, Simpson was Alexander’s assistant through spells at Ilkeston Town, Northwich Victoria, Lincoln City, Peterborough United and at Macc.
It would have been easy for him to back away. Macc hadn’t won a game in 2010 and were in a precarious, if not unfamiliar, position down in 21st in League Two. But he didn’t. Between Keith’s death and moving into the Macclesfield hot-seat on a full-time basis on April 13th, ‘Simmo’ oversaw five wins, two draws and two defeats. By the end of the season, he had lost only four games in 14 and had taken his side ten points clear of the drop zone.
With emotions running high in those difficult last three months, it was an extraordinary run of form. However, with a clean slate in August, no Macclesfield fan could be quite sure how Simmo would shape up in his first full campaign in sole charge; or if deep down, he would really want the job given the season’s traumatic end.
Chopping and changing
To be frank, budgetary constraints and a catchment area shared with the Manchester clubs, Merseyside and other, bigger Football League clubs makes it a pretty thankless prospect on the surface. But Simmo stuck around and assembled a new squad.
Well, maybe not that new — the club retained 15 players over the summer — but it also released 11 and signed seven new players. The recovery of Hamza Bencherif was almost like another (and a brilliant one at that) in itself. The club’s first move was to pluck Tyrone Barnett from Hednesford Town and his five league goals in 15 have proved it a shrewd decision.
For that, Macc mostly have their new assistant — another managerial debutant, the former Fulham, Crewe and Burton scout Glyn Chamberlain — to thank. Seasons, after all, are defined by squad lists, and never more so for clubs with Macc’s slender resources.
Despite an inauspicious start — without a home league win until October — a quick check of the current standings shows Macc tenth in the league, with 22 points from 16 matches and two points from the play-offs. This, it’s fair to say, is pretty alien territory.
Macc have only lost once in six, an even rarer statistic. They are unbeaten at home in the league since September and have only lost three of eight away games all season.
For this achievement — for finding a run of consistency in a league where it is almost as precious a commodity as the resources to break even — Simmo deserves great credit. Injuries have hampered the side as much as any other in the league and the squad he assembled over the summer has been stretched, but for the most part, not found wanting.
With Macclesfield’s recent history, a clutch of young players and a transfer history that it’s fair to say is “patchy”, the Moss Rose faithful could be forgiven if “unlikely success story” was not the phrase that sprung to mind in August. Even now, alarm bells are going off.
An epic first round replay with Southend was not what was needed ahead of a trip to Bradford, just two points adrift of Macc in the league, even if reaching the second round — and looking forward to a trip to Huddersfield — gives the Silkmen a minor, but useful, cash injection.
Simmo himself is equally pragmatic, almost as if he knows that by inviting praise from me he will be irrevocably hexed for the next six months (sorry, Gary). Despite the side being in great form his foremost concern is for safety, 50 points and keeping hold of his best players in January.
Reaching the magic 50 ahead of schedule would be a brilliant foundation and remove the pressure from a club used to battling relegation — and hopefully propel them towards the playoffs.
For now though, I can only marvel what Simmo has managed this year. That and bloody enjoy it. He had a good teacher alright, but this is now definitely his squad. The fact that it is his first ever managerial gig, at a club that operates on a shoestring and is wearyingly tipped to go down every year — despite 14 seasons’ survival — makes it all the more remarkable.
While beating Bradford after 120 minutes and penalties in Essex on a Tuesday night might be beyond Macc, I’d like to think there’s a lot more to come from Gary Simpson and his side this season.