There was a red vs blue match on another channel but the viewing figures probably won’t reflect where most of the action was and that was the Kuflink Stadium rather than Goodison Park. Daryl McMahon had promised his side wouldn’t make it easy for the league leaders and though Macclesfield might have considered themselves fortunate to be 2-0 up, they couldn’t withstand the Fleet’s fightback.
With 17 players to choose from, it was little surprise McMahon made zero changes to the side that did so well against Dover and his players justified that decision with a confident start against a Macclesfield team with only one defeat in 11 matches. Fleet could have edged ahead with their first attack of the game when Corey Whitely sped down the right and got a low delivery clear of the Silkmen’s defence. It seemed Luke Coulson was going to reach it to knock it home past Shwan Jalal but he was unable to finish the chance.
Macclesfield took time to settle and in those minutes the Fleet took full advantage with Andy Drury trying to find the killer pass that would unlock the visiting defence. On five minutes, Kedwell used his muscle to execute an excellent turn and slip a ball through to Whitely but Jalal held his shot.
Whitely continued to orchestrate much of Fleet’s forward momentum and he set Coulson free for an effort that Jalal again got a strong hand to. Minutes before, Macclesfield had wasted their only real chance, as Scott Burgess ballooned his 25-yard free-kick over the bar.
But the league leaders almost got their noses in front on 21 minutes when an untimely slip by Clark saw a clearance ricochet back off Burgess into the path of Nathan Blissett. The big striker hared down on goal but Dave Winfield flung himself across the box with a perfectly timed challenge to rob the ball at his feet.
But eight minutes later, Macclesfield did find the goal and again it was a combination of bad luck with an added ingredient of calamitous defending that handed it to them. Another slip seemed to cause chaos in the penalty area as a long ball dropped. It allowed Burgess a clear path to goal and though Ashmore attempted to smother, he could only parry it wide and as Winfield didn’t clear it fully, Blissett powered through to bundle the ball into an empty net.
It seemed Macclesfield needed that goal to calm them as they were able to keep Fleet’s tempo low and there was more authority about them in possession. Whitely, Drury and Coulson played a neat set of passes through midfield on 36 minutes and Drury was away in the box until a well-timed challenge by Jared Hodgkiss robbed him and that was the last action of note in an impressive first-half performance that saw Fleet behind to a goal against the run of play.
The second half took a while to get going and the first taste of what was to come between Winfield and Blissett saw the Fleet skipper come off second-best after a decent tackle but he got a foot in the groin for his troubles. It looked like he may have to be withdrawn but lengthy treatment rejuvenated him without adding to McMahon’s manpower woes.
Where Fleet had been full of verve in midfield in the first half, the visitors adapted much better in the second and closed those avenues off for the first 15 minutes after the break. Tyrone Marsh should have done better on 58 minutes when David Fitzpatrick’s deep cross from the left was brought down well by the former Fleet striker but he then lashed it high over the bar from 10 yards.
There was little mistake by Marsh with his next foray into the box. It came via a corner and Keith Lowe’s run from the near post distracted the Fleet defence, allowing Marsh to attack the ball and direct a header away from Ashmore for 2-0.
It was tough on the Fleet and there seemed little way back into the game but McMahon threw Norman Wabo straight into the fray and his eagerness to impress seemed to give the home side the impetus they needed. The Southend loanee took just five minutes to provide a chance, heading a Sean Shields ball to Kedwell’s feet on the edge of the box but Fleet’s veteran striker lifted it over the crossbar.
Myles Weston replaced Marvin McCoy on 68 minutes and within two minues, Fleet found their route back into the game. Kedwell flicked on a high ball into the box, Wabo got a touch and as Winfield raced on to the ball and attempted to take the ball around Jalal, the goalkeeper came out and took his legs. Kedwell made no mistake with the spot-kick and sent Jalal the wrong way to offer hope of another comeback.
Three minutes later came the big talking point of the game when Blissett and Winfield tangled and as the Macclesfield striker made to turn inside he ran into a stationary Winfield who went down with a cut head after the contact. TV replays suggested there was no intent on Blissett’s part but after consultation with the fourth official, the referee sent him off.
Energy coursed through the home side as they sensed at least a point was for the taking and it arrived on 79 minutes. Drury lofted a ball from midfield out to Whitely and his first-time delivery into the box was touched back by Kedwell and Dean Rance pounced on it to arrow a wonderful shot into the bottom corner.
Fleet made the extra man tell in the final 10 minutes and seven of time added on as they really went for a third goal. Weston was superb, full of energy as he attacked Fitzpatrick time and again down the right. With red shirts packing the Macclesfield box, a cross from Bush eluded Wabo, Weston’s effort was charged down and Shields fired the loose ball wide of the target.
Lowe picked up a yellow card as he hauled Wabo down after being caught for pace and then Weston’s well-executed free-kick fell to Kedwell but Jalal was down well to meet the connection. Macclesfield weren’t quite backs to the wall and substitute Kieran Kennedy headed a free-kick narrowly over.
With seven minutes added on, Fleet continue to pour forward, using Weston as their outlet and he teed up Whitely for another effort that went high and Kedwell’s header over from a late corner was the last action of a most absorbing game.
With the race to the play-offs getting ever tighter, the maths might suggest Fleet couldn’t afford to drop two points but the Kuflink Stadium was rocking, the fans more than appreciating how their side attacked and fought back against the league leaders. It wasn’t a win, it could have been a win, but it almost felt like a win.
EUFC: Ashmore, McCoy (Weston 68), Bush, Clark, Winfield, Rance, Drury, Whitely, Shields, Coulson (Wabo 60), Kedwell. Subs not used: Connors, Powell, Miles
MTFC: Jalal, Hodgkiss, Fitzpatrick, Lowe, Pilkington, Marsh (Wilson 81), Blissett, Hancox, Evans, Burgess (Kennedy 84), Whitaker. Subs not used: Ramsbottom, Baba, Kennedy, De Girolamo