MACCLESFIELD Town held third placed Dover to a 0-0 draw at the Moss Rose despite having to play for 85 minutes with striker Jack Sampson in goal.
Silkmen goalkeeper Ritchie Branagan was dismissed as early as the fifth minute for a foul on Ricky Modeste and centre-forward Sampson donned the gloves to frustrate Chris Kinnear’s men who were unable to secure a fourth successive win in the National League.
Dover failed to capitalise on their man advantage before, being reduced to ten men themselves when defender Richard Orlu was dismissed for raising his hands to Macclesfield’s Reece Styche as the first half neared its conclusion.
The second half saw the hosts knocking on the visitor’s door without success whilst Sampson was largely a passenger without a save to make after the interval.
The game’s first incident of note was the dismissal of Branagan. The Whites swiftly broke on Macc after Andy Halls free-kick was headed clear and the ball reached Nicky Deverdics via Stefan Payne. The Dover captain slipped Modeste in on goal who was taken out by the buccaneering goalkeeper just outside the penalty area. Referee Simon Bennett felt he had no choice but to issue Branagan with a red card and the Silkmen had an uphill task from minute five.
With Shwan Jalal injured and hence no goalkeeper on the bench, Macc had to turn to one of their outfielders to take up the position between the sticks and that man was Sampson, whose first task was to contend with the dangerously positioned free kick which fortunately for the stand-in stopper, Payne blasted over the bar.
As you’d expect Dover had a period of dominance whilst the Silkmen were adapting to life a man short, Connor Essam volleyed wide before Sampson did excellently to tip Ricky Miller’s effort wide before the man borrowing a ‘Jalal 13’ jersey’s finest moment.
Payne leathered towards goal from the penalty spot he must have thought his shot would beat most professional goalkeepers let alone a striker deputising as a stopper, but Sampson did excellently to raise a fist and tip the volley to safety much to the delight of the home supporters.
Macc found their feet as the half wore on and created some opportunities of their own. Chris Holroyd reached the byline and cut back for Danny Rowe whose shot was smartly saved by Mitch Walker before a pivotal moment in the match as the visitors found themselves losing a man to a dismissal.
Macclesfield’s Styche is a defender’s nightmare. He puts himself about, doesn’t believe in lost causes and is something of a renowned wind-up merchant. So when he was fouled on the halfway line and showed his displeasure with Dover’s Richard Orlu the defender should have known better than to raise his hand to the home side’s attacker. Again the man in black Bennett had little option but to raise the red card once more and we played the remaining 48 minutes with 10-a-side.
The second half saw Macclesfield as the side in the ascendancy. Buoyed by the fact they no longer had a man less than their opposition they found themselves bossing possession in particular the midfield three of Rowe, Danny Whitaker and Paul Turnbull.
Just two minutes after the break Rowe seized possession on the corner of the Dover penalty area and pulled back for Holroyd who, whilst stretching, could only fire over.
For all of Macc’s possession they didn’t create many clear-cut chances, although Dover created precisely zero in the second half.
They never once worked Sampson after the break and were possibly lucky to have 10 men on the field when the already-booked Sean Raggett was inexplicably given a second life after a bad foul on Kristian Dennis. Raggett was almost immediately replaced by Chris Kinnear who obviously felt his defender was perilously close to being the third man to receive his marching orders.
Dennis shanked wide after Whitaker’s corner was only half cleared as the hosts tried to extend their winning run at the Moss Rose to three games before Rowe and McCombe were denied in a melee after another flag-kick but the ball just wouldn’t go in for the Silkmen.
On 87 minutes Payne wasted a rare Dover chance by smashing out of the ground when well placed before Dennis flashed a great effort just wide in stoppage time and we ended as we started, goalless.
Dover will be kicking themselves, including stoppage time they played over 90 minutes against a side with a centre-forward in goal and only registered three shots on target. The Whites missed a trick in not peppering the goal of the makeshift goalkeeper even if that involved taking shots from outside the penalty area, something the Kent side seemed reluctant to do.
For Macc they owe a great deal of gratitude to Styche. Playing nearly a whole match with ten men would undoubtedly have taken its toll on the players as the minutes ticked by so the ingenuity of Styche to level up the numbers and effectively trick Orlu into getting himself dismissed earned his side a point and gave the Silkmen a chance of winning a match they were doing well to cling onto.
But the final word should go to Sampson. The striker-turned-goalkeeper didn’t have many saves to make this evening but when he was called upon he was up to the task, he didn’t shy away from claiming crosses in the air and his save from Stefan Payne’s volley in the first half was one any goalkeeper would have been proud of. As he walked down the tunnel Sampson joked that he’d been awarded the sponsors man of the match for the first time as a goalkeeper rather than as a striker, that summed up the evening of the former-Morecambe man, an evening that will live long in his memory.
Macclesfield Town: Branagan, Halls, Pilkington, McCombe, Fitzpatrick, Holroyd (Sutherland ’84), Whitehead (Turnbull ’29), Whitaker (c), Rowe, Sampson, Styche (Dennis ’70).
Unused subs: Byrne, Diagne.
Booked: Styche, Pilkington, Dennis.
Dover Athletic: Walker, Magri, Orlu, Raggett (Bellamy ’76), Parkinson, Braham-Barrett, Essam, Deverdics, Modeste, Payne, Miller (Ofori-Acheampong ’84).
Unused subs: Sterling, Marsh, Grimes.
Referee: Simon Bennett (Staffordshire)
Attendance: 1,022 (54 visitors)
By Jordan Davies at the Moss Rose