CHELTENHAM Town showed why they’re the Vanarama National League champions by bringing Macclesfield Town’s long unbeaten run to an end at the Moss Rose on Saturday afternoon with a narrow 1-0 win.
A single Dan Holman strike from the edge of the box was all it took for the Robins to register their 28th league win of the season and extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points.
The Silkmen huffed and puffed but ultimately couldn’t breach an imperious Cheltenham defence. The closest they came was when Jack Sampson was inches away from turning in Danny Rowe’s cross-shot but John Askey’s men were unable to find the net in their last home game of the 2015-16 season.
There was a friendly pre-match atmosphere around the Moss Rose, both teams formed a guard of honour allowing the Macclesfield kit-man of 17 years, Paul Etchells, to take to the field and receive warm applause from both sets of fans on his last appearance at the Silkmen’s home ground before Macc allowed the division champions to take to the field before them out of respect for Gary Johnson’s side.
And it was the Robins who started the brighter of the sides, James Dayton forced a low save from Ritchie Branagan before Dan Holman had a couple of sighters on the hosts’ goal all in the opening 10 minutes.
And it was that man Holman, fresh from striking twice against FC Halifax Town last weekend to secure Cheltenham the title, who netted the first and only goal of the game in the 24th minute. The former Braintree and Colchester man was simply afforded too much time on the edge of the Macc penalty area and he made the hosts pay with a clinical finish into the bottom left corner of the goal for his 29th strike of the season.
Macc didn’t have a lot to contribute from an attacking sense in the first 45, the lively Danny Rowe dragging wide after being teed up by Jack Sampson was as good as it got for the Silkmen in a half that had something of an end-of-season feel about it.
John Askey’s troops were definitely more energetic after the break, Rowe cut inside his marker and fired wide just three minutes into the second-half before a swift Macc breakaway saw Rowe’s ball across the penalty area tantalisingly close to being touched in by a diving Sampson but the ball eluded the Silkmen’s number 10 by the finest of margins.
Kyle Storer flashed a ball just too high of Holman’s head and just too wide to trouble Branagan’s goal prior to Neill Byrne landing a header onto the roof of the visitor’s goal in a half that was more even than the first.
Former-Silkmen striker Amari Morgan-Smith saw his header from fellow substitute Jack Munns’ corner well saved by the sprawling Branagan before Chris Holroyd was hauled down just outside the Cheltenham penalty area by Jack Barthram. Kristian Dennis took the resulting free-kick but could only find the body of on-loan Wolves keeper Jonathan Flatt.
The game took a hectic turn in second half stoppage time. Silkmen captain Paul Turnbull whipped in a free-kick from the left touchline which was only half cleared only for Macc’s Rowe and Chris Sutherland to collide with each other and provide an opportunity for the visitors to mount a quick-fire attack of their own.
The Robins broke from box to box in a matter of seconds and would have doubled their lead after Holman rounded Branagan were it not for a much needed clearance off the line by David Fitzpatrick.
Macc had one last chance to draw level in the final minute of additional time but Rowe, Macclesfield’s brightest spark all afternoon, saw his low shot held by Flatt and it was Cheltenham who registered three more points to their tally.
In their final away game of the season Gary Johnson was keen to thank each and every one of the travelling supporters and even left the field wearing a sombrero supplied by one of a band of four or five comedy Mexicans in the away end. Supporters in the main stand graciously applauded both their own team and the champions as they departed the field.
Both sides have one fixture remaining, the Silkmen go to Halifax next Saturday knowing that a win could send the Shaymen into regional football for 2016-17 whilst, should Cheltenham defeat Lincoln City on the same day they will surpass the 100 point mark in this, the memorable of seasons for the Gloucestershire side.
Macclesfield: Branagan, Halls, Byrne (Cowan ’92), McCombe, Fitzpatrick, Holroyd, Whitaker (Sutherland ’78), Turnbull (C), Rowe, Sampson, Styche (Dennis ’59).
Unused subs: Diagne, Jalal
Booked: Byrne, Whitaker
Cheltenham: Flatt, Barthram, Dickie, Parslow, Burgess, Cranston (Rowe ’57), Dayton (Munns ’72), Storer, Holman, Waters (Morgan-Smith ’57).
Unused subs: Kitscha, Hall
Booked: Dickie, Barthram
Goals: Holman (24)
Referee: Mr Richard Wrigglesworth
By Jordan Davies at the Moss Rose