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MATCH REPORT: Macclesfield bring AFC's record Trophy run to an end

BIG TURNOUT: Match action from Sudbury's game with Macclesfield Town, which had seen then almost double their usual gate with 505 in attendance. Picture: Russell Claydon
BIG TURNOUT: Match action from Sudbury's game with Macclesfield Town, which had seen then almost double their usual gate with 505 in attendance. Picture: Russell Claydon


National League outfit Macclesfield Town showed why they ply their trade two leagues higher than AFC Sudbury in a tie in which they always had their Suffolk hosts at an arm's length.

Silkmen debutant Rhys Browne fired in a 23rd minute opener on the break before Anthony Dudley was given too much time and space to work a second from nine minutes later.

AFC started the second half well, but they had to score the next goal to give thenselves a realistic chance of keeping on the road to Wembley.

It was the visitors who were celebrating again though as Macclesfield substitute Jack Sampson made it 3-0 in the 84th minute.

With their heads still not dropping, much to their credit, Sudbury's players rewarded a 500-strong crowd with the goal the overwhelming majority of them had craved two minutes from time.

Craig Parker slipped in Liam Wales who slid the ball in at the near post in a cool display of finishing.

That seemed to spark the hosts into life as an attacking force, but it was ultimately too little too late as they exited the competition.

AFC Sudbury had gone into what was one of the biggest games in their history - being just four wins from a Wembley final in their club record FA Trophy run - without the services of versatile targetman James Baker, who was in America on work business, and left-back Jack Wilkinson (hamstring).

Fleet-footed Liam Wales was given the nod to lead the line over experienced Football League veteran and recent signing Danny Crow, who was still a way from regaining his match fitness.

Aidan Austin, who had returned to the club where he was an academy player this season following a spell in Nottingham Forrest's youth set-up, came back in at left full-back in The Yellows' usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

Macclesfield, who are eighth in the Vanarama National League (formerly known as Conference Premier), made a host of changes to their side who had beaten Dover Athletic in the league on Tuesday, with manager John Askey making seven changes including handing a debut to wingers Rhys Browne and Omry Perel and first starts to central midfielder Laurie Bell and striker Anthony Dudley.

In brilliant winter sunshine it was the Cheshire professional outfit, in their 4-3-3 set-up, who made the early running, with Ollie Norburn screwing wide from their first real attack and Perel taking an airshot when a corner had run through to him.

At the other end Sam Bantick tried, but failed, to put Wales in behind The Silkmen's backline before the hosts almost gifted their higher-league opponents a first goal when Marcus Garnham kicked straight out to Perel who played across for Dudley only for the striker to drag his shot wide of the right-hand post.

AFC captain Sam Clarke may have been a bit fortunate to get away with a yellow card just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark after mis-timing a crunching challenge that appeared two-footed to a section of The Shed End in front of them on Dudley.

Half-hearted penalty appeals for a penalty on Dylan Williams minutes later fell on deaf ears before the Suffolk side's first effort at goal came from Bantick in the 21st minute, the attacking midfielder trying his luck from range but drilling well over the crossbar.

Macclesfield took the lead in the 23rd minute when Browne latched on to a long kick upfield from goalkeeper Craig Ross and broke into the penalty area before firing in off the far post from an angle on the right.

The Ryman League Premier Division hosts appeared to have reacted well to the set-back, but were caught cold again with the next effort at goal, in the 32nd minute.

This time Dudley was put in down the inside right channel and provided a cool, low finish from a similar spot to Browne.

Sudbury were unable to register any further efforts at Ross' goal as The Silkmen's number 13 endured an almost redundant role in the first 45 minute, aside from his assist for the second goal.

The first three minutes of the second period saw a rejuvenated Sudbury camped in their opponent's half, but without being able to carve out a chance.

Craig Parker was the most likely source of that killer third ball as the game wore on though and did create a platoform for 17-year-old Tyler French to get a cross in from the right, only for Ross to get to it ahead of Wales, while from another high pass over the top the 'keeper was again there to sniff out the danger first, this time ahead of William's run.

The National League outfit were still very much a danger a the other end, despite seeing less of the ball, and Norburn's venomous rising shot was held comfortably by being too straight at Garnham just ahead of the hour mark.

Sampson came on in the 62nd minute, as a replacement for goalscorer Browne, but it was from the boot of Bell five minutes later that Macclesfield came within a lick of paint of a third. The mdifielder saw a corner break loose out of the edge of the area and hit a sweetly-struck first time shot that arrowed in on goal, only to cannon back off the left-hand upright. The Silkmen worked the rebound out to right-back Dan Cowan, but his fierce effort was well blocked by Garnham.

The AFC number one continued to be the only goalkeeper working for his wages, but he was not troubled by a header from visiting skipper John McCombe from a left-wing corner, which sailed well wide.

Moments later Austin made a good interception before carrying the ball into Macclesfield's half where he fed Rob Eagle to deliver a cross from which Wales threw himself in on, only to catch Neill Byrne as the centre-half headed clear, leaving him to receive extensive treatment on the pitch before being substituted for normal starter George Pilkington. At the same time, home manager Jamie Godbold decided it was time for Crow to come on to add a different dimension to his side's attack, with his captain, Clarke, who had been trying to run off a knock, withdrawn.

AFC adopted a 4-4-1-1 formation with Crow playing off Wales but it was again at the other end where a goal looked more likely to arrive as Garnham had to block with his legs to deny Bell after Sampson had broke free of French, with the defender calling in vain that the ball had crossed the sideline.

Crow almost played Wales in soon after but his hooked flick-on for his strike partner was too heavy and Ross was again first to it.

The hosts brought on midfielder Wayne Blackman for full-back Austin in the 83rd minute as they went three at the back, but a minute later they were 3-0 behind when Sampson provided an angled finish from substitute James Kingsley's smart ball.

Moments later saw AFC register their first shot on target, and only their second in total, of the match when Austin's shot-cum-cross after cutting in from the left touchline was held well by Ross at his near post.

But the goal they were desperate to provide for their biggest crowd of the season did arrive in the 87th minute when Wales showed a striker's instinct to dispatch Parker's through-ball inside the near post from a central position inside the area.

Sampson almost made it 4-1 moments after but, from a near-post angle, curled beyond Garnham, but also just over his far post.

The Yellows were buzzing brightly around their opponent's half with renewed energy, and a slip-up almost cost Macclesfield a nervy ending as a failed clearance left Blackman a sight of goal, only for the substitute to fire it straight at Ross.

Five minute of added time were played but it was the visitors who should have had the ball in the net again, Perel gility of lifting just over the far post from a good position.

In the end the result was no disgrace for AFC Sudbury who played their part in the 90 minutes, though two sloppy first-half goals always meant it was very much a supporting role.

Godbold's side return to Ryman League Premier Division on Tuesday, in their third straight home game, when third-placed Havant & Waterlooville, only two points off the top visit.

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