FA Cup 1st Round: Macclesfield Town 0 Walsall 0
The League Two table counted for nothing as Walsall and Macclesfield produced as poor a 90 minutes in which the visitors can have been involved this season.
Neither Walsall, the division’s leaders, nor the hosts, its whipping boys, can be sure of their passage into the next round of the FA Cup after a lacklustre encounter notable only for the late dismissal of Craig Pead.
The game looked to be passing without note until the right back’s crude challenge on Martin Bullock in the 80th minute drew a red card from referee Phil Joslin.
Pead threw himself into a challenge which, although he made contact with the ball, was reckless in that he had both feet off the ground.
As a result Pead could face a three-game ban with the only consolation being, if it is anything like this encounter, that he will miss next Tuesday’s replay.
That said Macclesfield’s start to the game belied their lowly league status as they fizzed the ball about the pitch and, at times, put real pressure on the visitors’ goal.
The source of their best moments was Simon Wiles, a wispy winger who gave Daniel Fox a torrid first 20 minutes.
Town might have opened the scoring in the second minute when a bout of head tennis ended with the Walsall defence coming up too square and John Murphy racing through. As the ball sat up invitingly the striker lifted his effort over the bar.
After eight minutes Clayton Ince’s dedication to his goal line turned what should have been a straightforward catch into an unfathomable riddle and Scott Danns had to react smartly to block Colin Heath’s close range shot.
Three minutes later Wiles floated across a delicious centre with which first Heath — who threw himself headlong — then Murphy failed to connect. Ince stood rooted to the spot when a more decisive intervention might have saved his defence some bother.
All Walsall managed in reply was a couple of speculative rangefinders from Hector Sam, one on 11 minutes and the second just before the break.
First the Tobagan did well to pick up Martin Butler’s flick and then flashed in a rising effort from 20 yards that skimmed the post.
If home goalkeeper Jonathan Brain had that covered he looked rather more concerned about Sam’s later attempt.
Mark Wright came inside to deftly nick the ball on halfway and his pass through was delicately weighted. Sam was away through the inside right channel and broke into the box only to skew his shot across the face of goal.
By that time the hosts’ early verve had all but dissipated and most of the second half was spent with Walsall trying to find a way back to Brain’s goal.
Wiles — the brightest presence in the opening period — barely registered in the second and he was replaced with 20 minutes to go. It was a fitting allegory to sum up the way industry had overpowered inspiration.
Ten minutes after the restart Macclesfield managed to string a series of passes together and progressed well from their own territory to within striking range.
Heath rolled invitingly across the D for Hadfield to hit but the midfielder lacked conviction and he sent the ball dribbling between bodies and straight to Ince.
At the other end all Walsall could muster was a tame header from Fox that barely threatened to wake Brain never mind defeat him.
And with 13 minutes left Fox picked up a dropping ball in the Macc area laid back for Kris Taylor who squared for Dean Keates. Sadly all he could manage was a tame effort that he blasted well over.
The only light moment of the evening came early in the second half when a gaggle of local ne’er-do-wells hoofed at least 20 footballs over the stand behind Ince’s goal and on to the pitch.
Even with a ball each none of the participants had enough gumption to find the net. To think that they’ve got to do it all again.
MACCLESFIELD (3-5-2): Brain; Swailes, Morley (McNulty 25), Scott; Wiles (Tolley 72), Navarro, Hadfield, Bullock, McIntyre; Murphy, Heath (McNeil 72). Substitutes not used: Miles, Weir-Daley.
WALSALL (4-4-2): Ince; Pead, Roper, Dann, Fox; Wright (Bedeau 67), Keates, Dobson, Taylor; Butler, Sam (Wrack 61). Substitutes not used: Kinsella, Demontagnac, Bossu
Referee: Mr P Joslin (Newark)