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02/03: Reports:

FA Cup Third Round, 04/01/03, 3pm
Macclesfield Town
By Matt Rowson

Okay, how's this for a coincidence. Saturday's game, our first against the Silkmen in any competition, takes place on the third anniversary of the resignation of perhaps their most lauded manager, Sammy McIlroy.

McIlroy, of course, had a long and distinguished career in the top flight and scored for Manchester United in the 1979 F.A. Cup Final. In vain, though, as this was the Final won dramatically by Arsenal via a late goal from Alan Sunderland, he of the outrageous perm.

Another player with big hair of the same period was legendary Wolves stopper George Berry... later a playing colleague of McIlroy's at Stoke. Berry was also a Welsh international at a time when a fair proportion of the international side was drawn from the Welsh professional sides... Robbie James and Alan Curtis at Swansea, for example, and Dai Davies and Joey Jones at Wrexham.

Our last visit to Wrexham was a freezing December night in 1997, two weeks to the day prior to our most recent victory in this competition. On that occasion, a Ronny Rosenthal header was equalised by another late goal, this from then Wrexham fullback Mark McGregor. This is the same Mark McGregor who was sent off at Vicarage Road whilst playing for Burnley at the end of November.

Mark is not, to my knowledge, any close relation of the actor Ewan McGregor, star of the recent Star Wars films and of Trainspotting, slightly less woodenly, amongst others. The Trainspotting soundtrack features the wonderful "Temptation", an early New Order single... and by coincidence, not only do New Order boast at least one Macclesfield-born member but it's lead singer Barney Sumner's 47th birthday on Saturday.

All of which goes to prove something, but I'm not entirely sure what and after two days spent largely stripping wallpaper to the detriment of my fingernails if to the lasting benefit of the hall, I'm not inclined to think about it too much.

F.A. Cup Third Round day is still tremendous, despite the misery that it has generally entailed from our own point of view in recent years. Macclesfield themselves have never progressed beyond this stage, and it goes without saying that Saturday sees a chance for the Cheshire club to forget about league concerns (and the slightly disconcerting prospect of a two-place trapdoor back to the Conference this season) and aim for a reasonable cup scalp. For us it's a no-win situation, really, a tie in which a win is expected and essential. The last time we won away in the F.A. Cup, however, was fifteen years ago and Trevor Senior hit the winner on that occasion so there are some freakish odds to overcome.

Having said which, there's a lot going for us on this occasion, not least the Silkmen's poor form which has seen them pick up three points from their last eight league games (prior to New Year's Day's trip to Wrexham), and a prodigious injury list which saw manager Dave Moss - who soiled several of our derby games in the early eighties - name only four subs for the draw at Exeter last Saturday.

In goal for Town will be Steve Wilson, once of Hull City. A decent stopper by Division 3 standards but with questionable distribution. His deputy is thirty-four year-old Lee Martin.

Fullbacks will be former Blackburn Rovers youthteamer Steve Hitchen, and 30,000 record signing and crowd favourite Danny Adams, recruited from traditional rivals Altrincham. Centrebacks against Exeter were thirty-three year-old Darren "Tarzan" Tinson and impressive Irish youngster Michael Welch. However both picked up knocks in that game, and the possible return of Dave Ridler from a knee problem adds further uncertainty to the selection. Ridler played twice against the Hornets for Wrexham in our Division Two days. Twenty year-old Paul O'Neill is another option here but former Crewe skipper Steve Macauley picked up an injury and has returned to Rochdale.

Injuries have left the Silkmen particularly depleted in midfield; Paul Aldridge, son of John and as aggressive as you might expect, is out long-term, Nigerian George Abbey also has a knock and the experienced Chris Priest has been suffering through illness. Youngster Michael Carr also limped out of the Exeter game but will serve a ban on Saturday in any case as a result of a dismissal against Darlington two weeks ago. Most dramatically, local hero Chris Byrne was attacked, beaten and shot, apparently by car thieves, near to his parents' home in Hulme in Novermber. Dave Moss was quoted as "not being totally surprised", which presumably is more of a reflection of Hulme than of his midfielder.

This leaves compulsive tackler Karl Munroe, who served a six match ban towards the end of last season for overindulgence in his hobby, as well as the home-grown Danny Whittaker. Ex-Oldham man Lee Hardy should play on the left, with the fourth midfield slot likely to go either to Priest or to reserve team goalscorer Steve Brackenridge.

Macclesfield have been struggling for goals, and a striker seems high on Moss' list of priorities as far as recruitment is concerned. Stockport's reserve striker Neil Ross is a confirmed target, but he has already played for County in this season's competition and so cannot feature on Saturday in any event. Kyle Lightbourne will certainly fill one of the two slots... now thirty-four, Lightbourne is Shaun Goater's strike partner for Bermuda. He is likely to play alongside David Eaton, who recently signed a season-long deal. Eaton is tall but quick, and has shown a willingness to run at defenders.

Neil Robinson may be another attacking option as he is due back from injury, but on-loan Crewe striker Colin Little, a scorer against us in the past, is out with a torn hamstring, and former Oldham man Matthew Tipton, a scorer in the last round, is also out.

To Moss Rose, then... a terrace (hurrah), and a new ground to tick off for most. A Cup run would be a welcome novelty but like my wallpaper stripping, there are awkward obstacles to be navigated first.