Marine tasted that sinking feeling for the first time in 12 matches after their unbeaten run was ended at home to Macclesfield.
A goal on either side of the break from John Rooney and Tre Pemberton proved to be the difference as Fin Sinclair-Smith reduced the arrears late on.
The buoyant Mariners continued their mammoth run of fixtures, just 48 hours separated their hard-fought 1-0 win over FC Halifax Town in the FA Cup and the visit of the Silkmen.
Ten wins and two draws springboarded Neil Young’s side back into the playoff conversation following two straight defeats to Hyde United and Whitby Town. However, they encountered a Macclesfield side battling the right the wrongs of their back-to-back defeats.
Alfreton Town ended their historic cup run and days earlier, squandered a three-goal lead against league leaders Radcliffe, who came from behind and extended their lead at the Northern Premier League summit.
Paul Dawson, who took the armband for Macclesfield against Marine, was a standout player with Rooney, Luke Duffy, Sam Curran and Neil Kengni adding attacking threats on Tuesday night.
On the stroke of half-time, it was the former Barrow, Stockport County and Oldham Athletic playmaker that broke the deadlock. Rooney rifled the ball into the roof of the net from close range after Curran’s good work.
By then, Macclesfield could’ve had a comfortable lead going into the break. Curran and Pemberton both looked up despairingly at the gods after squandering golden chances from close range during the first 45.
It could’ve been a different story for Marine when they came agonisingly close to opening the scoring. Half of the 1,444 in attendance at Rossett Park thought the hosts were in front when Fin Sinclair-Smith’s deft chip looped over Conor O’Keefe only to hit the post.
Three minutes after the break, the visitors doubled their lead. Pemberton atoned for his earlier miss by flinging himself towards the ball, converting a diving a side after Duffy burst to the byline before clipping a cross towards the back post.
Macclesfield would’ve had the memory of their slump against Radcliffe fresh in their minds after taking a two-goal lead, and their concerns would’ve undoubtedly intensified with 15 minutes to play.
Last season’s Northern Premier League West champions were carved open by Marine’s attack before Sinclair-Smith cooly slotted past O’Keefe to halve the deficit.
Young’s men huffed and puffed but they couldn’t break down the Macclesfield rearguard to earn a point.
“Tonight, we wasn’t at our best but we kept going,” the Marine boss admitted speaking to Off The Park. “In the last 15 or 20 minutes, I thought if we would’ve got a point… Dick Turpin, at least he wore a mask but overall they deserved to win that game.”
Next time out, Marine face a different test to the one they faced on Tuesday night from Macclesfield when Lancaster City visit the Marine Travel Arena. The possibility of fatigue could be pinned on their display against the Silkmen but they came up against a side with a point to prove, who duly delivered.
The task now for the Mariners is ensuring that their drop in standards is nothing more than a blip.
“I always thought the Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday continually with the cup run and the 42-day rule (rescheduling matches) I thought was always going to bite us,” Young added.
“We’re not looking for excuses, I’m looking for reasons, I just think we ran out of steam but you have to say the opponent was very good.
“It’s a tough game Lancaster, a different type of game, more physical. We can’t throw away what we’ve done in 12 games in 60 minutes, it’s not something we do. We go back, look at it, look at the areas we need to do better.
“Two things stick out for me, they were very good – that’s the key thing in it all – and we wasn’t at the races fatigue-wise, physically.
“When we’ve won with two lads up front, they’ll nick us a goal like they have done tonight but we need to be better in other areas in order to nullify the opposition and we wasn’t able to do that tonight.”