Football: Fields of dreams for Macclesfield

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The Independent Online
A hat-trick scored in the space of 20 first-half minutes by Chris Byrne sent Macclesfield Town charging into the Third Division of the Nationwide Football League, the first GM Vauxhall Conference champions allowed to make the step up for four years.

The kick-off at Kettering Town had been delayed for 15 minutes because of crowd congestion and the hosts were ahead after only eight minutes through Neil Lyne. But Macclesfield have been scoring prolifically in their recent run - 16 wins and a draw in 19 games as they swept past Kidderminster Harriers, who had led the Conference by 15 points at the start of the year - and they were level a minute later through Peter Davenport.

Byrne scored his first in the 11th minute and by the 31st the game, and the championship, was to all intents and purposes over with Town 4-1 up. Their manager, Sammy McIlroy, had no doubt where the day ranked in his footballing life. "I've played in World Cup finals and FA Cup finals at Wembley. But this has got to be my greatest achievement and proudest moment in football. We needed the kick-start that Kettering's early goal gave us but after that I felt we were always on top and thoroughly deserved our goals."

Kidderminster, meanwhile, were losing 3-1 at midtable Gateshead. "Pressure and nerves along with events unfolding elsewhere played a part in a disappointing performance," Graham Allner, the Harriers manager, said.

Macclesfield's late surge to elevation has been achieved against a background of tragedy - their chairman Arthur Jones, who was financing the club and its ground expansion at Moss Road, shot himself last September and the club's very existence has been in jeopardy ever since.

In the Nationwide Second Division, Bury celebrated their second successive promotion by going up as champions. They beat Millwall 2-0 while Stockport County were held 1-1 at Luton Town. Crewe Alexandra claimed the final play-off place with a 1-1 draw at York City. So Luton play Crewe and Brentford face Bristol City, the first-named teams having home advantage in the second legs.

The top three promoted sides in the Third Division all won, which meant that the morning leaders Wigan Athletic claimed the title.

The division's remaining play-off issue was decided at Sincil Bank when Lincoln City lost to Rochdale. All the more galling for the Imps' fans because Cardiff City, the team whose play-off place was in peril, lost 2-1 at Darlington. Northampton now play Cardiff and Swansea meet Chester.

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