16th August 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v Winsford United : 0-2 Sponsored by The Fore GolfersBy Ste Bignall
The Linnets' first midweek fixture of the 2016-17 season showed much to be encouraged about, particularly in the first half, but ultimately ended in disappointment as two late goals for the opposition ensured the visitors travelled home to their part of Cheshire with three points.
The evening before the game it was announced that new gaffer Michael Ellison had made his latest signing, former Runcorn Town goalkeeper Danny Lever being thrust straight into the starting eleven in an otherwise unchanged team from Saturday's 2-2 draw with West Didsbury & Chorlton.
Winsford forced a few early corners but the first good chance fell to Linnets, Antony Hickey's charging run and cross fell just behind Paul Shanley six yards out, the winger not quite able to adjust his body to tap home.
Much of the play was confined to midfield but out of nowhere, Winsford were given a golden opportunity to take the lead when a long ball caught Linnets back four flatfooted. When Lever came racing off his line in a bid to clear, he clattered into the onrushing opponent in Blue and gave away a stonewall penalty.
Last season, this would also have been met with a straight red card, But under the amended "triple punishment" rule, it is no longer an automatic red card for a player or goalkeeper bringing down an opponent while acting as the last line of defence in their own penalty area.
In cases, where a genuine attempt has been made to play the ball, officials are allowed to give a penalty and only caution the offender for denying a scoring opportunity.
This rule alteration helped to ensure Danny's Linnets debut lasted longer than 30 minutes.
The penalty was well struck towards the top corner but came crashing back off Lever's left post and away to safety, a huge let off for the home side.
From the clearance, Bevan Burey drove at pace through the heart of Winsford's spine and into the box, but dragged his shot just wide of the far post.
The second half started much the same as the first, a bit of a midfield battle with cutting edge quality not playing much of a part for either side. But the Linnets did enjoy a good spell where Hickey managed to latch on to a through ball but only for the 'keeper to smother.
From the resulting corner, Kevin McGrath's header was cleared off the line by a Winsford defender.
Winsford were lively on the counter attack and a quick break down the right almost broke the deadlock but the ball drifted inches wide of the far post. Taylor Kennerley and Allan Collins replaced Hickey and Burey as Ello went searching for the win.
But the opposite occurred as Winsford took the lead on 78 minutes. Andy Thorpe was muscled off the ball by the right touchline and although Winsford's Scott Taylor still had much work to do, he cut in at pace from the right to smash a shot low past Lever's near post to give the visitors the lead.
Controvesy surrounded the goal as Linnets were in uproar that an earlier foul on Paul Shanley was not rewarded with a penalty. At the same time, confusion between the referee and his assistant over Hickey's substitution caused many of the Linnets players to take their eye off the ball while the intended change was made.
The referee, however, overruled the linesman's signal to wave play on. This knocked the stuffing out of the Linnets and Winsford were the much stronger side for the last 10 minutes and scored a perhaps undeserved second goal to secure the points.
A throw-in from the left was gathered by Nathan Cotterell and, similar to Taylor before him, he ran straight through the middle of the Linnets defence to find himself one on one with Lever and finish with aplomb.
There were signs in the game of a good Linnets side starting to take shape, but it is very much in the taking shape stage. There are several players still unavailable, including our captain and vice captain, and further new signings in the pipeline.
Results like this will happen when a side is going through such a transition, but the footings are being laid for what is looking like an exciting new chapter.
Runcorn Linnets: Danny Lever, Dan McKenna, Chris Lawton, Kev McGrath, Andrew Thorpe, Adam Wade, Aaron Morris, Bevan Burey, Antony Hickey, Paul Shanley (capt), Marcus Cusani. Subs: Allan Collins, Taylor Kennerley, Tony Donaldson. Not used: Danny O'Brien, Adam Donohue.
Winsford United: Michael Langley, Adam Bayley, Lee Duckworth, James Rothwell, Samuel Parr, Steven Jenyons, Scott Taylor, Harry Brazel, Kyle Riley (capt), Nathan Cotterell, Dean Clarke. Subs: Liam Collins, Brandon Moores, Daniel Egan, Aaron Stott, Daniel Osborne.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.