29th October 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v Ashton Athletic : 2-3By Ste Bignall
RUNCORN Linnets exited their second competition in the space of a week as Athletic pulled off a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down after 75 minutes to leave the MLS with victory and a passage into the last 16 of the Hallmark Security League's Macron Cup.
Changes were likely for the Linnets, who had stuck with a core of 11 or 12 players for a long run of games recently. With injuries sustained in the midweek win against Barnton, Saturday's team sheet showed three alterations from the usual.
New signing Zac Aley came in for his debut, filling in at left back, while having hitherto been limited to appearances as a non-playing substitute, Paul Jewell also made his first Linnets start at right back.
With Ronnie Mcarthy covering at centre half for another absentee, Chris Lawton, Kris Holt came into midfield.
The first half lacked quality from either side but it was Linnets, who almost opened the scoring early on when Martin Pearson in Ashton's goal pulled off a magnificent save to deny Kyle Hamid from a header.
Ashton began to threaten and had a goal ruled out for a foul on Tom Hunt before spurning a glorious chance to take the lead. Daniel Regan seemed to have too much time on his hands and hit the left post with only Hunt to beat.
Linnets started to grow into the game and opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time.
The impressive Aley picked up the ball on the left of the area and swung in a low cross that Hamid tucked away with a good finish, opening his body up to caress the ball into the bottom corner.
The second half started much the same as the first with moments of quality at a premium.
Ashton were looking the more likely with Linnets' extremely makeshift defence struggling to clear their lines at times.
However, when Mark Houghton doubled the Linnets' advantage with 25 minutes to go, most in the ground were guilty of feeling like it was job done for the home side.
Houghton was in the right place at the right time to apply the finish to Paul Shanley's low cross.
With 15 minutes to go, Ashton began a nine-minute spell that completely overhauled the tie.
It was difficult to see exactly what happened, but it appeared that a low free-kick from the right flank evaded everyone in the penalty area, where sub Bradley Aspinall applied the decisive touch.
At 2-1, Houghton had a glorious chance to kill the game off when sub Bev Burey's flick-on sent him clean through on goal but the resulting effort didn't overly test Pearson.
It was to prove a pivotal moment as Ashton drew level moments later after finding space on the right wing.
A low cross was drilled towards Aaron Morris, who couldn't get himself set to defend it and inadvertently turned the ball into his own net with Hunt stranded.
Ashton were in complete ascendancy now and had the legs on a tiring Linnets side.
They got the winning goal when an inadvisable back heel near the Linnets penalty area didn't come off as intended and Marcus Cusani curled the loose ball over Hunt and into the top corner to score an absolutely stunning winner.
The general feeling at the final whistle was that Ashton had ultimately deserved the win.
A completely reshuffled Linnets back four had struggled to contain them and, as the game wore on, Runcorn began to tire, no doubt feeling the effects of a relentless run of games recently.
However, Michael Ellison will still have been disappointed to lose a home game from 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go, and will have no doubt picked up more valuable information about the many foils of football management.
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Hunt, Zac Aley, Ronnie McCarthy, Aaron Morris, Paul Jewell, Adam Wade, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Sub: Bevan Burey. Not used: Taylor Kennerley, Matt Cross.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.