4th February 2017, New Mills v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-2By Ste Bignall
For the third time this season, Runcorn Linnets failed to win a game after holding a two-goal lead, leaving New Mills on Saturday with a disappointing 2-2 draw - having been in a very strong position with an hour of the game played.
This was the Linnets' first visit to Church Lane since the Millers returned to the Hallmark Security League following relegation from the Evo-Stik League Division One North last season.
It's one of the more picturesque grounds that we visit, although on the day the pitch was understandably heavy and sticky following the recent rain across the region but certainly playable.
There were a couple of changes to the side with Mike Simpson taking up position in the centre of midfield, and Stu Wellstead starting on the right of the front three with Anthony Hickey being unavailable due to suspension.
Things started well for the visitors with Paul Shanley getting the early goal that he more than deserves with his endeavours week in, week out - finishing well from close range.
Both sides struggled to play crisp football as it seemed at times like the ball had superglue on it, sticking firmly to the pitch and offering little bounce or roll.
Wellstead had a glorious chance to double the Linnets' lead as half-time approached when we went racing through on goal but opted not to shoot and instead waited for one of his colleagues to arrive into the box with a better angle.
His pass picked out Adam Wade, who got the ball slightly stuck under his foot but still managed to get a fierce shot away that the Millers 'keeper, Oliver Martin did very well to block.
On the stroke of half-time, New Mills were reduced to ten men when their No.8, Samuel Scott was given a second yellow card for a late tackle on Mark Houghton.
It was harsh as his first booking was for a very minor offence but this set the tone for what was to follow in the second half.
Upon the restart, Linnets (now kicking down the considerable slope) looked to extend their lead. Only five minutes in, we got the sought-after second.
Mike Simpson intercepted an attempted cross field pass and drove into the box at pace and with the 'keeper off his line to narrow the angle, Simmo executed a great early finish into the bottom corner to give Runcorn a comfortable-looking two-goal lead against 10 men.
Soon after the Linnets had doubled their lead, New Mills lost another player. This one was a correct decision as the left back, Jamie Kay dived in over the top of the ball and caught Danny O'Brien full force on the ankle.
With the visitors having a two-goal lead against nine, you could have been forgiven for feeling that the win was now a given, but New Mills had other ideas.
Having played an almost non-existent role as an attacking force to this point, the Millers suddenly roared into life when the chips were well and truly down.
A driving run from midfield got their No.7, Samuel Marshall around Zac Aley and as he cut across towards goal, he was brought down by Aley for a clear penalty, from which NWCL journeyman attacker Nathan Neequay sent Tom Hunt the wrong way to give New Mills a glimmer of hope.
It took the nine men only four minutes to get themselves right back in the game when Warren Gaskin scored a magnificent equaliser.
Feelings amongst the Linnets faithful was that much more could have been done to prevent Gaskin from getting a shot of any description away, but despite being on the floor and under pressure from Wellstead, the Millers player managed to get back on his feet and let fly with an effort from 20-plus yards.
It flew into the top corner, nestling in the back of Tom Hunt's net after hitting the framework of the goal supporting it.
Michael Ellison brought on Freddie Potter for his first appearance since re-signing but it was the Millers who were now in the ascendancy and it took a good near-post save from Hunt to prevent them taking the lead.
The dynamic of this enthralling fixture took another turn with 15 minutes remaining when skipper Kyle Hamid was sent off for what can only be described as an excellent tackle.
The ball was won, it was one-footed and at ground level. For a second, it looked as though the referee wasn't even going to give a foul, and the whole ground was stunned when he eventually blew up and produced a 'straight' red card.
Very harsh on the Linnets captain, just like the sending off had been harsh on the Millers No.8 in the first half.
Potter had a few half chances to no avail as the Linnets refocused on trying to win the match. There was no lack of effort but there was a lack of quality with passes going astray and balls being snatched at.
It looked certain that the winning goal had arrived in stoppage time, Wellstead drawing a magnificent save from the home goalkeeper after getting in on goal and shooting high and hard. There was a feeling of disbelief when a fingertip turned it around the upright and secured the Millers a huge point in their fight to remain in the division.
There was still time for another red card, the fourth in total, this time for Chris Lawton who was given his marching orders for a second booking. That the match official could find it necessary to show four red cards and numerous yellows in a very competitively-fought game of very little bad blood has still got me scratching my head.
Poor decisions ruined this game from a footballing perspective for both sides.
There won't be many in the Linnets camp who don't feel that this is the most disappointing result of the season. It's indefensible not to win a game in from two goals up against nine men with 30 minutes to play.
Even at 1-2 we should have been able to see the game out, but as soon as New Mills scored their penalty, you could feel the panic set in as has happened a few times this season.
The dejection on the faces of every member of the playing and coaching squad at full-time made it clear that they know that this was two points dropped from a great height.
New Mills: Oliver Martin, Lanre Olopade, Jamie Kay, Ryan Hopper, Michael Jones, Warren Gaskin, Samuel Marshall, Samuel Scott, Nathan Neequaye, Darcy O'Connor, Dylan Stringer-Moth. Subs: Dennis Sherriff, Luke Podmore. Not used: Joseph Armstrong, Callum Collinson.
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Hunt, Zac Aley, Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Adam Wade, Michael Simpson, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs: Freddie Potter, Kristian Holt, Danny McKenna. Not used: Tom Hardwick, Kieran Nolan.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.