25th March 2017, Bootle v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-2RUNCORN Linnets combined their propensity for pulling off dramatic late victories with an ability to come from behind for outstanding top-of-the-table success in The Hallmark Security League Premier Division.
A free-kick by Danny McKenna, which deflected in off the Bootle defensive wall, saw Linnets to a memorable three points after they had played superbly with 10 men for three quarters of the game, only to find themselves trailing against the overall run of play in the 80th minute.
Even Linnets, who had made good deficits to triumph in their previous three games, must have feared that this would not be their day and effectively the end of their outside title hopes after a speculative, raking cross from the left by Michael Ordish had found Ben Hodkinson just outside the area.
The Bootle substitute didn't need a second invitation as he curled a rare if, unstoppable, effort by the hosts – left-footed, high and true to Matt Holmes' right.
This second-placed Linnets side is made of strong stuff, however, and had the confidence, audacity and wherewithal to bounce back, stunning the hosts who as a result are four points worse off than their visitors but with three games still in hand.
Bootle were the only team in the top five not to win on Saturday and their defeat has only strengthened the hand of leaders, Atherton Collieries.
Colls remain two points clear of Linnets, who have played 36 matches compared to the pacesetters' 33.
However, with their visit to Atherton coming up this Saturday, Michael Ellison's side are keeping themselves in with a shout.
The denouement to an excellent and intriguing encounter at The Delta Taxis Stadium, where Linnets had not won in 10 previous attempts – Runcorn having had just four draws to show for their efforts – will be talked about by fans for many years to come.
Bootle must have thought with their late breakthrough that they had laid the ghost of a 5-0 horror-show defeat at The MLS in early October. If that had been the Runcorn performance and result of the season thus far, then it is no longer.
Manager Ellison and assistant Matt Cross, who could hardly have wished for a better birthday, had seen their side have the better of things following the controversial 27th-minute dismissal of Paul Shanley.
The red card came after an exchange of 'afters' with Bootle left back Tony Rendell, who was shown only a yellow for his part in the altercation, which would no doubt have been subject to much more debate among the Linnets faithful had things not turned out as they did.
But the introduction off the bench of Stuart Wellstead, Kyle Hamid and Michael Simpson was to prove a masterstroke by the Linnets management as all three had a major influence on the turnaround.
With just four minutes of normal time left, Runcorn got back on level terms as Wellstead romped clear of the Bootle rearguard only to be foiled by Ryan Jones.
With claims for a penalty going unheard, Simpson followed up to fire home the rebound.
The ecstatic celebrations were nothing compared to the unbridled emotion which followed six minutes into the stoppage allocation.
Wellstead, again terrifying the Bootle defence, was brought down just outside the area.
Everything rested on the teenage shoulders of McKenna, who fresh from scoring the opener from an almost identical position last time out, at home to Congleton Town seven days earlier, whipped in another left-foot free-kick.
There was an element of luck as the ball ricocheted off Bootle's Carl Peers, part of the human barrier lined up by Jones – wrong footing the 'keeper who was moving to his left as the ball spun away to his right.
The good fortune on Runcorn's part was accompanied by an over-riding feeling that justice had been done.
The Linnets' 10 men were the more creative than Bootle's usually prolific eleven and Freddie Potter had been the thickness of the woodwork away from deservedly sending them in front in the first half.
Potter, whose all-round endeavour was colossal, was arguably man of the match for Linnets.
It would be wrong and unfair, however, to single out individuals in what was very much a collective effort and an already considerable team spirit will only have been raised another notch ahead of the challenge awaiting Runcorn at Atherton Colls this weekend.
Once thing is for certain. They will be more than ready for it.
Bootle: Ryan Jones, Anthony Rendell, Michael Ordish, Daniel Murphy, Joel Powell, Paul Woolcott, Kieran Halligan, Liam Loughlin, Steven Jones, Carl Peers, Ryan Cox. Subs: James Howell, Ben Hodkinson, Michael Carberry. Not used: Daniel O'Connor, Steven Hoy.
Runcorn Linnets: Matthew Holmes, Daniel McKenna, Thomas Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Zachery Aley, Mark Houghton, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Michael Simpson, Kyle Hamid. Not used: Christopher Lawton, Matthew Cross.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.