22nd April 2017, Squires Gate v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-2By Ste Bignall
Following Easter Monday's controversial draw at Hanley Town, further points were dropped on the road on Saturday afternoon in the penultimate fixture of the 2016-17 Hallmark Security League Premier Division campaign.
The Runcorn starting eleven had been unchanged from that at Hanley, perhaps surprising with Linnets manager Michael Ellison telling the local media that he planned to make changes to the team for the last couple of games, giving thought to players and tactics with next season in mind.
The visitors set about taking the initiative from the off, completely dominating proceedings in the first half. Gate were reduced to chasing down long clearances to try to carve out openings, something that they did with great endeavour.
The Linnets took a deserved lead midway through the first half when the devastating left foot of Danny McKenna yet again wreaked havoc from a set piece. His in-swinging corner evaded everyone before nestling in the back of the net.
The overall outcome of the match could well have been different had it not been for a magnificent save from Gate 'keeper Joe Griffith, throwing an arm at a point-blank strike from Kris Holt, following a lovely move between Holt and Anthony Hickey.
Shortly after this, Gate found their equaliser with their first foray into the Linnets penalty area. A ball forward from defence drew Adam Caunce off his goal line and once Tarren Moxon had beaten him to it, there was only going to be one outcome.
There was still time for Tom Hardwick to crash a header against the bar from a corner before half-time, the Linnets faithful heading to the clubhouse wondering how this game was not out of sight of our hosts.
The second half was a different affair with the Linnets threatening little and Gate taking control of the game. They wasted a couple of glorious chances before taking the lead with 15 minutes remaining.
A cross from the left found Brett Dawson unmarked six yards from goal and he had the simple task of nodding the home side ahead.
The response from the Linnets was immediate. Paul Shanley and Stu Wellstead had already been introduced by Ello and it was Wellstead once again, who made an impact after coming on from the substitutes bench.
He had his back to goal when taking control of Zac Aley's long throw and turned sublimely to roll the ball into the far corner of the net, Gate's rearguard totally unexpectant.
You could have been guilty of feeling that a Linnets winner would follow the equaliser, and the visitors did start to control the proceedings again. But a series of mistakes in the Linnets half gifted Gate a winning goal in injury time, a goal that secured their position in the league following a relegation scrap.
Hardwick won a tackle and advanced towards the half way line, shrugging off an attempted challenge along the way. However, the match official decided against the advantage and awarded the visitors a free-kick.
The forward momentum was lost when the free kick was played backwards to Adam Caunce in the Linnet goal, and a momentary lack of concentration by Caunce cost him dearly as he rolled a pass straight to Dawson.
From 25 yards out, he was then able to charge at goal without the inconvenience of a defence in front of him before wrongfooting Caunce to spark jubilant scenes of celebration and relief among everyone connected to Squires Gate.
A dumbfounded and tired looking Linnets left the pitch to uplifting applause from the sizeable away following, recognising that while this result and performance will soon be forgotten about, the season as a whole has been truly remarkable given the huge changes that have taken place at the club.
The players and coaching staff have worked wonders to take a title challenge that nobody believed was possible to the final fortnight of the season while frankly looking disappointed that it wasn't taken even closer.
Much has been learned by fledgling manager Michael Ellison, who will already be considering how we improve further next season.
Squires Gate: Joseph Griffith, Andrew Richards, Paul Alexander, Michael Hall, Paul Carroll, Daniel Penswick, Max Rothwell, Joseph Noblet, Brett Dawson, Tarren Moxon, Benjamin Slater. Subs: Mark Thornber, Charlie Waters, Jordan Casey. Not used: Conor Smith, Carey Moorhead.
Runcorn Linnets:Adam Caunce, Daniel McKenna, Thomas Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Daniel O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Zachery Aley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Paul Shanley. Not used: Michael Simpson, Christopher Lawton, Adam Wade.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.