31st October 2017, Irlam v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-0By Dave Bettley
Runcorn Linnets suffered their second defeat of The Hallmark Security League season in the last match of what became Red October.
For the second time in the month, they were left counting the cost of multiple dismissals.
If three late sendings off at Hanley Town had come too late to affect the outcome, a 1-1 draw, two early exits influenced this result very heavily.
Despite a phenomenal effort from the remaining nine against 11, Linnets couldn't recover from the goal Irlam scored in between the two contrasting first-half red cards.
Unbelievably, Antony Hickey (in his first game back from a three-game suspension carried over from Hanley) lost his temper again, when trying to retrieve the ball for a Runcorn throw in front of the home dug out.
It was such an innocuous situation that few in the ground were fully focussed on it. But it seems as though the Linnets wide man kicked out at Irlam's number four, who was cautioned for his part in the incident as Hickey took the lonely walk back to the dressing room.
Within no time, and with Linnets still trying to regain equilibrium, Irlam took the lead when midfielder Matthew Boland fired across the bows of the Runcorn rearguard - the 15th minute shot finding its way into the bottom corner to Matt Holmes' right.
With only a quarter of the game gone, Runcorn found themselves further short of manpower as Jimmy Moore got his marching orders. Again, the referee had no alternative although the offence was entirely different and more understandable.
With the visiting defence stretched and an Irlam attacker running clean through, Moore was left with Hobson's choice of letting the player go - to almost certainly make it 2-0 - or bringing him down.
A foul as the last line of defence on the edge of the penalty area had inevitable repercussions.
The ensuing free-kick struck the bar but for the rest the half, the Runcorn goal lived a charmed life.
Linnets rallied to a degree for a spell towards the break but weren't helped when no action was taken as Paul Shanley was barged over while attacking deep inside the penalty area - without the defender responsible getting a touch on the ball.
Instead, it ran through to the goalkeeper with the referee waving play on.
Half-time gave Runcorn a welcome breather and chance to regroup. The visitors gave it their all in the second 45 minutes, getting their supporters, shell shocked by what had happened earlier, back on side and fully behind them.
Matt Holmes made an outstanding double save early on in the half, the 'keeper and his defence continuing to have an answer to hosts who by this time were looking puzzled by what ought to have been a straightforward enough task.
With Kyle Hamid and Michael Simpson mucking in from midfield, Linnets had the measure of the home side's probing. The problem was that as hard as Mark Houghton and Shanley tried, it was almost impossible to lay an attacking platform.
The gilt-edged chance they craved just wouldn't arrive. The nearest the visitors came was through further evidence of the diminutive Shanley's aerial ability in winning a header as he and Irlam's 'keeper converged on a high ball inside the area.
Both men were left flat out in the box but the winger's effort was off target.
Shanley was further denied when he manouevred himself into a position, again inside the box, to invite contact and was duly pushed in the back.
But again, there was no response, much to the consternation of the Linnets followers. Also largely disregarded was a late challenge on Hamid, which poleaxed the skipper, although at least the referee acknowledged the foul with a free-kick.
This was another in the line of backs-to-the-wall displays with which Runcorn have become synonymous, although this time they were unsuccessful.
It had been clear from an early stage they would get nothing from this game.
They simply can't afford to keep placing themselves in such perilous plight by damaging indiscipline.
But it was testimony of those left to continue the battle that Irlam ultimately felt the need to hold the ball in the corner to protect their lead.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Freddie Potter. Not used: Kasie Jones, Adam Jones, Mitch Bryant.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.