3rd December 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v Abbey Hey : 2-2
Two goals up and cruising at half-time, third-placed Linnets would have been out of sight at the break but for two superb saves from Abbey Hey's keeper Elliot Wynne.
However, the dynamic of the game changed soon upon the restart as the visitors pulled a goal back and insecurities hanging over from the punishing 3-1 midweek defeat at AFC Liverpool – Linnets' poorest performance of the season – resurfaced.
A disappointing five days was rounded off when Saturday's visitors snatched a last-gasp equaliser, leaving Runcorn to rue Wynne's heroics, defensive lapses and a missed penalty by skipper Kyle Hamid with the score at 2-1.
Mark Houghton, Linnets' 15-goal joint top scorer, had still not recovered from the injury – a frightful headlong collision with a pitch perimeter barrier – which had forced his substitution midway through the AFC Liverpool game.
Happily, hospital checks had shown there to be no serious damage and the striker was at the ground to watch from the sidelines as Brian Matthews, having replaced him at Marine Travel Arena, came in for his home debut.
Danny O'Brien resumed at right back after a lengthy injury absence while there were recalls for left back Danny McKenna, midfielder Adam Wade and Antony Hickey wide right in attack.
Before kick-off, all inside the Millbank Linnets Stadium observed a minute's silence in tribute to those who had lost their lives in the Colombia air disaster, imvolving the Brazlian football club, Chapecoense
Runcorn's first-half performance was such that there was no reason to suggest that the reshuffle to a more familiar line-up from that which had started in midweek would not work.
Matthews, newly arrived from Prestwich Heys without ever having played for the Manchester outfit, had opened his account for Linnets after just six minutes – a deft header from Paul Shanley's cross supplementing his tally of 16 goals in 24 appearances this term for Linnets' HSL Premier Division rivals, Congleton.
The hosts increased their lead in the 20th minute with a controversial second. Wade was initially credited with the goal, stemming from a right-wing cross by Hickey, but Matthews got a decisive touch on the shot from just outside the box.
That was the bone of contention for Abbey Hey as the striker was probably in an offside position. However, the effort was allowed to stand.
Abbey Hey had Elliot to thank for not conceding at least twice more as he produced too great stops to deny Paul Shanley, the first of these at his top left corner.
The saves were the inspiration for a stunning fightback from the team from Manchester.
Within three minutes of the restart, the game took on a different complexion all together as the Linnets were caught out by a cross which resulted in Hey halving their arrears with a looping Nico Collins header.
Even then, Linnets had an opportunity to put the contest to bed when Shanley was upended in the box but after seemingly waiting an age to take it, Hamid's spot-kick was tame.
This time, the luck was with Abbey Hey – in saving comfortably, Wynne had been well off his line as the ball was struck.
Wynne piled on the agony for Linnets by moving across goal to reach and tip over an excellent, curling free-kick from McKenna, reminiscent the set-piece from which the defender had scored at Maine Road earlier in the campaign.
But the pain was nothing to that felt when with three minutes left on the clock, Oliver Ford nipped in to exploit a misunderstanding to level.
Runcorn's defending had become increasingly haphazard and Ford nipped in to capitalise.
Viewed in perspective, the last two results must be seen as a blip rather than a crisis.
Even so, manager Michael Ellison will be demanding, and needs, the right response in this Saturday's home league game against New Mills (ko 3pm) to repair shaken confidence.
Runcorn Linnets: Hunt, McKenna, Lawton, Morris, O'Brien, McCarthy, Wade (Holt), Hamid, Matthews, Shanley, Hickey. Subs (not used): Wellstead, Roberts, Aley, Foster.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.
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