5th May 2018, AFC Liverpool v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-2
The newly-named champions made their final away journey as a Hallmark Security Premier Division club on Saturday, and with promotion to the EVO-STIK (Northern Premier) League already secured, it was slightly ironic that our last Counties trip was to the home of an EVO-STIK club!
Marine FC hosts AFC Liverpool home matches, and AFC Liverpool away has been a very unhappy fixture for the Linnets over the years!
Ello made several changes to his starting line-up with a tough 3 games in 5 days to contend with as the season drew to a close.
Setting his side up in a shape that few in attendance could fathom, the manager handed Chris Lawton, Adam Jones, Stu Wellstead and Mitch Bryant returns to the starting eleven.
There were also positional changes for players throughout the team.
AFC Liverpool proved exemplary hosts, their players lining up in a guard of honour to welcome the Linnets on to the pitch – a terrific gesture, which was to be replicated by Runcorn Town ahead of the Bank Holiday derby. All in attendance gave a rousing round of applause in recognition.
AFCL had it all to play for, being in the deep end of a relegation battle. But, with the championship already in the bag, if anyone thought Linnets were just going to make up the numbers in the glorious Crosby sunshine then they were very much mistaken.
The Linnets turned in an excellent 1st half performance, AFCL struggling to get any foothold in the game - chasing shadows for most of the first 45 minutes.
Stu Wellstead, tussling with Freddie Potter to end the season as Linnets top scorer, got the opening goal early on when he showed more determination than the AFCL defence to get a head to Danny O'Brien's in-swinging corner,
Stuey barged his way through to head in from a few yards out.
Mitch Bryant was also proving hard to deal with for AFCL's defence and he almost teed up Kyle Hamid with a terrific piece of skill - lifting the ball over his marker's head before lofting a cross over to Hamid, who was a stud length away from sliding the ball over the line.
However, midway through the 1st half, Bryant got the goal his endeavours deserved. Mike Simpson picked out a great pass to set Wellstead through on goal, and despite the 'keeper making a great save to deny Stuey, the ball looped back off the crossbar and fell straight to Bryant, who made no mistake from a couple of yards out.
The second half was even more eventful than the first as the tables turned - AFCL without doubt the more threatening side at this stage as they desperately tried to get something from the game.
With 30 minutes still to play, AFCL dragged themselves back into the game with a brilliant strike by Elliot Nevitt, smashing the ball past Dylan Forth from just inside the penalty area.
They had a goal disallowed soon after in what looked like a generous decision by the match official. This was followed immediately by Linnets having a goal chalked off themselves as Mitch Bryant's sliding finish was adjudged to have come from an offside position.
Linnets attacks became rare as the defence took charge of trying to get the team over the line for the win.
As the match moved into its final 10 minutes, there was an amazing passage of play. A long ball caught Danny O'Brien out and sent Lyons through on goal.
He lobbed the outrushing Dylan Forth and could only look on as a looping effort dropped against the post.
It rolled out to Nevitt, who had an open goal to aim at from six yards and pulled the trigger. But out of nowhere came O'Brien with a flying goal line clearance, without a doubt one of the best and most unbelievable you will ever see!!
AFCL refused to accept defeat and with the last kick of the game came within an inch of scoring a bizarre, much sought-after equaliser.
With the danger seemingly under control, Chris Lawton's routine clearance cannoned off the shin of Zach Hardacre inside the penalty area and the ball zipped goalwards, leaving Forth rooted to the spot.
From my position, and most positions in the ground, it looked like a miracle goal had arrived for AFCL as the ball rippled the net. However it had spun into the side netting.
The full-time whistle was greeted with the same level of celebration as has been witnessed after wins at all points of the season.
Leaving AFC Liverpool with anything has proved extremely difficult over the years. To sign off our away duties in this historic season with a rare away victory against them added an even more delicious topping to an already oh so sweet cake!
The players left the pitch to a packed dressing room corner of the ground, the Linnets faithful congregating around the tunnel to serenade their heroes with cries of "Championes, ole ole ole".
Our next sway league fixture is currently unknown, but it's going to be against an EVO-STIK League West Division club. Sounds great doesn't it?!
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Matt Atherton, Chris Lawton, Kieran Nolan, Adam Jones, Michael Simpson, Danny O'Brien, Kyle Hamid, Stuart Wellstead, Mitch Bryant, Louis Corrigan. Subs: Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey. Not used: Paul Shanley, Matt Cross, Terry Smith (GK).
Other match day duties prevented me from bringing you the match report from the Runcorn derby. I can't remember the score, but I do remember Kyle Hamid lifting the Championship trophy in a sea of glorious yellow and green all around the MLS.
I feel truly privileged to have been the official match reporter in our title-winning season. My name will forever be in print for my children and grandchildren to look back on when they (are forced to) read the Squires Gate match report, which I was lucky enough to be able to write as we clinched the league title, prompting the big celebrations that followed.
I'm no journalist; I've had no training whatsoever, and I only got a C in GSCE English literature (a while ago!). So when I write a match report, I just try and write in the way I would explain it to someone, who wasn't there. I really try my best to paint a picture of the games, always particularly conscious of remote but loyal supporters who rarely get to see a game.
And I will never break from my belief that I have to call it as it was, good or bad.
In truth, as a football fanatic and purist, it's a joy for me to report on such a fantastic team. The bad has been extremely rare, with the good seemingly never ending!
And while I'm on the subject, let me just remind everyone that Runcorn Linnets is made up of another crucially important team - the team off the pitch whose work many of us never see; our loyal, hardworking, dedicated team of volunteers, whose actions give us the wonderful club that we all enjoy so much.
I salute each and every one of you. Enjoy your Championship!
I hope that you have all enjoyed reading the reports this season as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
And I cannot wait to start again next season, when I will get to describe a whole load of new grounds to you all as we launch our assault on the Northern Premier League!
Have a great summer everyone!!
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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