18th August 2018, Droylsden v Runcorn Linnets FC : 4-2
Runcorn Linnets' EVO-STIK League West Division debut ended in defeat on Saturday, but despite the 4-2 scoreline there were more positives than negatives to be taken.
An impressive second-half performance almost earned the visitors a share of the spoils.
There was a wonderful sense of occasion and excitement as the clock ticked towards 3pm.
The division's highest attendance of the day gathered at the Butchers Arms ground, a venue that has hosted National League football within the last 10 years as Droylsden reached the highest level in their history.
It's a big ground with lots of cover and terracing - creating a great atmosphere and adding to the realisation that we are now playing a whole new ball game after promotion last season.
Michael Ellison kept with the same starting eleven that had progressed in the FA Cup at Hallam six days earlier, with Kurt Sherlock a welcome addition to the substitutes bench on receipt of his international clearance and the player's return to full fitness.
Joining Kurt was new signing Niall Watson, son of Liam Watson who was a devastating goalscorer for the former Runcorn club before entering management with the Linnets and moving on to a hugely successful career managing at the higher end of the non-league game.
Niall joins us on a short-term deal from Accrington Stanley of League One.
The opening exchanges were played at a high pace by both sides with neither able to create a gilt-edged chance. The Bloods, as Droylsden are commonly known, started to take control after the opening quarter of an hour and took the lead with their first opportunity - the first of a series of gifts presented to them by Linnets.
A cross into the penalty area wasn't cleared and the loose ball fell to Sefton Gonzales, a couple of yards from goal. The big centre forward couldn't miss.
The Bloods had a good spell for the rest of the first half and doubled their lead with 30 minutes played.
Jimmy Moore tried to switch play from right to left but his low pass was intercepted by Liam Caddick, who ran into the space between Moore and Morris and fooled Dylan Forth with an early shot that bounced its way in off the left post.
The closest that Runcorn came in the first half was via a great free-kick from Louis Corrigan that drew a flying save from Chris Thompson.
Despite both of their goals being given to them on a plate, Droylsden deserved their lead at half time. They had been comfortable on the ball and used the width of the pitch well. It would have been no surprise had they gone on to see the game out comfortably, but the Linnets came out for the second half with a new level of belief and determination.
Taking control of the game, the visitors began to apply pressure on Thompson's goal and got themselves right back into the match on 53 minutes. A lovely move that swept across the pitch from right to left put Corrigan into a position to cross and his low ball into the box found Kyle Hamid who set up Freddie Potter from a few yards out. Potter made no mistake.
The Linnets' confidence was now high both on and off the pitch and the equaliser almost came on the hour when Corrigan's inswinging corner flew right across the six-yard box but somehow evaded everyone.
Paul Shanley was very unlucky to be a fraction offside as his cushioned header beat Thompson but was ruled out by a linesman. This was followed by another Corrigan free kick being saved well by the impressive Droylsden goalkeeper.
With Runcorn well on top, it was disappointing to concede a third goal completely out of nothing. A long punt forward was flicked on to Gonzales, who bore down on Dylan Forth's goal and took it around the goalkeeper to finish well, despite seeming to dwell on the chance for a split second too long.
Immediately from the kick off, Kyle Hamid almost pulled a goal back. A great move set the Linnet skipper up to thunder a half volley that drew another top- class save from Thompson.
Sherlock and Watson were both brought on, in place of Adam Gilchrist and Kris Holt, as Ello looked to get back into the game.
Almost immediately after coming on, the two substitutes combined to set up the Linnets' second goal. Watson's quick throw-in set Sherlock on a run up the right flank, and his pinpoint cross found Potter unmarked in the penalty area to head in and give his side another lifeline.
With the score at 3-2, to the hosts it was the Linnets who were in total control and came within a cat's whisker of grabbing an equaliser, which would have been thoroughly deserved.
Corrigan's free kick found th head of Potter, whose glancing header looked like bringing his hat trick - only for the ball to drop agonisingly wide of the far post with Thompson rooted to the spot.
There was to be another disallowed Linnets goal, this time a much easier decision for the linesman with Sherlock having made his run too early.
Linnets are well known for never throwing in the towel but when a very late attack broke down, it allowed Droylsden a counter attack with several options for Gonzales to choose from.
His cross to the far post found Sam Madeley, who turned the ball in to give a false impression of the day's events.
There was a great deal of pride and confidence to be taken from the Linnets' first showing as a Northern Premier League club, with the second half performance in particular being very impressive. The main lesson that we took from this game is that mistakes are going to be punished at this level, and that was all that separated the two sides.
Even then it took an inspired display from Chris Thompson in the Bloods goal to keep them in the game.
Attention now turns quickly to Tuesday evening, as EVO- STIK League football makes its long awaited return to the Town.
Chasetown are the first visitors of the new league season to the Millbank Linnets Stadium for what will be the first ever fixture between the two teams. Kick off on Tuesday is 7.45pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Adam Gilchrist. Subs: Kurt Sherlock, Ronnie McCarthy, Niall Watson. Not used: Danny O'Brien, Zack Dale.
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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