18th September 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Warrington Town : 1-1 [Pens:5-4]
It was set pieces all around at the sodden Millbank Linnets Stadium on Tuesday night, as Runcorn Linnets made their Integro League Cup debut against Warrington Town and ended up with a penalty shootout victory from an entertaining but wet encounter.
Linnets won on penalties after replying from the spot in normal time to Warrington's free-kick opener.
The Integro League Cup is the Northern Premier League's Challenge Cup competition, with clubs from the three divisions - Premier, East and West - entering at the first round, a refreshing and traditional change from the increasingly complex systems of seeding and mini-leagues that some cup competitions now use.
The visitors have made a great start to their Premier Division season and like Linnets currently lie second in their table.
The Premier is the tier above Linnets' division and does not have a regional East/West split.
With this game falling in the middle of a busy run of fixtures, both managers took the opportunity to shuffle their playing pack.
Ello brought in Matt Holmes, Danny O'Brien, Josh Dobie, Liam Collings, Connor McCarthy, Kurt Sherlock and Bobby Evans in a much changed line-up from Saturday's win against Colne.
The game was played in pretty atrocious conditions, a heavy downpour starting just before kick off and not relenting until nearly full time. This did, however, make the pitch fast and zippy - encouraging both sides to try to play good football, despite the difficulties.
It was a good half an hour before there was a serious threat to either goal, and with it came the opener.
Linnets gave away a free-kick on the left sideline of the 18- yard box and with a two-man wall facing him, Warrington's own Robert Evans drilled a low free-kick past the wall to beat Matt Holmes at his near post.
The goal kicked the hosts into life and Ellison's men set about getting themselves back into the game.
Youngster Collings was very unlucky not to draw his side level when he rode a few challenges to get into the penalty area but his effort on goal came back off a post.
Connor McCarthy was looking the biggest threat for the Linnets, regularly beating his marker to make runs at goal. He had an effort saved by the goalkeeper before being clipped in the penalty area without reward from the match official.
But another McCarthy run did force the official's hand as he was clearly pulled back when bearing down on goal, a penalty being given.
Louis Corrigan made no mistake with the last kick of the first half to level up proceedings.
The second half was more disjointed than the first, with neither side able to take a foothold. Warrington had the better of the chances and drew three excellent saves from Matt Holmes.The Linnets goalkeeper not only saved but each time kept hold of fierce and slippery shots from outside the penalty area.
Michael Ellison threw on the big guns of Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley and Kyle Hamid for the last 20 minutes as he looked to take his side through to the next round.
While their introductions created a real difference in quality between the two sides, it didn't bring about a goal and the full-time whistle blew with the scores at 1-1.
With the sensible rule of skipping extra time in force for this competition, it was straight to penalty kicks.
Danny O'Brien had his kick saved, as did Josh Amish for Warrington. The score was 4-4 as the shootout moved into sudden death.
Paul Shanley converted the Linnets' sixth penalty to put the pressure on Warrington's Jacob Shield, and Shield rattled the crossbar with his effort to put his team out of the competition and Linnets through to the second round, the draw for which has not yet been made.
This was another very pleasing night for the Linnets, who make progress in a cup competition against higher ranked opponents.
It was also a display of the strength in Ellison's squad that the manager can make changes when needed but still get results against good opposition.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Peter Wylie, Josh Dobie, Danny O'Brien, Ronnie McCarthy, Michael Simpson, Liam Collings, Connor McCarthy, Kurt Sherlock, Bobby Evans. Subs: Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Kyle Hamid. Not used: Aaron Morris, Kieran Nolan.
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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