22nd September 2018, Atherton Collieries v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-2
Linnets failed the second part of their catch-up test after coming through the first with flying colours.
Having breezed past one-time North West Counties rivals Colne a week earlier, the Linnets came unstuck against another of the sides who were promoted just ahead of them.
Had Michael Ellison's team started the game in the way they finhshed it, then they might have returned with something.
Linnets gave it everything in the latter stages, laying seige to the Colls goal.
But they ultimately paid for lack of impact in the first half and the slack defending, which enabled the hosts to gain the upper hand in the second.
At 3-1 down in the 88th minute, a Connor McCarthy thunderbolt strike gave the visitors a glimmer. Atherton withstood the concerted late pressure to retain all three points.
But the Linnets' onslaught will have given Colls something to ponder and Runcorn a useful springboard into this Saturday's Buildbase FA Trophy rematch on the same ground.
This Evo-Stik League Division One West encounter at a venue, where Linnets had not lost in four previous visits, triumphing on their last three, was dominated for the most part by the hosts.
Linnets had a rare old struggle to get into their stride before the break with Colls carrying the only genuine goal threat - although there were not many clear chances.
With the interval fast approaching goalkeeper Dylan Forth pulled off a stunning blocking save to deny Atherton the lead.
Michael Ellison took the opportunity at half-time to shake things up - withdrawing skipper Kyle Hamid and Niall Watson in favour of Kurt Sherlock and Connor McCarthy.
But before either had time to make an impact and the away side to settle back into the contest, the Linnets found themselves behind.
Within a minute, Jordan Cover set up Vinny Bailey to give Colls the lead - on the balance of play overdue.
Linnets found an unexpected pathway back when home 'keeper Dale Latham allowed a speculative Freddie Potter shot to slither through his fingers and in.
However, salvation was shortlived as Runcorn promptly found themselves trailing again, within two minutes.
The ball found its way, a little fortunately, out to Ben Conway whose cross was converted by the head of Matt Grimshaw.
Linnets were making a better fist of it by now but Colls squandered a chance to tie up the loose ends.
Dylan Forth made a fine save from an 82nd-minute penalty, awarded for a foul.
Within a minute, they looked to have sealed things as Danny Lambert punished Linnets for being unable to clear, steering home an eventual header from the left edge of the six-yard box.
Two minutes from the end of the 90, Connor McCarthy launched a memorable 30-yard missile - the ball going in off the bar for his first Linnets goal - to pull back the deficit to 3-2.
Linnets threw everything forward in the little time remainimg.
On an afternoon when they were far from at their best, this spirited finish will provided some compensation and further encouragement after a good opening to the campaign.
Overall, there can be no complaints at the result but Linnets know they can and will come back stronger from this defeat.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Niall Watson. Subs: Connor McCarthy, Kurt Sherlock, Danny O'Brien. Not used: Josh Dobie, Liam Collings.
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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