2nd October 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Radcliffe FC : 0-0 Sponsored by Grangeside Automotive Engineers of Runcorn
Table topping Runcorn Linnets hosted third-placed Radcliffe Borough under the Millbank Linnets Stadium lights on Tuesday night in a mouthwatering EVO-STiK League Division One West fixture, and while the history books will show the result as a goalless stalemate the match itself was high on entertainment and strong performances by both sides.
Michael Ellison's Linnets side were looking to bounce back from Saturday's disappointing Buildbase FA Trophy defeat, but came into the game buoyed by the news on Monday that we have been named EVO-STIK West Club of the Month for September - the kind of accolade on which we had missed out throughout the whole of our NWCL title winning season.
What an achievement it is for the whole club, to be sitting top of the league table and being officially named club of the month after a month and a half at this level! Proud!!
The starting eleven had a much more familiar feel than the one that had lost out to Atherton Colls, although Ello opted to stick with the 4-4-2 formation with which he has been tinkering lately.
This gave the first opportunity for the potentially lethal-looking strike partnership of Freddie Potter and Connor McCarthy to start a home game as an attacking pair.
From the kick off, it was clear that both sides had come to play football and take all three points.
Holt had the first half-chance for Linnets, when he was set up by the chest of Freddie Potter, but his shot was pulled just wide from outside the penalty area.
Linnets were asking a lot of questions of a well-drilled Radcliffe rearguard, and with 21 minutes played, they could have been awarded a penalty for two separate incidents.
Kyle Hamid beat a man to power into the penalty area before being brought down from behind.
Granted, it was close to the edge of the area and the referee, on blowing his whistle, immediately looked over to his assistant for guidance on the location of the foul.
With the linesman non-committal, the referee probably felt too uncertain to give the penalty and instead awarded a free-kick on the line of the 18-yard box.
Danny O'Brien sent the set-piece goalwards and the ball's path was blocked by a flailing arm of a Radcliffe player at the end of the defensive wall. But again, no spot-kick was forthcoming.
The big chance of the match came on 26 minutes to the usually ruthless Connor McCarthy. O'Brien had picked out the run of Paul Shanley with a superb pass to the far post and Shanners unselfishly headed the ball across the goal line, into McCarthy's path.
It could only have been a momentary lapse of concentration as McCarthy swung his boot over the top of the ball when any contact at all would have broken the deadlock. Instead, the ball trickled past the goal post and out of play.
Kieran Nolan picked up a booking midway through the half, soon followed by the first of a seemingly endless string of magnificent saves by Radcliffe's goalkeeper Ollie Martin.
Another delightful passage of Linnets play worked the ball infield from the right wing and found Freddie Potter lurking outside the penalty area.
The Wizard's low shot looked to be bending its way into the far bottom corner until it was tipped around the post at full stretch by Martin.
First-half injury time saw another top save from Martin as McCarthy forced his way into the penalty area and got a powerful shot away from 10 yards.
But Martin was out quickly to make a brave block.
Half-time came and Ello's men were very unlucky to be going in for their oranges without a good lead. It had been without question their strongest first-half performance of the season so far.
It's also only fair to point out that while Radcliffe didn't create the calibre of chances that the Linnets before the break, they had been very much in the game themselves. However, they came up against a defensive unit that was in no mood whatsoever to concede a goal.
The overall pattern of play levelled out somewhat in the second half, compared to the first, but it was Runcorn who came out of the traps quickest and pushed hard to get the opening goal that their play had merited.
Five minutes after the restart, Ollie Martin kept his side level again with a double save at the foot of the goalpost - initially from McCarthy's header and then from Potter's rebound.
By now, the Radcliffe goalkeeper was starting to become a real nuisance!
From the resulting corner, another Linnets effort on the goal line somehow didn't go in.
Louis Corrigan swung in a wicked corner kick that found its way to Peter Wylie on the Radcliffe line, but the pace of the ball and the fact it came through a crowd of players caught Wylie by surprise.
He couldn't contort his body quickly enough to force the ball over the line and Radcliffe frantically scrambled it clear.
The next 20 minutes of play belonged to the visitors as Radcliffe, undoubtedly energised by the fact they were still level in the game, upped their efforts to get themselves in front.
Ben Wharton had their first real effort when hitting a fierce shot wide from the right of the penalty area.
Much of Radcliffe's threat came from both wings, but the Linnets defence and Dylan Forth stood firm and dealt confidently with everything that was thrown at them.
On 77 minutes, it looked like the deadlock had finally been broken when a Radcliffe free kick to the far post was powerfully headed in. But the linesman immediately raised his flag for offside to the relief of most inside the MLS.
This proved a wake-up call for the Linnets, who got themselves back on top and tried to bag a late winner.
As injury time approached, they would have got one but for that man Ollie Martin - yet again!
Runcorn won a free-kick five yards outside the Radcliffe penalty area that you felt was right in range for either of Louis Corrigan or Danny O'Brien.
Corrigan pulled the trigger, his free kick beating the wall and bending below the crossbar only for Martin to produce a flying save to guarantee his side a point and complete a fantastic individual performance.
This was anything but a tedious 0-0 draw. Both sides played the game the right way from start to finish, both defending well and with no antics or gamesmanship.
Radcliffe tweeted afterwards that they felt it was probably the right result.
But Ello and his team will feel that their performance merited a win and were it not for an inspired goalkeeper, they would have done so.
This result coupled with others elsewhere mean that we will move well into October as the side leading the EVO-STIK West.
And with Linnets having played six of the league's top 10 sides in our opening nine games, it only goes to show just what a tremendous start we have had to life since promotion.
We now look ahead to Saturday and one of the many eagerly-anticipated away days of the season, as we journey North on the M6 to the beautiful town of Kendal (ko 3pm).
Piece of mint cake anyone? Attendance: 327.
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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