19th January 2019, Runcorn Linnets FC v Prescot Cables : 2-1 Sponsored by Jarvis Urquhart
by Ste Bignall
A third consecutive 400 plus Millbank Linnets Stadium crowd for an EVO-STIK League West Division match witnessed a cracking afternoon's football on Saturday as Runcorn Linnets edged out local top-six rivals Prescot Cables 2-1 in a game that had everything.
Before moving on to the game itself, I would just like to mention the team behind the scenes that work on our pitch. We have had three home games in eleven January days; it takes a lot of willing volunteer hours behind the scenes to give us a playable pitch in such a busy period so please join me in giving a moment of thanks to our hardworking ground staff.
Ello made several changes to his starting eleven from the punishing defeat dished out by Atherton Collieries last week.
Matty Holmes made a long-awaited return in goal, a decision that would prove key, Kris Holt also regained his role in midfield, Mitch Bryant led the attack in place of Freddie Potter. The most unlikely of all the changes was midfielder Bobby Evans filling in at right back.
There was also a key absence in the visitors' starting line-up, with the division's top goalscorer, Chris Almond missing from Cables' matchday squad.
The opening exchanges were rather slow and timid, both sides feeling each other out like a pair of skilled poker players - neither wanting to make a costly early mistake.
The first action of note came in the 19th minute when Paul Shanley was felled in the Prescot penalty area. Strong claims for a penalty ensued but the referee and well- placed linesman were unmoved.
Runcorn almost broke the deadlock on 21 minutes following a well-worked move.
Holt won the ball in midfield and laid a pass into the run of Kurt Sherlock, whose fierce shot was well saved. The loose ball fell to Paul Shanley, who guided a header goalwards only for Cables to clear the ball off the goal line.
Prescot had threatened very little going forward in the first 30 minutes, but out of nowhere they were gifted a stonewall penalty when Ryan Gibson threw in a poorly-timed tackle on Michael Monaghan as the winger moved into the area.
Monaghan took the penalty himself but was denied by a flying save by Matty Holmes, diving low to his left and also turning the ball well away to thwart any potential rebound chance.
This proved to be a pivotal moment as, within two minutes, Runcorn took the lead.
A free kick just South of the centre circle was floated towards the right of the Cables' penalty area where Aaron Morris rose highest to head the ball across goal into the danger area.
Sherlock met the ball on the full with his strike being bravely blocked on the goal line, but the ball once again fell to Shanley and this time there would be no stopping the resulting effort as Shanners slammed home a shot from a few yards out.
As half time approached, a brilliant piece of midfield play by captain Kyle Hamid set up another attack. releasing Paul Shanley on the left wing.
Shanley cut inside to square for Ryan Gibson, whose curling shot from the edge of the 18-yard box just cleared the crossbar.
In the second minute of first-half stoppage time, the Linnets doubled their lead with another very well-worked goal.
Shanley again was instrumental in the build up as his counter attack on the right wing worked the opening,
Shanley, picked out Sherlock, lurking in the penalty area, and with the Cable's defence expecting a shot, Sherlock cleverly played a deft pass to the far post where Gibson was on hand to sweep the ball into the net.
The second half would show an entirely different pattern of play as Prescot came out with renewed vigour and went on to dominate, often penning the Linnets back in their own penalty area for prolonged spells.
With an hour played, Ello made a double substitution and changed the shape of the side, Mitch Bryant and Kurt Sherlock being replaced by Freddie Potter and new signing from Padiham Liam O'Neill. The set-up moved from 4-3-3 to a more compact 4-4-2 formation.
Cables went close on 65 minutes with a shot that beat Matt Holmes but also cleared the far post by the finest of margins. However four minutes later, they did get the goal that dragged them right back into the game.
A high ball into the penalty area was challenged by Bobby Evans, who sent the ball looping high towards his own goal. Despite a desperate attempt by Holmes to make what would have been a jaw dropping save (he almost managed it), the ball ended up in the net.
This only served to increase the pressure on the Linnets' rearguard, who were reduced to clearing their lines by whatever means possible to earn a brief respite.
It took more heroics from Holmes in the 80th minute to keep Runcorn's noses in front, first flying to his left to turn Monaghan's stinging half volley around a post and then, from the resulting corner, blocking the ball on the goal line with his midriff amid a mass of bodies and swinging legs.
Prescot's charge came to an early end in the 81st minute when a red card, still shrouded in mystery, took the wind out of their sails.
Luke Griffiths was shown a second yellow and sent for an early shower despite protestations from all angles, even Linnets supporters close by, that one of Griffiths' colleagues had made the tackle that warranted the booking.
Despite much social media digging, the facts remain unclear!
In the closing stages, frustration overtook Prescot as a few late tackles started flying in, including a high boot that caught Freddie Potter on the head.
Linnets, however, remained composed and held onto their slender lead, securing a hard- fought victory and three crucial points.
Once the chess game of the first half hour had passed, this turned into a thoroughly entertaining match.
Both Runcorn's goals were extremely well crafted and their two-goal half-time lead was thoroughly deserved.
The defensive showing of the second half was top class. Put under extended spells of pressure and often penned in by a pacey and physical Cables attack, the Linnets' rearguard, expertly marshalled by Peter Wylie and Morris, remained disciplined and focused throughout.
And when the visitors did find a way through the defence, they came up against a goalkeeper in Matt Holmes, who was in sparkling form.
The win, coupled with results elsewhere, sees the Linnets move back up the table to second place - behind Atherton Colls.
A treacherous month of fixtures gets no easier as next up we travel to fifth-placed Leek Town this Saturday for our third consecutive fixture against a side top six side.
Kick off at Leek's Harrison Park is at 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Bobby Evans, Kris Holt, Kurt Sherlock, Kyle Hamid (capt), Mitch Bryant, Paul Shanley, Ryan Gibson. Subs: Liam O'Neill, Freddie Potter, Josh Dobie. Not used: Zac Aley, Ronnie McCarthy.
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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