26th January 2019, Leek Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-1
Runcorn Linnets had another top-six crunch game away at Leek Town on Saturday, and returned with a very solid point from an excellent game.
Leek is a Town sandwiched in the countryside between Macclesfield and Stoke on Trent. In fact their Harrison Park ground is on Macclesfield Road but has a ST postcode!
In the late 90s, Leek Town won the Northern Premier League and were promoted to the Vauxhall Conference, spending two seasons at the pinnacle division of our non-league.
You can tell by looking around Harrison Park that Leek are a club that have enjoyed relatively recent success. The ground is superb, covered on all four sides with tight terracing that generates a great atmosphere, and a high positioned large seated stand on the dugout side.
Their pitch was also in admirable condition, given the time of year.
Ello made a few changes to his starting eleven that had beaten Prescot Cables a week earlier, Josh Dobie and Zac Aley both starting in midfield in place of Kyle Hamid and Kurt Sherlock. Paul Shanley took on the captain's armband.
In the first half, Leek showed why they are another of the several serious contenders for promotion this season.
The home side dominated the first half to a level that no other side has managed against the Linnets this season.
Much of the time Runcorn were putting up a rearguard action to keep Leek at bay, often with flying blocks and immense goalkeeping.
The Linnets took the lead after just eight minutes with our only threat to the Leek goal in the opening half. Peter Wylie sprayed an inch-perfect crossfield pass out to Louis Corrigan on the left wing.
Louis then played a magnificent cross of his own from deep, picking out the late run of Paul Shanley, who nipped in between the two Leek central defenders to guide the ball into the bottom corner with a first time cushioned volley from 15 yards.
You will struggle to find a better goal that took just four touches across 80+ yards of the pitch.
Leek were undeterred by falling behind and continued to work the Runcorn defence hard. Their use of pace and width in particular caused us a few problems.
There was strong shouts for a Leek penalty on 10 minutes but more so from the vociferous crowd than the players, Pete Wylie's tackle was superbly timed and executed.
Leek would have drawn level on 13 minutes but for a world-class save by Matt Holmes in the Linnets goal. A corner that was initially cleared was sent back into the Linnets penalty box, and Zac Aley's attempt to clear the ball sent it looping towards the top corner of his own goal. But Holmes flew to his right and at full stretch, clawed the ball with his fingertips around the far post.
Holmes was at it again in the 20th minute when he got down low to his left to turn a free kick around the post.
As half time approached Leek deservedly drew level. Another free kick on the edge of the Linnets penalty area, one of several in the first half, was struck low around the wall and although Holmes got his body behind the ball he was unable to claim it fully. Aaron Bott reacted quickest to turn the rebound into the net from close range.
Runcorn came out for the second half with a renewed sense of belief and levelled up the overall play. The rain that started early in the first half was now torrential and never relented, making the pitch very skiddy and causing difficulties for both sides.
Leek won a handful of corners in the opening 15 minutes of the second half but nothing that significantly threatened a very well-drilled Runcorn defence. Matt Holmes did well to hold on to a fierce low shot that skidded off the greasy surface with 63 minutes played, despite a charge of Leek players on him waiting for a loose ball.
Mitch Bryant was replaced by Freddie Potter for the final 30 minutes and this change gave the Linnets a different type of threat, and we started to look like the team who could go on to win the game.
Paul Shanley did well to beat a couple of players on the wing before setting up Josh Dobie whose controlled low strike from outside the box was well held by Leek's goalkeeper.
Dobie threatened again in the 72nd minute, when his downward header from a corner was saved. Another Linnets corner shortly after caused pandemonium in the Leek penalty area with four Linnets attempts on goal all being blocked by the desperate Leek defence.
The closest Leek came to winning the game came from a couple of injury-time corner kicks, the routine identical for both where a header was flicked towards the far post with nobody on hand to knock the ball over the line.
The referee called time on what had been a fantastic 94 minutes of football between two very good sides. The game was physical, fast, skillful but clean and honest. The Linnets players gave a warm reception to the large band of travelling supporters behind the goal, who reciprocated with a rousing applause for the efforts shown on the pitch.
Leek don't drop many points at home, this was a very good point on the road for Runcorn.
We return to the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday as we look to avenge the disappointing defeat at Market Drayton Town earlier on in the season, in what will be Market Drayton's first ever visit to us. Kick off is at 3pm.
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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