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9th February 2019, Runcorn Linnets FC v Kidsgrove Athletic FC : 2-1 Sponsored by George and Paul Coward in memory of Ros

By Ste Bignall

Runcorn Linnets picked up three crucial points on Saturday as they edged past Kidsgrove Athletic in dramatic fashion, with two very late goals sending the visitors home crestfallen that they had taken nothing from a game in which they had led for almost 80 minutes.

The Linnets' terrifying injury list forced manager Michael Ellison into a change of shape and personnel, particularly in attack where Paul Shanley and Liam O'Neill led the line against an imposing Kidsgrove defensive unit.

Shanley captained the side in the absence of Kyle Hamid and Mark Houghton.

Runcorn started the game well and put the Kidsgrove defence under pressure early on. Liam O'Neill had a shot go just wide in the third minute before Louis Corrigan created a clear-cut chance for the Linnets with a wicked free kick delivered into the box.

Unfortunately, both Paul Shanley and Peter Wylie attacked the ball, getting in each other's way and it was sent wide of the post.

Similar to the game against Trafford in midweek, Runcorn fell behind to the opposition's first attack.

With nine minutes played, a free kick from near the halfway line was put into the Linnets penalty area, headed down in front of goal and sent past Matty Holmes from close range by Kyle Diskin.

The Linnets wobbled after falling behind and seemed stretched, particularly when Kidsgrove attacked. A high ball towards goal was punched well clear by Holmes but fell perfectly for Grove's Lee Williamson whose volleyed return towards the empty net was acrobatically cleared off the goal line by Aaron Morris.

This would ultimately prove to be a pivotal moment in the game. If Runcorn had fallen two goals behind, the final outcome could have been much different.

Runcorn found themselves on the wrong end of a few baffling decisions 0from the match officials - one such incident when Paul Shanley produced a wonderful touch to bring down a high ball and make a yard of space right in front of goal, only to be pulled up for a mystery infringement against a nearby defender.

The first half had been a pretty low-key event, neither side finding much rhythm, and for long spells the second half was just the same.

Matty Holmes was called on to make a relatively routine save from a Kidsgrove free kick at the start of the second half, and Liam O'Neill created a decent chance for Aaron Morris in the 51st minute, Morris heading over from close range.

Zac Aley was the victim of another head-scratching decision midway through the second half, tracking back to recover a lost ball and producing a perfectly-executed tackle. It was certainly firm but also fair with full contact made on the ball. It was bad enough to concede a free kick, even worse that Zac was booked for it.

Josh Dobie and Ryan Gibson made way for Ronnie McCarthy and Mitch Bryant as Ello looked to shake things up, and as he has done so many times in the past, his use of substitutions would play a crucial role in changing the game in Linnets' favour.

It was starting to look as though Runcorn would run out of time without making Kidsgrove earn their victory as a long, uneventful period took the game right through to the 86th minute. But then everything changed out of nowhere!

A long ball was aimed forward towards Mitch Bryant in the Kidsgrove penalty area, with Bryant's much more physical presence giving the well-drilled Kidsgrove defence a different problem to deal with.

Bryant did well under a challenge to force the ball into the path of Liam O'Neill who showed the MLS crowd what he is all about with a cool finish, when it was needed, to pull his team level.

The equaliser breathed a new lease of life into the Linnets, who now had their tails up and felt an unlikely victory was possible.

As the game moved into injury time, Aaron Morris had a glorious chance to win the game for Runcorn.

Riding a wild lunge from a Grove defender, which would have been a certain penalty had Aaron not fought to stay on his feet, he found himself six yards from goal with the option to shoot or square the ball to either Kris Holt or Liam O'Neill.

Morris took the shot on but cleared the crossbar by some distance.

However, the stalwart Runcorn defender would go on to have the last laugh!

Kidsgrove will be kicking themselves after already being undone by a long and straight ball into their penalty area. Again, in the 93rd minute, it was a long and straight ball into their penalty area that did the damage.

Kidsgrove's goalkeeper Kieran Harrison, who'd been highly charged all afternoon, suffered a rush of blood to the head when he came a long way off his line to try to clear the danger.

But he only got caught up in a mass tangle of bodies within the Grove penalty area, and the loose ball fell perfectly for Aaron Morris who this time showed immaculate composure to take the ball around the desparing dive of Harrsion and sweep it into the empty net.

This sparked scenes of elation on and off the pitch, players and supporters forming a mass huddle at the clubhouse end of the ground.

When the dust settled and reflection took place, these three arguably undeserved points proved to be crucial with all of our top six counterparts also winning their games on the day.

I have said it many times and will say it again, the never-say-die attitude of Ello's team has always been and will continue to be the central cog of our success.

We looked beaten; we weren't threatening the Kidsgrove goal; we were behind with just four minutes of normal time remaining, but we won the game!

Football being the unpredictable game that it is, a win like this often gives a bigger lift to a team than a 5-0 demolition job.

There is little respite for the club though as the MLS hosts its third game in eight days this Tuesday night when Congleton Town visit for a Cheshire Senior Cup quarter- final tie, ko 7.45pm. See you all there!

Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Danny O'Brien, Josh Dobie, Kris Holt, Zac Aley, Paul Shanley (capt), Liam O'Neill, Ryan Gibson; Subs: Ronnie McCarthy. Mitch Bryant, Bobby Evans. Not used: Kurt Sherlock, Harrison Coady.

Attenandance: 303.

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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