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23rd November 2019, Runcorn Linnets FC v FC United of Manchester : 0-3 Sponsored by Once a Linnet, always a Linnet

By David 'Bill' DaviesA big crowd was expected for the visit of well-supported FC United in the FA Trophy, and the army of volunteers who helped prepare The Millbank Linnets Stadium, and provide additional catering and

comfort facilities, were not left feeling their efforts were in vain.

An attendance of 962, almost two and-a-half times that for the last round against Prescot Cables,would have made it feel more like a home game for FC United.

That was doubly confusing for returning Linnets favourite Aaron Morris, who was cheered loudly by home fans as the teams were announced, and was seen off at the end as enthusiastically as when he was being instrumental in Runcorn's NW Counties League triumph of 2018.

Statistics don't lie, they say, but if 'they' believe it, they haven't been paying much attention to the General Election campaign. Stats lie more often than they tell the truth.

In this case, a 3-0 win (plus a missed penalty) for the visitors would suggest a passage into the next round without breaking much of a sweat.

While there can be no argument that FC United were the stronger and better side on the day, the scoreline exaggerated the difference, and insulted a committed and unflagging performance by the hosts.

The opening two minutes suggested that the outcome might be even more one-sided than the final score. FC went straight on the offensive from the opening whistle, and their first attack was perhaps inevitably sparked by Aaron Morris.

Winning the ball wide on the right, where the former yellow-and-green centre-back now plies his trade for the Reds, the move led to a low cross by Michael Donohue that was deflected for a corner.

It was played quickly into centre-forward Tunde Owalabi, who was in enough space to dispatch it past Richie Mottram into the far corner, with less than two minutes on the clock.

The home fans feared this almost immediate breakthrough might herald a hammering. It did anything but.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, Runcorn built probably more meaningful attacks than the visitors, although few serious worries resulted for United 'keeper Cameron Belford.

At half-time, it was still 1-0, and in all fairness you would have to say that was just about right.

Linnets debutant Louis Hayes was involved in the centre of midfield from early on, and his billing as a hard-tackling but skilful ball-winner looked accurate.

Only four minutes in, he won the ball and laid it off to Kyle Hamid, who was fouled. The free-kick launched a good run and cross by Ryan Gibson, but it was blocked by centre-back Curtis Jones.

It was the first of many times that the Reds No6 got back to foil the best efforts of the home attack, providing evidence of why Aaron Morris hasn't yet secured a berth in the middle, from where he cleaned up at last season's Linnets player awards.

Over the next few minutes, Morris and Warren Bellew both conceded free-kicks by tripping each other. In both cases, cross-field passing moves failed to break down either defence.

On 14 minutes, a throw-in cleared the head of a United defender for Kurt Sherlock to run on and thread the ball wide right to Gibson in the area. The return found Sherlock again near the by-line, where his

attempt to knock it into the middle was clearly deflected for a corner.

Referee Mr Crusham didn't know that, however, and guessed at a goal-kick.

Three minutes later a Sherlock corner from the left found both Hinnigan and Aley just outside the six-yard box, and it was hard to tell which of the two headed over the bar.

On 20 minutes, Paul Shanley was put through for a one-on-one with the advancing Belford, who just got his left hand there first.

Gibson followed up, and appeared to handle the bouncing ball, albeit accidentally, but Jones was there to cover and clear anyway.

After overlapping moves up the left at the other end by Dodd and Linney, Peter Wylie being equal to the cross, Sherlock put Shanley through for another 50/50 with Belford, but the Runcorn No9 sent his effort just wide.

There was no doubt that through the opening half-hour Linnets had created enough chances to have drawn level. If they had converted one of them, the game might well have taken a different ultimate course.

It was anything but one-way traffic, though, and on 27 minutes there were vocal appeals for a United penalty at the clubhouse end. A little too vocal on the part of Regan Linney, who received a yellow

card for his trouble.

It was one of very few occasions all afternoon where Mr Crusham was tempted to reach for his pocket.

Chances at both ends were dealt with effectively by defences, although when Linnets attacked there was a little more space allowed for them.

The visitors didn't defend in the same numbers as the hosts, but they were repeatedly equal to the task.

A 25-yard free-kick for a foul on Owalabi, just past the half-hour, spelled danger, but his kick was slapped into the wall.

Shortly afterwards, Wylie got to a cross before Tunde to head for a corner. It found Jones, who headed powerfully downwards to trigger a game of pinball, cleared by Hinnigan.

During the last ten minutes before the break United had more of the ball, but were given very little space by the Runcorn rearguard to do much with it. A corner from a safety-first header by Hinnigan found the Reds' Mike Potts in possession, but he was forced to retreat with it back towards his own half.

That followed a cross by Bellew finding Zac Aley, who headed wide when he appeared to have time to hit the target, or at least to test 'keeper Belford.

At the break, Linnets can't have felt they should have been ahead, but with a bit more vigilance in the first two minutes they would have faced the second half level, giving the visitors more worries about exiting to an outfit from the division below.

The second half threatened to begin as the first had. A minute in, FC United had a penalty. I have to confess that from my vantage point I couldn't see who fouled whom.

At this point, 2-0 would have presented a mountain to climb, but long-standing Linnets fans know that Richie Mottram always has a penalty save in him, and so it proved.

The kick by Dodd was no dud, but Richie read it and parried it to safety.

Linnets set out to make the most of the reprieve, a Shanley run being halted by an offside flag, and a break by Bellew ending in an overhit through ball for the No9.

Warren then gave way to Lewis

McKinney, the Oldham loanee who had impressed on his Cheshire Cup debut against Crewe in midweek.

Two more promising breaks on the right, involving Shanley and Gibson, were intercepted, and a foul on Sherlock produced a free-kick, hit too long.

An equal number of chances emerged at the other end including a cross to Owalabi, headed wide, and a speculative high ball into the box which Mottram punched clear.

The substitutions by FC United of Ennis for Curran and Lenehan for Donohue weren't instrumental in the game's turning point, and nor was that of McCarthy for Hamid by Linnets, but they did precede it by moments.

Dodd ran on into the Runcorn third and slipped a pass to Owalabi on the edge of the area. He turned to shoot through a line of defenders with Mottram unsighted, and into the right corner. 2-0 to Tunde and FC United.

The Premier Division side were having more of the ball, led by Griffiths, Potts and Linney, but their opponents were not giving up, and were never going to do so.

A three-way exchange by Shanley, Gibson and Brown with 18 minutes left led to Gibson slipping his marker and firing a cross for McKinney that flew a bit too far for him.

Shortly afterwards, a Gibson-McCarthy one-two was promising, but yet again Jones got to it first in the box.

A Runcorn through ball was then headed backwards by Potts, Belford getting there just ahead of Shanley.

Front man McCarthy replacing midfield general Hamid was a necessary attacking gamble by Michael Ellison, but it would inevitably result in a little less resilience on the retreat.

That may have been conclusive, as a United clearance reached undoubted danger man Tunde. He laid it off for Dodd, who was allowed a bit too much space in the area to stroke it into the corner.

Straight from the kick-off it was back in the Linnets area, and Owalabi was on for his hat-trick, but for a timely tackle by Wylie.

Nobody could argue that Linnets were under siege during any part of the game, but far more of their attacking endeavours were speculative, with the Reds' assaults involving more passing and possession, and being thwarted by tireless defending in numbers.

It was characterised by the last act of the three minutes' added time, a phase of twenty or more passes among seven Reds being terminated by the final whistle.

The home performance deserved much better than a 3-0 reverse, but anything other than an exit from the competition would have been a great escape.

And what of Aaron Morris? Most Linnets fans would feel his powers are under-utilised out wide. The yellow-and-green custom of numbering the back four from left to right created a duel of the No2s, meaning Aaron and left-back Zac Aley spent most of the game resuming their acquaintance.

It has tobe said that more often than not, Zac effectively thwarted his old teammate's endeavours to create much of note on the right-hand side.

Mr Morris was the last player to leave the pitch, delayed by heartfelt hugs and handshakes every step of the way around the perimeter. His continuing journey through the FA Trophy would be applauded with similar enthusiasm in Runcorn.

Back to league duty on Tuesday 26th, with the visit of Brighouse Town (4-0 home winners over Mossley today). If a performance of similar resolve to this one ends in a 3-0 Runcorn defeat, it will speak volumes for the abilities of the Yorkshiremen.

Runcorn Linnets: Richie Mottram, Zac Aley, Jack Hinnigan, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Louis Hayes, Ryan Gibson, Kyle Hamid (Connor McCarthy 62), Paul Shanley, Kurt Sherlock, Warren Bellew (Lewis McKinney 53). Subs not used: Louis Corrigan, Declan McGivern, Harry Cannon-Noren, Alex O'Neill, Bayleigh Passant (GK)

Attendance: 962.

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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