1st January 2020, City of Liverpool FC v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2
After a leisurely festive season, the Boxing Day home draw with Prescot Cables being the only game
in 17 days, Linnets made the short journey to Bootle seeking to start the new year by extending their unbeaten run to seven, against City of Liverpool.
They did so with as assured a performance as they have put together this season, in a fast-paced game that rarely let up.
It benefited from the Bootle pitch looking as well as we could remember it, with little or no rain having fallen since Boxing Day.
With manager Michael Ellison a pre-arranged absentee, assistant Matt Cross rang three changes from the 2-2 draw with Prescot.
Paul Shanley, laid low by illness, was replaced by Connor McCarthy, who provided an uncanny impersonation of Shanley's recent industrious form, threatening from both flanks and sparking most of Runcorn's attacks from the middle as well.
He made the Duracell bunny look like a feckless layabout.
Recent signing Scott Lycett made his first start, following a sub appearance six days earlier, in for Declan Gallagher, and Lewis McKinney also retreated to the bench for Louis Hayes to start in midfield.
The game started quickly, and loose passing by both sides prevented any patterns of possession emerging in the opening minutes.
The frantic start made it still harder to follow the play as Linnets in away orange and black, the home kit doubtless being saved for the visit of Mossley in three days' time, blurred somewhat against the home side's orange-embellished purple.
The fact that the 'Purps' new kit is of a darker hue than their previous one also tended to camouflage the officials, and COLFC's subs warming up in orange bibs added to the headache.
A first Runcorn threat involving McCarthy, Gibson, Brown and Hayes fizzled as the ball ran to the by-line too quickly for Gibson to get in a cross.
At the other end, Jack Hazlehurst got away into the box in possession, as he was to do a number of times, but was disarmed by a perfectly-timed Peter Wylie tackle 12 yards from goal.
Seven minutes in, Hayes made a great diagonal run to the right and pulled it back inside for Gibson in the penalty arc, but he was heavily outnumbered and the ball was cleared.
With COLFC on the break, Lycett slipped and allowed Jason Jeffries to advance on goal. By the time Hazlehurst latched on to shoot, the area was crowded and Lycett himself made amends with a solid block in the six-yard box.
On eleven minutes, Liam Caddick firmly struck the first Linnets attempt on target, after a neat knock-down by Gibson, but 'keeper James Aspinall had it well covered.
Balls into the City penalty area caused a couple of bouts of head-tennis, which were unlikely to trouble the height advantage of centre-backs Anthony Brown and especially James McCarten.
One such led to a break to the other end and a corner, cleared by Kyle Hamid. With question marks over Linnets' defending of some corners in recent games, it has to be said that tight marking and swift attacking of the ball in the box severely reduced the threat from the hosts' set pieces today.
The same was true of corners and free-kicks into the COLFC area, and there were plenty of both in an end-to-end first half. A Corrigan corner from the right just after the quarter-hour was deflected just
wide of the far post by the head of McCarten.
There was no Runcorn man within a yard of the ball, but referee Mr Lamb must have been struggling with all the flashes of orange in view, as he awarded a goal-kick.
Within a minute, another Corrigan ball into the area from the left contacted the arm of defender Foy, who was on the floor, but the referee gestured that it had hit his ribs.
After a one-two between Corrigan and Caddick, a cross by the former was a fraction too high for the head of McCarthy, and on the break, Elliott Nevitt got to the by-line in the Runcorn area, but Corrigan had made it all the way back to block for a corner, which Michael Emery punched clear.
Approaching the half-hour, Ryan Gibson broke away down the right and was felled from behind, but frustration with Mr Lamb mounted among the visiting fans when he saw nothing wrong with the challenge.
Moments later, Purps' Jamie McDonald withdrew injured, and was replaced by Thomas Peterson.
The next of several forays into the Runcorn area by Hazlehurst was the first not to be thwarted by a successful tackle, but his low shot inside the right post was smothered confidently by Emery.
As the first half neared its conclusion, the hard-working Louis Corrigan was repeatedly finding Connor McCarthy in threatening positions.
One through ball to the by-line completely bamboozled the defence, but also Connor, who wasn't expecting it. Another found McCarthy at the corner of the penalty area, from where he turned inside and unleashed a curling shot which just cleared the angle of post and bar, with the 'keeper nowhere near it.
Corrigan was sprinting widths of the pitch through the last five minutes of the half, to take no fewer than eight corners.
One was just too long for a well-placed Lycett, and McCarten's head dealt with most of the aerial threat from the others.
One such did fall to Corrigan again, 25 yards out, and his blistering volley was tipped over by Aspinall, sending Louis back to the corner flag yet again.
Just before the break, a determined run in possession by McCarthy shrugged off four robust challenges, but his pass to Caddick in the middle fell short.
The half was pretty even for overall possession and attacking threat, but there were definite signs of the visitors taking the initiative, with COLFC defensive efforts appearing increasingly frantic.
Runcorn grandee Derek Greenwood sought to build up his part in the match report again, with a repeat of his Boxing Day observation that the first goal might prove very important.
He was probably slightly more 'on the money' this time.
If there was a problem differentiating between the people on the pitch at the start of the game, early in the second half it was much harder, as the sinking sun and warming up floodlights left the view decidedly murky.
It was no surprise, then, that the early exchanges of the half were scrappy.
But Runcorn were showing attacking intent that was based more on balls to feet than in the air, and as City of Liverpool attempted to move forward in numbers, their visitors looked increasingly dangerouson the break.
Connor McCarthy was instrumental in winning the ball in the middle and finding Gibson, Hayes and Caddick going forward to either side of him, as well as torturing defenders with powerful runs of his own up both flanks.
On 50 minutes, a great ball by Corrigan from the left to Ally Brown on the right looked increasingly dangerous when Ally's marker fell over, but the right-back crossed a little too hard and it ricocheted off his namesake Anthony before it could reach Caddick in the centre.
More crosses came in from both sides, but were intercepted or didn't find their target.
It wasn't one-way traffic. COLFC were getting forward with Denson and Jeffries on the right and Devine and Hazlehurst from the left, but the Runcorn defence was organised, calm and marking tight, severely limiting attempts on goal.
After a foul by Hamid on Hazlehurst outside the area, the free-kick was slammed straight into the defensive wall.
Another from deeper on the left was launched into the area for an aerial attack, but Emery was fouled in the process.
Derek's Decisive Moment came just short of the hour. McCarthy's cross from the left was blocked for a corner, which Corrigan fired in towards the near post.
Despite having the shirt ripped from his back like a velcro-clad quick-change artist, Liam Caddick headed home from four yards out with deliberate precision.
A Purps change followed, John McGrath on for Ethan Devine, and a couple of minutes later a carbon copy corner was delivered by Corrigan from the left.
Caddick was in the middle this time, and as he came for the ball along the six-yard line he was effectively rugby-tackled from behind by Anthony Brown.
The referee's whistle was assumed by the fans behind the goal to herald a penalty, but apparently not. It would be fascinating to hear Mr Lamb explain quite how Caddick had fouled Brown, but that was his decision.
Another five minutes followed of end-to-end advances thwarted by defensive efficiency, until the three-man move of the match was to prove conclusive.
Louis Hayes found McCarthy in the centre circle, and with his back to goal he slipped the ball behind him to his right, for Caddick to run on to.
He charged towards the penalty area with defenders closing from both sides and 'keeper Aspinall coming out to close him down.
Just beyond the 18-yard line, he timed a delicate chip perfectly to clear the goalkeeper and find the empty net.
Watching from the stand behind the goal, on a Rylands FC day off, Linnets legend Freddie Potter will have been impressed. I wrote of Liam Caddick's first Runcorn goal, the second equaliser against Prescot Cables, that the fans would hope it signalled an unlocking of the floodgates.
There was certainly an air of confidence in the way he despatched both chances today, making him the scorer of Linnets' last three, and effectively deciding the match.
City of Liverpool continued to try salvaging something from the game by building attacks from the back, but a comprehensive defensive display by the Runcorn back four and, as ever, a tireless Kyle Hamid, left Michael Emery with very few scary moments.
When Purps lost possession, McCarthy and Gibson gave them a lot of defending to do on both flanks, aided repeatedly by Corrigan, Hayes andOwens.
With ten minutes remaining, McCarten received a yellow card, when hauling Gibson back by the arm was the only way to stop him breaking free down the right.
The best chance for COLFC to pull a goal back came inside the last ten minutes, when substitute McGrath ran relatively free into the front right corner of the penalty area, but he let rip high and wide to the left.
Liam Caddick left proceedings to loud applause from the visiting fans, replaced by Zac Aley seven minutes from time.
The last meaningful Linnets assault came predictably from McCarthy, down the left touchline again and beating three defenders, but his ball into the middle fell short and was cleared.
The Purps never gave up, but the defence was equal to several efforts by Hazlehurst, McEllin and Denson to get a useful sight of goal.
The last attempt was a long range one from late sub Liam Dawson, but Emery got down quickly to hold it.
It was a match that was much too evenly contested for the victors to claim they ever dominated it, but a performance of disciplined commitment and application throughout the side thoroughly warranted a fifth win and 17pts from seven games.
It also completed a second league 'double' of theseason, to add to the six-point return against Kendal.
Runcorn Linnets entered the new decade with an air of confidence that would promise a stern test for Mossley at The Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday 4th January, kick-off 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Michael Emery, Louis Corrigan, Scott Lycett, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Tom Owens, Louis Hayes, Kyle Hamid, Connor McCarthy, Ryan Gibson, Liam Caddick (Zac Aley 83). Subs not used: Declan Gallagher, Lewis McKinney, Alex O'Neill, Kurt Sherlock.
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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