25th January 2020, Runcorn Linnets FC v Ossett United : 2-1 Sponsored by Lost Generation 1914-18
January is well known for going on forever, but it seemed even longer for the Linnets, the previous week's trip to Colne being called off inexplicably late, with the team and many fans already en route.
The second and final home game of the month saw the first ever visit of Ossett United, and it brought a return to winning ways, after a lacklustre defeat at Brighouse Town a fortnight earlier.
The team might have been inactive, but manager Michael Ellison had been busy, making three new outfield signings (although only one was involved) and lining up a new goalkeeper after the return to Rylands FC of Michael Emery, a disappointment after his arrival coincided with the start of an unbeaten run of eight games, and landed him the player of the month award for his only complete month at the club.
New 'keeper Craig Ellison (no relation!) was not yet available, so Cheadle Town's Danny Taberner, who was instrumental in Northwich Vics' run to the FA Vase semi-finals last season, stepped in for the day.
His commanding presence at the back was much appreciated in a confident Linnets display.
Ossett, struggling towards the bottom of the NPL NW table, attacked from the off, hoping to improve on the 2-2 home draw between these sides on 1st October.
The Linnets defence coped comfortably enough, however, and the shape of the first half was depicted more accurately when the home side went ahead after only three minutes.
Zac Aley launched a fast cross into the penalty area where Paul Shanley, returning after a spell of illness and recuperation, picked up where he had left off at Christmas.
Under pressure from two defenders and goalkeeper Brett Soliter, he finished with aplomb into the bottom left corner.
The goal started a sequence of quick attacking moves from both flanks and through the middle, with balls played to feet sparking breaks into the area which the Ossett rearguard were hard-pressed to resist.
It was in sharp contrast to the first half in the previous meeting in Yorkshire, where long high balls were repeatedly won with ease by the bigger men in blue.
Before ten minutes had passed, three more good Runcorn chances had materialised. An Ally Brown cross from the right just evaded the leaps of Shanley and Wylie, a neat through ball into the area was inches too long for McKinney to get in a shot, and a McKinney flick-on found McCarthy in a threatening position, but it was whipped off his foot by Cogill.
An advance to the other end involving Maltby, Porritt and Haswell resulted in a hopeful long shot that never troubled Taberner, as very little was to do all afternoon.
There were only 15 minutes on the clock when the Runcorn lead was doubled.
McCarthy attacked from the left and played a through ball to Shanley, who beat two men and whipped what might have been a shot across the six-yard box.
Soliter got a touch on it, but only as far as Ally Brown, who buried it from three yards out.
Two minutes later, a very timely tackle by James Knowles prevented Connor McCarthy making it 3-0.
After a foul on Liam Caddick in the centre circle, a ball into the area by Louis Corrigan was about to be despatched from near the penalty spot by the Runcorn No9, but Knowles snatched it off his toe in the nick of time.
From the start, Ossett had closed down Linnets' frequent possession and launched tackles, but they were rarely fast enough, and they either failed to win the ball or resulted in fouls, some of which appeared to find referee Declan Brown in a very tolerant mood.
He ultimately awarded three yellow cards and a red, but the Linnets faithful felt it should have been more, and quite how Andy McManus left Runcorn without giving his name was a mystery.
The first yellow was Jack Stockdill's, for a foul on Kyle Hamid on the halfway line, and a minute later Zac Aley was felled by a boot to the stomach, which was deemed accidental.
Following the first corner of the game, surprisingly after 25 minutes, for United, Linnets broke away up the left and after a very late tackle on Aley, a bullet of a ball towards the near post was headed on by Zac himself, drawing a great save by Soliter to keep it out of the top corner.
The late tackles kept coming, with late being the operative word. They weren't so much reckless or brutal, but they connected late because the men in yellow and green were so much quicker and sharper on the ball.
After another on Shanley past the half-hour mark, Corrigan's free-kick was repelled from the area and returned to McCarthy, who beat three defenders inside the left corner flag to cross for Shanley, who laid it back to 25 yards out for Hamid to unleash a rocket of a shot.
It was blocked by the arm of Stockdill, at 90 degrees to his head. There was no VAR to advise Mr Brown that that is known as handball.
The first Ossett attack for some time resulted in a corner on 38 minutes, Marko Basic's shot from 18 yards being cleared at the second attempt. As the home team broke away again, a nasty tackle on Shanley on the right touchline earned Elliott Harrison the game's second yellow card.
A minute later he tripped McCarthy on the other wing after he had taken the ball from him, but Mr Brown thought that was fair enough.
The last serious chance of the first half came when Knowles fouled McCarthy wide right, seven yards from the corner flag.
Corrigan delivered the free-kick into the six-yard box where Connor got his head to it, under just enough pressure from Stockdill to ensure it went just over the bar.
It was as commanding a 45 minutes as Linnets had played all season, and a four-goal margin at the break would not have flattered them.
The second half began in similar vein, Ally Brown slipping past Luke Porritt wide right and delivering a great cross which McManus got his head to just ahead of McCarthy.
Then a free-kick taken short to Shanley enabled him to turn his marker and shoot from inside the area, only for the heel of Cogill to deflect it off-target.
The half was five minutes old when Andy McManus got the message that there was nothing he could do that would attract disapproval from the referee.
McCarthy came into the penalty area from the left, for the umpteenth time beating his marker, and knocked it past McManus to the goal-line to get in across.
McManus stepped across him and slammed him into the perimeter fence. The immediate question was whether the penalty would be accompanied by a red card or just a yellow.
The verdict of a goal-kick added a whole new dimension to my personal hatred for obstruction (which is still in the laws of the game) being regarded as 'shielding the ball out of play'.
The Runcorn camp was left hoping that the resulting injury to Connor, apparently to his knee, wouldn't lead to a long-term absence.
Ryan Gibson replaced him. The Runcorn attacks kept coming, Soliter in the Ossett goal continuing a fine performance by tipping a strong downward header by McKinney past the post.
It was almost an hour in when Taberner, who had scooped up everything that had approached him, was required to make what could be called a save, gathering a speculative free-kick after Zac Aley had tripped Haswell.
At the other end, a corner played short to the near post glanced just wide off the head of Caddick.
After 64 minutes, Haswell was substituted by Ross Hardaken and Louis Hayes came on for McKinney, to pose new problems for the Ossett midfield and defence.
From a cleared Ossett corner, Ryan Gibson broke from halfway to outrun three opponents and advance on the area.
Just before the 18-yard line he was tripped from behind by United sub Brodie Lichfield, who received his marching orders after 15 minutes on the pitch.
Ossett's Twitter feed opined that there was no contact, without adding a theory as to why Gibson, with only the 'keeper to beat, would dive just outside the box rather than a yard later, inside it.
Knowles earned a yellow for his protestations.
The free-kick, from Corrigan's ideal distance, slammed against the bar. Zac Aley got his head to the rebound but it was too fast for him to direct it on goal.
With 13 minutes remaining, Zac gave way to new signing Yianni Nicolaou, an Australian midfielder on loan from Salford City, drafted in to cover the unfortunate loss of Tom Owens to work commitments.
As so often happens with a side reduced to ten men, Ossett started to make some inroads as they found an extra yard of pace, and the last ten minutes saw a new level of threat, which was to include a goal.
Tabener came out to clear a high ball which led to a miscued shot wide by Basic, and Hardaken picked up a loose clearance for a clear shot on goal, which brought a great close-range block by Lycett.
At the top end, Ally Brown slipped his marker to pass to Hayes, who floated a delicate cross towards Shanley at the far post which Soliter did well to reach and palm away.
Then Ossett pulled a goal back, having hardly threatened the home goal for 84 minutes. A mishit clearance reached Stockdill alone in the penalty area, and he gave Taberner no chance.
Linnets continued to win the ball and bring it forward, but no chances resulted as Shanley and Gibson devoted their efforts to keeping possession near the right corner flag, while the fans were baying for more intent towards a conclusive goal.
Shanley was fouled for his trouble, but the free-kick, taken short for more of the same, came to nothing.
One more flurry of attacking effort from the visitors had home fans fearing the worst, perhaps pay-back for a couple of recent results against the run of play, but the Linnets defence was equal to it.
A safety-first head over the bar by Lycett conceded a corner which under the circumstances was surprisingly played short rather than launched into the mixer. It came to nothing.
A measure of home relief at the final whistle belied a game which Runcorn had dominated.
More speed, more skill and more invention from the yellow and green had warranted a far more comfortable victory than the scoreline reflected.
An open invitation for Linnets to continue playing quality football, on the best pitch in the league, will follow seven days later at Trafford. Kick-off 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Danny Taberner, Louis Corrigan, Peter Wylie, Scott Lycett, Ally Brown, Zac Aley (Yianni Nicolaou 77), Liam Caddick, Kyle Hamid, Connor McCarthy (Ryan Gibson 51), Lewis McKinney (Louis Hayes 64), Paul Shanley. Sub not used: Jack Hinnigan.
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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