1st February 2020, Trafford v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-1
The short away trip to Trafford is a favourite - with a friendly welcome at a nice ground with a great playing surface, which enables two good footballing sides to provide an excellent game.
By half time I was regretting having written that sentence before I left the house.
Fortunately, ten minutes into the second half, a football match broke out, triggered by a Trafford goal, a Runcorn double substitution and an equaliser, all in the space of three minutes.
The remainder of the game contained about ninety-five per cent of its entertainment value.
Linnets were visiting Shawe Lane for the second time this season, hoping to put on as brilliant a show as they did in winning 3-0 in the FA Trophy in October.
The hosts were planning to fare better today, and to avoid a repeat of the outcome at The Millbank in December, when they were the better side but succumbed to a late 2-1 Runcorn turnaround.
There were two new faces (and Craigs) in the Linnets team, with new goalkeeper Craig Ellison making his debut, and midweek signing from Marine Craig Lindfield also in the starting eleven.
Lindfield replaced Connor McCarthy, who sustained a long-term knee injury seven days earlier.
Appearing on the bench was striker Ben Wharton, whose goals had helped to promote Radcliffe via the play-offs last season.
The game started scrappily, with both sides marking tight and challenging quickly, preventing fluid football, which was tricky anyway in a gusty, swirling wind. This was behind the hosts in the first half.
The first shot came in the first minute, with Trafford's Max Hazeldine blazing high and wide. It was a false dawn for lovers of attacking football, as there were precious few meaningful chances before the teams changed ends.
Trafford did have more of the ball, and the war of attrition was conducted mostly between the halfway line and the Linnets penalty area.
When the ball did advance to the other end it was knocked forward to Shanley and Lindfield, but there were few bodies in away orange to find with passes, and those that were attempted were falling short or being intercepted by the men in all white.
Hazeldine was instrumental in a number of ventures into the last 18 yards of the pitch, supported by Kenny, Palmer, Jones and Salmon, but the Runcorn back four, reinforced by Hamid, Hayes and Aley, were equal to most of them -,allowing only inaccurate punts from distance, or underpowered efforts that didn't create much trouble for Ellison.
A corner in the 12th minute, after Scott Lycett had blocked a Hazeldine effort, did flash dangerously across the six-yard line, but the debutant 'keeper got there quickly to punch it clear.
A minute later, Hazeldine went into a 50-50 contest with Ellison with a foot above waist level, but he succeeded only in injuring himself.
It was the 15th minute before Linnets managed an attempt on goal, Lindfield turning well on 18 yards and unleashing a powerful shot which deflected off a defender, forcing a save from Matt Cooper.
Liam Caddick made repeated attempts to create something on the right with Ally Brown, but a private battle between the Runcorn No7 and left-back Joel Amado resulted in little apart from a number of free-kicks both ways.
A promising exchange between Hazeldine and Darius Palma allowed both a stab towards goal on the half-hour, the first blocked by Lycett and the second gathered easily by Ellison.
When I made a note of that, I realised I hadn't jotted a word for more than ten minutes, and that wasn't entirely due to Ian Knowles telling me bad jokes.
Just afterwards, a pass back to Louis Corrigan outside his own penalty area fell short, allowing Salmon and Hazeldine a one-two into the box, but a great tackle by Peter Wylie averted the danger.
An unproductive game of cat-and-mouse continued for the rest of the goalless half, one of few notable moments being a yellow card for Kyle Hamid, after Hazeldine went down despite receiving no contact from the Linnets captain.
Going off at the break, Trafford would feel they had had the better of it, as they had at the same juncture at The Millbank. They would come out for the second period determined that the final outcome wouldn't be the same.
More attacking spark was shown by the visitors in the opening minutes of the second half, and Lindfield was heavily involved, endeavouring to open up opportunities for Shanley and Caddick, and for Ally Brown up the right flank.
If the blustery wind didn't thwart him, repeated trips and shirt tugs did, although referee Mr Bennett saw little wrong with much of it.
There was danger at the other end Jones found Amado in space wide left, but his return pass was lost. Just afterwards, one of few corners so far came in from the Trafford right.
A first shot in the crowded area was blocked, but no Runcorn boot got there to clear it, and Amado was able to break the deadlock from close range.
Linnets' boss Michael Ellison responded immediately to the setback by ringing the changes, Ryan Gibson and Wharton coming on for Hamid and Caddick.
Within a minute, both substitutes were the architects of an equaliser. Wharton passed diagonally to Gibson who played it on to Brown on the right touchline.
Ally snapped a cross into the area, where Wharton had arrived to head down for Lindfield to finish smartly into the left corner.
All of a sudden we had the kind of contest that this fixture has become known for, and it continued for the final half-hour.
Gibson was an immediate and repeated thorn in Trafford sides, and he had been on the field for only six minutes when substitute Curtis Miller lost patience with being dispossessed by him yet again, earning a yellow card for a kick on the Linnets No17's ankle.
Within those few minutes, Wharton had also given the Trafford defence some splitting headaches, and home centre-half Sam Egerton was having to get used to being out-muscled in the challenge and
beaten in the air.
Two Corrigan corners and as many crosses from Brown had been expertly claimed and held by Matt Cooper, and they had to be.
If he didn't get there, Wharton would. The Linnets' new boy was also flagged offside in possession on the left side of the area, with the defence beaten, when he clearly wasn't.
That came moments after Scott Lycett's powerful bicycle kick from a deep Corrigan free-kick had been blocked.
The travelling fans behind the goal sensed that it wouldn't take Wharton long to open his scoring account, and that by 5pm Trafford might well be glad to see the back of Runcorn's finest for the third and final time this season.
It wasn't to be, but there was great cause for optimism that a strong Linnets squad had found its missing link; a big strong striker with one mission in life: get the ball in the net.
Inside the last 15 minutes, Zac Aley gave way to Lewis McKinney, to add fresh legs to the Runcorn threat, while Ross Davidson replaced Jake Kenny for Trafford.
What followed was a resurgence in attacking effort by the hosts. Ironically after dominating early on with a quick passing game, under more panicked pressure in the second half they resorted to hammering the ball long.
An aerial effort from one 18-yard box to the other caught the Linnets defence flat-footed, Lewis Salmon running clear to pick it up.
Downwind it would undoubtedly have run through to Craig Ellison, but into the wind it held up, giving the 'keeper no chance of getting there first.
The vocal Trafford support on the grassy knoll (with its signs forbidding standing on the grassy knoll), went into raptures as Salmon deposited the ball inside the right post.
Shortly afterwards, Salmon and Hazeldine were allowed too much room to attack again, but their exchange was repelled, and Ellison was called upon to save low inside the post from a distant shot by sub Davidson.
With the clock ticking down, Trafford introduced Laurence Taylor, Oli Roberts predictably leaving the field with the breakneck pace of an arthritic snail, and five minutes of added time accommodated a number of Runcorn attacks on the break.
After one of them had broken down, Paul Shanley saw yellow for a tackle from behind on Davidson, as he set off against the wind.
A dangerous high cross by Hayes was once again taken well by Cooper, before the heads of Wharton and Hayes both made contact from a Corrigan cross, but it was a touch too high for either to direct it goalwards.
Another Corrigan free-kick allowed a Wharton header which was deflected for a corner, flighted tantalisingly across the six-yard box and headed out for another on the other side.
Before the Linnets left-back could take it, Mr Bennett whistled time on a second half which had been as action-packed as the first was tediously tight.
The triumphant Trafford fans were gracious as always in their farewells to their guests, justifiably delighted to have taken all three points.
It leapfrogged their team over Linnets into 8th place in the league, albeit having played three more games.The two league matches between the sides had finished honours even, with a 2-1 home win both times. Trafford left the Millbank feeling robbed by the 2-1 reverse, but if both games had been score-draws, nobody could have felt hard done by.
The second half of this one meant that those who had paid £8 to see it couldn't feel short-changed.
New signings made the day a fascinating one for the Runcorn faithful. They left feeling that the future is bright, the future is…yellow and green, with the next three fixtures being home ones.
Next stop The Millbank, with the visit of the league's bottom club, Pickering Town, on Saturday, 8th February, kick-off 3pm. Nothing will be taken for granted.
Runcorn Linnets: Craig Ellison, Louis Corrigan, Peter Wylie, Scott Lycett, Ally Brown, Louis Hayes, Liam Caddick (Ben Wharton 58), Kyle Hamid (Ryan Gibson 58), Paul Shanley, Craig Lindfield, Zac Aley (Lewis McKinney 77) . Subs not used: Yianni Nicolaou, 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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