7th March 2020, Runcorn Linnets FC v Colne : 1-1 Sponsored by Tom Doyle and Alan Phillips in Memory of their good friend Jay Fleming
The fact that there was only one change to the Linnets lineup from the last game against Pickering Town seemed scarcely relevant, as it was so long ago that nobody my age would remember much about it anyway.
Louis Hayes started in place of the debilitated Paul Shanley.
It was no surprise that after four weeks in which your most effective choice of transport would have been Noah's Ark, the team appeared a bit ring-rusty.
The same might be said of stadium announcer Mark Buckley. He was in fine voice as ever, but a number of cases of mistaken identity hinted at a slight lack of match-fitness!
So I should probably apologise in advance for this report also looking a bit iffy.
Scrappy is probably the best word to describe the early exchanges, with little in the way of slick passing or fluid football.
It was increasingly breezy as the first half wore on, but the wind didn't provide anything like the excuse it had in the 2-1 turnaround win over Pickering.
The pitch also looked in fine fettle, after the sterling work done on it following its relentless February drenching.
Early attempts to get the ball to Wharton, Gibson and Caddick in dangerous positions were pounced upon quickly by a Colne defence that looked a yard faster and sharper than that of the hosts for large parts of the game.
Crosses and balls out to the wings that did evade the men in red were proving a yard too long for their targets. Caddick, Gibson and Wharton all failed to get to long passes in time to offer a threat to Colne No.1 Hakan Burton.
The first two solid chances came at the other end. Right-back Waqas Azam got to the corner of the six-yard box on 5 minutes, but he shot wildly high under pressure from Louis Corrigan.
And after a stray pass in the centre circle by Louis Hayes, Reece Webb-Foster was put through in what looked like an offside position, but a good chance was missed when he hesitated enough for Peter Wylie to block the effort.
The first real Runcorn chance came after 12 minutes, when a neat three-man move by Brown, Wharton and Lindfield resulted in a cross to the left corner of the six-yard box, from where Ryan Gibson's header slammed into the left upright.
Both teams' efforts in the middle third were being thwarted by tight marking and closing down.
When a 50/50 challenge on the halfway line bounced in Linnets' favour, it fell to Ben Wharton who advanced on goal pressured by Lee Pugh. Wharton was penalised for a 'trip' on the Colne No6, despite the lack of any actual contact.
Colne attacks came from quick forward balls from halfway, with a bit too much space allowed for shots on goal. By the mid-point of the half, the home fans were feeling grateful for Colne's shooting boots appearing to be on the wrong feet, three more shots skewing mercifully high and wide.
The first corner of the game on 20 minutes drew a firm header from Wylie, but Burton claimed it well.
Just afterwards, Gibson made a promising run into the right half of the penalty area, but he was dispossessed after being pushed in the back twice, although apparently not illegally.
Two minutes later came the wildest miss yet by Colne. This time it was Wylie's stray pass in the middle that led to Webb-Foster running at Craig Ellison's goal, but he unleashed a shot that soared over Aldi and flew down the expressway towards the toll bridge.
Straight afterwards, Azam, Webb-Foster and Lewis Bradley worked a promising move into the area, but this time Wylie cleared.
Just short of the half-hour, a longer-range shot was parried by Ellison, and he clamly gathered the resulting corner kick.
The Runcorn 'keeper looked a little less assured when he was caught on the ball five minutes later, gaining control in the nick of time.
In the closing minutes of the first half, there were promising moments in dangerous areas for Linnets Wharton and Gibson, and for Colne's Webb-Foster and Bradley, but all lost the ball to awkward bounces, off a pitch that was ironically firm after the rigours of storms Ciara and Dennis.
There were also free-kicks at both ends, headed clear by the Runcorn wall and by Colne's Lee Pugh.
An overlap by Wharton and Brown earned a corner from the right, which was still in the danger zone of the Colne box when referee Mr Morland blew for half-time, without adding a second.
Half-time impressions were that the home team had applied better-quality football to the few chances created, but that they had struggled to exploit them against a quick and regimented defence.
Colne had certainly been afforded more viable attacking opportunities, but their finishing would be a cause of frustration for manager Steve Cunningham.
Colne hit the ground running in the second half, and Bradley's follow-up to Azam's free-kick required two grabs at ground-level by Ellison to end the danger.
In the 49th minute, a penetrating diagonal run by Ryan Gibson from the right looked dangerous, until David Sherlock ended it with a perfectly-timed, ball-winning tackle.
From the 50th minute, Ally Brown started to show the kind of defence-bothering form that made him Linnets player of the month for January, and by the end he had made a convincing claim for man-of-the-match status.
He intercepted in the middle third and made a blistering run to cross from the right. Following it into a crowded box, he battled to win it again, flying head-first over the back of Alex Coleman.
On 53 minutes, another powerful run through the middle by Gibson set up Craig Lindfield to his right, but his shot from 18 yards cleared the bar.
Two minutes later, Michael Ellison set out to unsettle the opposition with a double substitution: Zac Aley in a straight swap for Louis Corrigan, and Louis Hayes giving way to Kris Holt. A fans' favourite from the 2018 NWCFL triumph, the rousing reception for Kris honoured not only the start of his third spell with the club, but also his 100th Linnets appearance.
The cheers ended immediately, when Ben Wharton executed a tackle inside the Colne half which was as clean as the whistle that heralded his yellow card from the man in black.
The double change was followed by ten minutes of more threatening passing football by the home team, but as so oftens happens in the world's greatest but most perplexing sport, it culminated in the visitors taking the lead.
In the 58th minute, a skilful exchange involving Wharton, Gibson and Brown led to a curling Hamid ball into the area which found only the confident hands of Burton, with no opponent close enough to challenge him. Scott Lycett was next to win a 50/50 challenge but lose it to a tricky bounce, setting ex-Linnet David Sherlock free to lash another shot way high and wide.
Azam, Webb-Foster and Hopper were all involved in another move leading to Bradley shooting high over the bar.
Bradley was then substituted by Knox, but surely not for that reason. Nobody was finding the target, until a couple of minutes later.
A threatening shot towards the right post by Connor Hughes forced Ellison to dive full stretch, and from the resulting corner, Linnets' Achilles heel struck again.
Kyle Hamid headed away, but the ball came back into the box for Hughes to bury it largely unchallenged.
Runcorn responded on the offensive, Wharton flicking a header on to Caddick just inside the box, but a free-kick was awarded to Colne. The ball did bounce off Liam's arm, but I'm still not sure whether the offence was handball, a foul or offside.
The assistant's flag suggested the latter, but he certainly wasn't goal-side of Coleman, who spent an inordinate amount of time receiving attention for an ankle injury. Thankfully he was as right as rain after he stood up.
Characteristic hard work by Kyle Hamid won the ball in midfield several times and set up probing runs by Ally Brown up the right, but crosses by both found either Burton or a defending head, before a man in yellow and green.
It could have been as good as over on 78 minutes, when a cross from the left found Colne sub Hasler-Gregg unmarked in the middle, but it was a fraction too high for him to make the header.
A foul on Kris Holt 35 yards out led to a Hamid free-kick, which was headed out by centre-half Marcus Poscha, but picked up by Ally Brown wide left.
His cross was headed out by Hasler-Gregg, Hamid again diverting the ball out to the right. There appeared to be two Ally Browns on the pitch, as he was already there to pull a cross through the six-yard box.
Ben Wharton back-heeled from a yard out, but Colne's worst nightmare was averted as the former Red's attempt was blocked on the line.
So he back-heeled it again, and the nightmare was realised. 1-1.
With nine minutes remaining, Rochdale youth loanee Keaton Mulvey replaced Liam Caddick, and his pro club pedigree was immediately evident as he tore into the Colne rearguard on the left flank.
Linnets fans will look forward to seeing what he can do during his month's loan.
Chances were still to come at both ends. Crosses from both sides by Colne provided opportunites that were not adequately policed, but shots were blocked or continued to fly high and wide.
A powerful ball into the box from deep by Aley flew a yard too far for Craig Lindfield, then at the other end Zac's safety-first header gave a corner which was headed away from the near post by Wylie.
Four minutes were added by Mr Morland, although they lasted for six, and it was evident that the hosts were more determined than their guests to use them to turn one point into three.
One of the allotted four minutes remained when Hopper was replaced by Andrew Hollins, for reasons only the Colne boss could explain. A point could surely not be that precious to a team 15 points away from both the play-offs and relegation.
Zac Aley took a "yellow one for the team" when he fell in a 50/50 challenge, and handled the ball rather than allow Colne to attack on the break, and David Sherlock returned the compliment with a yellow for an industrial tackle that prevented Ryan Gibson breaking away from the halfway line.
The draw was probably a fair result, Linnets having shown more skill in the build-up, but Colne having defended tighter. Clinical finishing by both sides would undoubtedly have taken all three points back up the M6.
Suffice to say that Michael Ellison left the arena returning the fans' applause, but unable to do so with a smile.
He will be demanding a more consummate performance for the weather-belated visit of Clitheroe on Tuesday evening. Trusting it won't emulate the entertaining farce of the away 4-4 draw in September, it couldn't be a more even match on paper.
Linnets have three games in hand on their Lancashire visitors, but are one place above them by virtue of a single goal.
Runcorn Linnets: Craig Ellison, Louis Corrigan (Zac Aley 55), Peter Wylie, Scott Lycett, Ally Brown, Louis Hayes (Kris Holt 55), Craig Lindfield, Kyle Hamid, Ben Wharton, Ryan Gibson, Liam Caddick (Keaton Mulvey). Subs not used: Jack Hinnigan, 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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