29th September 2020, Mossley AFC v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-2
Since Runcorn Linnets joined Mossley AFC in the Northern Premier League in 2018, encounters
between the two have been feisty and physical affairs, and despite widespread personnel changes for both teams, this one was no exception.
Another pattern that repeated itself from the visit of a very different Runcorn side in August 2019 was a dominant first-half display warranting a comfortable lead, followed by a more rearguard second period with the hosts taking a more commanding role.
But in contrast with Mossley then turning a half-time deficit into a victory, this time all three points were taken back down the M56 after a nailbiting and at times downright ugly last half-hour.
With a switch to Seel Park from The Millbank on the latest Covid-19 defence advice, Mossley were confident of extending their flying start to the season with a third straight win, and they started the game closing down fast and hard, and launching long high balls to mount early attacks.
Their readiness to get physical was declared early, with only two minutes on the clock when Keaton Mulvey left James Short in a protracted heap on the touchline as the left-back set out to halt a Mossley break.
Referee Simon Robinson declined to take strong action, as he was to do when the hosts quickly identified Iwan Murray as a danger man and repeatedly responded to his threat by taking both legs from under him.
It's a pattern that the hugely talented teenager is having to get used to in a Linnets shirt.
It was astonishing that it was two minutes into the second half before Mr Robinson found his cards, after Kane Hickman wiped out Murray once more as he moved up the left touchline.
He was to brandish four more yellows (all to increasingly irked Runcorn players), and an inevitable red to Mossley substitute Jes Uchegabulem for a headbutt on James Short with 15 minutes remaining.
That event was possibly decisive in Runcorn's favour, as the Mossley No.15 was a rapid thorn in the visitors' left side during his 20 minutes on the pitch.
The first real chance of the game came with Paddy Wharton tipping over a threatening corner on five minutes, the next at the other end when Scott Lycett picked up a headed clearance from Lindfield's free-kick and played in Ben Wharton inside the six-yard box.
Mossley 'keeper Liam Lovell held on to the ball on the floor, where he and right-back Richardson remained for some time.
Wharton was adjudged to have fouled one or both of them.
Wylie and Lycett were repelling Mossley assaults into the penalty area, and Runcorn started to get a grip with some possession on the ground and Murray, Wharton, Brooke and Lindfield searching for openings for one another.
On 15 minutes, Wharton found one from the right, and from around the penalty spot a crowded box was no barrier to Craig Lindfield drilling a sublime shot into the top left corner.
Mossley responded to going behind by attacking rapidly, and a great blocking tackle by Wylie thwarted a powerful strike by centre-forward Harry Pratt. Runcorn's passing game from the back
wasn't deterred, and Wharton found Murray wide left.
He beat his marker Richardson and pulled a
cross back through the area, finding Lindfield, who hooked a shot wide.
A minute later a 'hospital' clearance across the 18-yard line was intercepted by Ryan Brooke, whose shot could only be slightly deflected by Lovell's gloves into the roof of the net.
The league's pacesetters were 2-0 down after 23 minutes.
Five minutes later, it could have been 3-0, when some panicky defending allowed Lindfield a shot from 18 yards that hit the fascia of the stand well above the crossbar.
The two-goal advantage was giving Linnets the confidence to take control of possession and work up more opportunities, with Mossley concentrating on clearing the decks long and attacking on the break.
After a foul on Mulvey, the home side's greatest threat so far, his free-kick produced a close-range header for Pratt and a reflex parry on to the bar by Wharton.
With half-time nearing, Hickman yet again upended Murray outside the left corner of the penalty area, but he would still have to wait until after the break to coax a card out of Mr Robinson's pocket.
The referee added one minute of time, despite having spent a good five at least partially accepting Mossley players' many protestations of innocence.
During that minute, a corner from either side failed to prise open the away defence, and the half ended with the ball in Paddy Wharton's hands.
After the game Mossley manager David Fish was to voice his dissatisfaction with his side's failure to gain and use possession during the first half.
It was to be hoped that ringing the changes for the second would include abandoning the industrial tactics being concentrated on Iwan Murray, but Hickman's belated yellow card two minutes in suggested otherwise.
The hosts certainly did take far more charge, though, using increased possession to build a threat in the Linnets third. It bore fruit less than five minutes into the half.
A diagonal ball to Pratt was chested forward neatly into the path of Matty Waller, who fired inside the left post giving Wharton no chance.
Visiting fans began to fear another Seel Park 'game of two halves'.
Two substitutions followed, Adam Barthram replacing Craig Lindfield, injured by a tackle on the halfway line, and the fateful Uchegabulem supplanting Mulvey as Mossley's most dangerous player. In more ways than one, as it turned out.
He embarked on a number of fast breaks up the right flank that caused problems for Short and the covering Lycett and Louis Hayes, and one resulted in a chance for Pratt to equalise, but he fired a little high and wide.
Runcorn also showed signs of having introduced a supersub, as Barthram became a major irritation to the right side of the hosts' defence.
On the hour, he beat the close attentions of Richardson and Uchegabulem, the former twice, to cross from the byline through the six-yard box. It evaded Ben Wharton and found Murray, but he miscued from eight yards out.
Barthram, the man in the No16 orange shirt, was proving near-impossible to dispossess, and at least once he could have been forgiven for taking the easy option and going down in the box under intense physical pressure.
Runcorn were now playing on the break from a rearguard response to increasing Mossley pressure, and Calum McIntyre introduced Joe Nolan and Kurt Sherlock in short order, for the bruised Murray and scorer Brooke, in an attempt to change things up.
Ben Wharton collected the game's second caution for a foul inside the Mossley half, having won the ball in the air, while somehow inflicting a leg injury on left-back Sam Kilner.
As is his wont, Ben shared several frank exchanges of views with the referee during the last 20 minutes (plus six added) which the travelling fans feared might result in both teams finishing with ten men.
Mossley numbers were reduced after James Short brought down Uchegabulem on one of his charges up the right. Short stood his ground as the Mossley sub confronted him for it, and was butted for his trouble.
The No15 was dismissed immediately, and a large chunk of the six added minutes came from a bout of civil unrest in front of the dugouts, but no more cards resulted.
Any late arrivals witnessing the remaining total of 22 minutes wouldn't have noticed Mossley's numerical disadvantage, as they continued to create most of the chances, albeit less potently without Uchegabulem and the substituted Pratt.
Linnets were also failing to use the extra man to pick up loose balls and advance. It did appear that they might restore their two-goal lead when Joe Nolan broke clear to contest a 50/50 chase for the ball with Liam Lovell.
Nolan got there a fraction earlier, and went sprawling inside the penalty area when the diving 'keeper prevented him from pursuing his prod to the right.
Obvious penalty appeals from on and off the pitch failed to dissuade Mr Robinson from booking Nolan for diving.
Kurt Sherlock was to join the strangely one-sided yellow card list, following his frustrations at becoming the new target of the 'foul rather than tackle' policy. There was none forthcoming for Mossley sub Ryan Shenton when he flattened Sherlock inside the left touchline, after the returning Linnets favourite he had turned and beaten him following a corner. Louis Hayes' free-kick flew long.
During an eventual eight extra minutes, Richardson placed a firm shot just over the angle of post and bar, and launched a long throw which was headed narrowly over.
More attempted assaults on goal were interrupted and cleared by a determined massed Runcorn defence.
The visiting fans' applause at the eventual final whistle expressed a mixture of elation and relief, as there had been more than enough opportunities for the ten men to grab a point.
But in truth, nailed-on chances were few, as the Linnets back line, augmented by Hayes, Welsh and Nolan, displayed urgency but no panic in protecting Paddy Wharton from having to defy the odds.
The return trip to Runcorn was spent feeling that four points from two away outings were amply deserved, particularly given Pontefract's 'hand of god' assisted late equaliser ten days earlier.
A first home league game will have to wait another eleven days, as Linnets attempt to progress a further lucrative step in the FA Cup, entertaining Marine at The Millbank on Saturday before another league trip across the Pennines - this time to Brighouse Town - on Monday.
Runcorn Linnets: Paddy Wharton, Ally Brown, James Short, Louis Hayes, Peter Wylie, Scott Lycett, Craig Lindfield (Adam Barthram 53), Jacques Welsh, Ben Wharton, Iwan Murray (Joe Nolan 60), Ryan Brooke (Kurt Sherlock 66). Subs not used: Alex Turner, Josh Brizell
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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