5th October 2020, Brighouse Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-3
Bizarre events to report, not least those relating to officials, have rapidly become a feature of the new season.
Linnets' Monday night trip to Brighouse Town produced more than most, but there must be something in the rarified air at the hilltop Dual Deal Stadium, as there were definite parallels with our last visit back in January, before the whole world went mad.
Your match reporter always feels a compulsion to identify the positives, and for now there were three:
A point; the rain staying west of the Pennines until nine minutes of added time; Kurt Sherlock.
Manager and red card recipient Calum McIntyre identified a fourth in his post-match interview - an appetite to stay in games from his team, and a refusal to throw in the towel.
He was right, but it wouldn't be helpful to ignore the fact that a fightback was rendered necessary by conceding three goals in 15 minutes to ten men.
And that's ten men, who earned their first point of the season on the night, and it wasn't too difficult to see why.
The weirdest parallel with that January game, which Brighouse won 2-0 in a fierce gale, was that the ability of their new goalkeeper Matt Smith wasn't tested until the 70th minute.
The same thing happened tonight, and the verdict was that he wasn't convincing.
But as Napoleon said, "Don't send me good generals, send me lucky ones".
Four of the Linnets' line-up had taken part in that last encounter, Scott Lycett for only 16 minutes this time before an injury forced his replacement by Jack Hinnigan.
The sub was subbed at half time, as Calum changed the shape of the team by introducing Ryan Brooke, to address the fact that precious few chances had been created and two goals had been conceded since Town's Shiraz Khan had been dismissed for an off-the-ball altercation with James Short after 34 minutes.
The referee knew nothing about it, but the linesman did. Once the linesman became the referee, he didn't seem quite so sharp on the uptake. Do try to keep up.
The officials set the tone early, calling offside after two minutes against Ben Wharton when he received a flick on from Iwan Murray with his back to goal, and centre half Kurt Harris cuddling him from behind, as he did all night with the help of Josh Grant.
I'm still not sure I understand the offside law. Or somebody doesn't.
On five minutes, Louis Hayes was scissored to the floor outside the area by Harrison Beeden, but it wasn't a foul, and on the break Laurence Sorhaindo blazed the game's first chance over the bar.
Two minutes later, Iwan Murray was offside, despite running past left-back Sam Reed to meet Kurt Sherlock's through-ball.
The hosts had most of the ball for the next few minutes with a catalogue of throw-ins down the right side - more echoes of the game in January, when any pass longer than five yards was swiftly removed from the pitch by the howling gale.
On 12 minutes, the next Runcorn attack featured a one-two between Welsh and Wharton, the former overlapping into the middle and striking over the bar from 20 yards.
Two more throws and a pair of corners for Brighouse, all repelled by the heads of Wylie and Lycett in the middle, concluded with Scott's departure through injury.
A far greater share of offensive
endeavour was coming from Brighouse, with another flurry of corners headed out and concluded by an offside call on the right.
When Runcorn did get forward, the constant two-man escort glued to Wharton (who is known around these parts) made it hard for him to turn and advance or to set up teammates. But anything not smashed away by defenders was being scooped up by Sherlock, covering every blade of grass in the Brighouse half to make something happen.
He came close when Ally Brown slipped a ball in from the right and Kurt hooked it over the defence into the path of Murray's advance.
He got there just before 'keeper Smith, whose foot was in quickly enough to block. On 26 minutes, a powerful Brizell free-kick from 25 yards provided unscientific family planning for Thomas Haigh, which would encourage him to be the full ten yards back next time.
Further advances by Sherlock and Brown didn't break down close marking and blocking by the Brighouse backs, and it was on the half-hour when Murray broke forward out of defence, and the home side finally got the memo: when you play Runcorn Linnets, you foul Iwan Murray. It's the law.
A typical blocking tackle by Wylie halted the next home attack, and then a soft free-kick from the left was about to be taken when the linesman shopped Shiraz Khan, and he was off.
At half-time, Town's media man scaled the tower to sample video evidence from our Martin, and descended shaking his head and repeating "never a red, never a red".
I wasn't sure what his problem was. It hadn't done his team much harm, as within three minutes of the dismissal, they were 2-0 up.
Straight from the restart, Josh Grant played a through ball to Eddie Church, who largely unchallenged, found the bottom left corner to take the lead on 36 minutes.
Before any response from the visitors, on 39 minutes Paddy Wharton mishit a clearance that made it only as far as Grant, 40 yards out.
He hit a volley, which flew unhindered all the way into the top left corner. It will doubtless survive to be goal of the season around these parts, but he could try it another forty times (one for every yard) and get nowhere near.
There were two Linnets chances before the break. Ben beat two men (obviously) to the ball just inside the area and pulled it back for Sherlock, who fired powerfully over.
Ten per cent less oomph and it would have made it under the bar, with Matt Smith nowhere near it.
Kurt then put Josh Brizell through to advance fast from the right, until just outside the six-yard box he was tripped from behind by Sam Reed.
No penalty, and it was half-time. As referee Lewis Dawson left the field I asked him, politely of course, why he hadn't booked Brizell for diving, as it had to be one or the other.
He wasn't sharing.
At the break, Calum can't have been happy, and he addressed the urgent need to put the ten men under pressure by swapping Hinnigan for Brooke to boost numbers in the creative areas.
In the first three minutes of the half, Runcorn put the Brighouse defence under as much pressure as they had faced during the first 45.
A deep cross from Short drew a clearing punch (his main modus operandi) from Smith, for Murray to loop a shot towards the far post.
Three short clearances were met by as many shots, Brooke finally shooting over.
Time wasting kicked in from Smith's goal-kick, finally executed after an unchallenged break for refreshment, and two throw-ins by right-back Jack Tinker that took longer than a Christmas shop.
Mr Dawson was cool with it, and Brighouse had no need to wind down the clock for 40 minutes, as when the second throw was finally executed, it took only two more touches from Haigh and Church to put the ten men 3-0 up.
This further setback prompted more urgency from the revised Linnets set-up, and the third attack in as many minutes involving Brooke, Welsh and Wharton found the target man turning his pair of minders to advance into the penalty area, where he was sandwiched by them and brought down.
Vehement Town protestations that they had carefully fouled him outside the 18-yard line didn't prevent Sherlock's penalty from juddering the perimeter board behind the goal, to Smith's left, from where it rebounded to Kurt for him to quickly deposit it on the centre spot for more of the same.
The belated Runcorn reply prompted a wave of overlapping attacks that allowed Murray more room in the middle behind Wharton to encourage increasing panic among the men in orange.
Threatening balls came in from both sides from Welsh, Brooke, Short and Brown, but frantic defending prevented any solid attempts on goal.
More Linnets set-pieces were likely from this scenario, and so it proved.
A corner from the right was deflected over by Church's head just before Wharton could connect, and then another was curling menacingly inside the far post, but spin on the ball slowed it just enough to allow a clearance.
Occasional breaks by the home team were still finding enough space to suggest their tally might increase further, but the Runcorn onslaught wasn't deterred, and Sherlock was burning up every blade of grass in the Brighouse half in a bid to further close the gap.
Jordan Deacey had replaced Thomas Haigh, and Sorhaindo laid on a shot for him which flew across Paddy's goal when he could have done better.
The momentum of Runcorn's resurgence was halted with 20 minutes remaining when referee Dawson pulled a hamstring, and as he was replaced by a linesman.
The bulk of nine minutes of stoppage time resulted from the search for someone qualified to take over the flag. Town's media man filled the void.
Ten normal minutes were left when a freakish intervention by Matt Smith suggested the luck was firmly staying in Yorkshire. He advanced to the penalty spot where, among a crowd, he attempted a clearing punch which climbed vertically, looped back towards goal, and bounced back off the bar rather than into the net. It was cleared as far as Murray, who shot just wide of the post.
There appeared to be a forcefield across the home goal.
After another poorly finished Brighouse break, Sherlock was on the prowl again, taking the ball past Harrison Beeden and then being flagged offside (by the original flag man).
As normal time came to a close, a Brooke ball wide to Brown was curled over, Tinker then seeing yellow for hoofing the ball out of the ground.
As the nine extra minutes were announced, a Sherlock ball into the box led to three deflected stabs at goal before the man himself headed it just over.
More Runcorn attacks were smothered when we re-entered the Twilight Zone.
Calum McIntyre received a red card after words with the original linesman.
With however many minutes remaining, Murray was audibly clattered inside the penalty arc, before three more challenges in the melee ended with the award of a Brighouse free-kick.
It was propelled to the other end, where a great point-bank save by Wharton from Deacey prevented a certain fourth home goal.
Had Runcorn luck turned, or was it too late? By my watch, which worked, there were four added minutes remaining.
Back upfield, Brooke was tripped outside the area earning Harris a yellow card that could easily have been red.
A helping of just desserts came when Josh Brizell unleashed a perfect free-kick over the wall and past the vain stretch of Smith's glove into the top left corner. 3-2.
Three hoofed Town clearances were lashed back upfield by Paddy Wharton, the last finding namesake Ben's head, but as he was wrestled by Harris, it was Wharton who was pulled up - for handball.
The random clock ticked away, all eyes on ref No2 for signs of the whistle being clasped between his teeth, as Iwan Murray spun his defender and turned into the area.
He was tripped before he could fashion a last-ditch attempt on goal, and Sherlock had the chance to convert his fourth penalty kick in three days.
It banged off the hoarding via the net once more, and after the briefest of scrambles to attempt a complete turnaround, the record books recorded a 3-3 draw that didn't begin to tell the story.
Perhaps Linnets' first home league game on Saturday, against Clitheroe, will be so orthodox it would set a match reporter an exacting task in filling two programme pages.
In these strange times, I wouldn't hold your breath.
The draw from 3-0 down, with two goals officially timed at '90', naturally suggest a dogged and determined effort from the Runcorn men to preserve their unbeaten start to the league season.
Indeed it was, but waxing too lyrical about the undeniable feat seems a little like celebrating a man's bravery in saving his house from burning down, while ignoring the fact that an hour earlier he was deep-frying a turkey in a tin bath in his living room.
Runcorn Linnets: Paddy Wharton, Josh Brizell, James Short, Louis Hayes, Peter Wylie, Scott Lycett Jack Hinnigan 16, Ryan Brooke 45), Ally Brown (Stuart Crilly 87), Jacques Welsh, Ben Wharton, Iwan Murray, Kurt Sherlock. Subs not used: Tom Ruffer, Adam Barthram.
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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