The Northern Premier League

24th August 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v AVRO FC : 4-1 Sponsored by "It's me dad's fault I'm here"

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

A hard-fought 1-1 draw in Oldham three days earlier in the Emirates FA Cup preliminary round brought North West Counties Premier League side, Avro FC to APEC Taxis Stadium for the first time.

Tthe prize for the winner of this replay had in the build-up been confirmed as a home tie with Liversedge FC on Saturday 4th September in the first round of qualifying.

Since taking over match reporting duties, I have endeavoured to file my reports as quickly as possible, not least because 24 hours after the final whistle, I have little or no idea what my notes mean.

But this one required some pause for thought.

A 4-1 extra-time victory, after 210 minutes of ferociously-contested cup football, should be a labour of love for a supporter-reporter striving to remain objective. Sadly, it was tainted by events resulting in our witnessing a police presence at Linnets' stadium for the first time ever.

It was urgently requested when tempers flared among some of the visiting support, once Iwan Murray had broken the deadlock from the penalty spot after 85 minutes.

After the draw at the Vestacre Stadium I had wondered whether Avro's 4G pitch had aided them in limiting the threat of Runcorn's quick passing game and speed on the ball. But the pattern continued on APEC's hybrid carpet.

For most of the game, it seemed that while Runcorn enjoyed a lot more ownership of the ball, they repeatedly appeared outnumbered in possession, which was testament to Avro's organisation and fitness.

Once again, it was no easy task to carve out scoring opportunities. Avro had the first advance on goal, snuffed out by Louis Hayes and after a couple of minutes of steadying Runcorn possession, another Avro half-chance was taken easily by Joe Young in the home goal.

Stuart Crilly started on the right wing in place of Dapo Olaweraju, and he caused problems for the visitors from the outset.

Eden Gumbs, also starting in favour of MJ Monaghan wide left, won the ball and crossed for Crilly, whose header was glanced away by Sam Rathbone.

After only seven minutes Kai Haigh suffered an ankle injury in a 50-50 challenge with Crilly. This saw. him replaced by Jack Morrow.

Kane Wallwork also came off worst from a heavy challenge on Murray, requiring lengthy attention. The referee overruled the assistant's flag in Linnets' favour, and from Avro's throw-in Danny Byrnes could have done better with a shot that was saved by Young.

Then a free-kick from a foul on Byrnes was fired into the two-man Runcorn wall.

It was perhaps a question of probability that with Avro launching tackles so regularly, many of them were fouls, and it was promising that referee Callum Jones took action more readily than his predecessor on Saturday had done.

The first of eight yellow cards, shared between the teams, was earned after only 13 minutes for Jacob Wood's stamp on James Short. Threatening positions were achieved by both sides through the middle of the half, Linnets from midfield possession and Avro more on the break, but solid defending and goalkeeping prevented either from making many real chances.

A three-man move, involving Lynch and Murray, put Crilly through, Cottrell doing well to hook clear, and after Jacobs headed a cross out to 25 yards, a Jacques Welsh drive cleared the angle of post and bar.

At the other end, Young was stranded wide, when undecided whether to come out or stay, but he recovered to make a good close save.

Downes was carded for a foul as Potts broke clear, but the free-kick hit feet in the wall as they jumped.

Welsh was to attempt two more distant strikes narrowly off target, after Gumbs and Crilly both made the goal line but couldn't access team-mates in the area.

Crilly managed a shot himself from a tight angle, which curled just beyond the far post.

Throughout the first half, it appeared that home turf, or indeed turf, was not helping Runcorn to evade tireless defensive efforts from Avro.

This remained the case after the break, and it was not until eventual extra-time that the visitors' impressive exertions for three hours within four days cost them a yard or two in closing down, and the NPL side capitalised.

The last 15 minutes of the half saw only two more offensive efforts from Avro, Potts edging an aerial challenge with O'Mahony to send his shot a foot over the bar and a 35-yard free-kick prompting two clearing headers, again by O'Mahony.

It was a frustrating half for Runcorn, with the lion's share of possession producing mostly half-chances at best, but there were signs that Stuart Crilly in particular was making it increasingly tricky for Avro to keep the shutters down.

In the early minutes of the second period, Ryan Brooke appeared to be operating more left of centre, to interact more with Eden Gumbs, while Iwan Murray played further forward to seek out openings through the middle.

A flurry of free-kicks were conceded by the yellow and green as Avro advanced on the break. Their best effort saw a Liam Ellis header land on the roof of the net.

On 56 minutes, Olaweraju replaced Gumbs, Dapo's lightning pace set to test the opposition on the left as it had on the right in the first game.

Five minutes of the most consistent pressure yet from Avro, aided by more free-kicks, was followed by Ally Brown coming on for Louis Hayes to shake things up on the right. Pickford replaced Byrnes for Avro.

A great 'Cruyff turn' by Brooke took him into the area to pull back for Murray, whose shot was again blocked at close range, two Avro men still closing down on one when Runcorn looked dangerous.

With 20 minutes remaining, Iwan did find just enough space inside 18 yards for a blistering shot, but it drew a great save from Latham.

A Brown-Olaweraju switch set Brooke free from 30 yards, and Cottrell elected to halt his progress with a trip. The free-kick was taken short, and possession lost.

Runcorn continued to see more of the ball, but with Avro still ready to break when given the chance, it looked increasingly as though the first goal might be the one to determine the next FA Cup opponents for Liversedge. Calum McIntyre's next bid to bring the Yorkshiremen to Cheshire was the introduction of MJ Monaghan, ending a great shift by Crilly.

MJ had 13 minutes to make a difference, and his fresh legs immediately had the Avro defence drawing on dwindling resources of energy to keep the marking tight.

MJ had been in action for a little over five minutes when his turn inside Jacobs took him into the penalty area, where he was sent sprawling by the chasing right-back. Mr Jones had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and none either in presenting Rathbone with a yellow card for his voluble protest.

85 minutes of continuous noise from the visiting fans and their drums in the covered end showed signs of turning to something edgier, when most of a pint of beer, thankfully in plastic, flew over Latham's crossbar as Iwan Murray prepared to take the penalty.

He wasn't fazed, and despite diving the right way, Latham had no chance of preventing a perfectly-driven shot finding the bottom-left corner.

I confess I made very few notes during the last ten minutes, including five added, of normal time.

Tunnel stewarding duties immersed me in the distraction of several minutes of nastiness behind the goal. Credit to those real Avro fans, who did their best to help quell the aggression being displayed by some of the visiting contingent.

Another thirty minutes in the prevailing atmosphere wasn't a prospect to be relished, but that is what happened, as deep into injury time Avro threw everything at salvaging the tie.

'Industrial' tackles came thick and fast, but it was understandable that Mr Jones was reluctant to administer any red cards at that point.

There was no denying the magnificence of the strike that did tee up an extra half-hour. With almost every player in the Runcorn third, Louis Potts let rip from more than 30 yards out on the left, and Joe Young had no chance of preventing it from finding the top right corner.

Avro manager Lee O'Brien witnessed the equaliser from a stadium's length away, as he stood in the tunnel having been dismissed from the bench in added time. That was two visiting managers sent off in two competitive games at APEC so far.

Extra time in cup ties usually presents a strong argument for going straight to a penalty shoot-out (or for those who hate the 12-yard lottery, perhaps 'rock-paper-scissors'), but not this time.

The very first action of the epilogue saw James Short reach the left corner flag with a foot of space over his pursuer, and his cross back to the 18-yard line was met by a peach of a first time shot by Iwan Murray.

With no backswing whatsoever, he dispatched the ball into the same top right corner so recently found by Potts, with 'keeper Latham rooted to the spot.

Whether the goal took the impressive wind out of Avro sails, or whether they were finally too fatigued to stay on level terms, is open to conjecture.

The blocking of repeated Runcorn attacks continued, as did tackles that were now seldom early enough to avoid conceding free-kicks.

Two-handed shoves in the back became the order of the night, followed by growing dissent at their punishment.

It became hard to keep count of the fouls against Murray, Monaghan and Brooke, and the resulting free-kicks crucially kept Linnets in possession as much as they presented scoring opportunities.

Sloane and Morrow collected yellow cards, while Mr Jones remained reluctant to produce a red.

The second half of extra time saw Runcorn doing overtime taking free-kicks and corners. It was over as a contest on 109 minutes, when one of the latter on the right was struck hard and low by Iwan Murray, met at the near post by Ryan Brooke and flashed across Latham into the net before he could see it.

Monaghan and Olaweraju both looked determined to turn their bench-launched pace into more goals. After MJ's curling shot was parried by Latham, he came back for more and went to ground demanding another penalty.

It would have been soft. Avro hadn't given up. A long shot flew high, and two runs into the area were repelled by Downes and O'Mahony.

Back on the attack, Dapo passed right to Brooke, whose shot was dragged wide for a goal-kick.

Murray beat three men and was tripped again. Brown's cross from the free-kick was held by Latham.

Avro's powers to close down Olaweraju were all but exhausted, and with the clock ticking down, Dapo sidestepped three defenders to enter the area from the left, before slamming home a fourth goal that was the least his contribution over the two games deserved.

There was just time for Iwan Murray to receive an ovation on being subbed by Carl Spellman, and for a last scrambled Avro attack, defended by Downes and O'Mahony, and fielded by Joe Young.

Just watching three and-a-half hours of FA Cup football had been exhausting. The players of both sides had given everything anyone could have asked of them, and we can only guess how wrecked they felt.

Some unfortunate late events notwithstanding, it's why we love a competition whose latter stages we know we won't be involved in. The 'magic' of the FA Cup.

A special mention is due to Avro goalkeeper Jordan Latham. He commanded his area throughout two games against us in four days, and pulled off some superb saves. But he's also a great bloke. Those of us who like to spectate from behind the goal being attacked by Linnets get to know opposition 'keepers quite well. We enjoyed his company.

Another nod is required for referee Callum Jones. I wouldn't have had his job for a big shiny clock.

Joe Young, Louis Hayes (Ally Brown 61), James Short, Jacques Welsh, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Stuart Crilly (MJ Monaghan 77), Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray (Carl Spellman 119), Eden Gumbs (Oladapo Olaweraju 66). Subs not used: Sam Harding, Jordan Monthe.

Attendance: 473.

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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