The Northern Premier League

4th September 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Liversedge FC : 2-0 Sponsored by Fore Golfers

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

For clubs at the eighth tier of English football, the FA Cup is not an opportunity to put silverware in the cabinet. But it means the world. It is the oldest football tournament of them all, 150 years next year, and in the modern age, progress provides serious prize money and the possibility of showing what we can do on national TV.

Last season we had the excitement of our nearby NPL rivals Marine facing Tottenham Hotspur in the iconic Third Round, with a BBC caption showing that the Crosby outfit had edged out Runcorn Linnets on penalties five rounds earlier.

But the FA Cup also has a habit of producing controversy, as it did when Linnets beat Avro FC in the Preliminary Round, after extra time in a replay.

This tie was no exception, and the joy of advancing into Monday's draw was eclipsed by hopes for a rapid recovery by Alex Downes from a horrible head injury.

Linnets knew they had their work cut out, hosting the leaders of the parallel NPL East Division and winners of their first five league games, with a plus-10 goal difference.

Early exchanges followed the pattern of the season so far, with big, strong opposition marking tight and closing down fast. But Runcorn made a confident start, Joe Lynch firing over the bar from 20 yards in the first minute.

Opportunities would not come thick and fast for either side, and the next decent chance came five minutes later when Spencer Harris unleashed a decent shot for the visitors which Young saved well, diving to his left.

Moments later, Harris collected the first yellow card of the afternoon for a foul on Iwan Murray on the halfway line. It was hoped that swift action so early by referee Daniel Bruce would impose lasting discipline. Sadly, it didn't.

Inside the first ten minutes Eden Gumbs had a shot gathered by Liversedge 'keeper Jordan Porter, and at the other end Cyrus John's header from a corner flew wide.

Tight marking prevented Runcorn progress on the ground, so forward balls for Gumbs, Murray and Brooke to run on to were the order of the day. They were being soaked up by centre-backs John and Tarangadza, and surprisingly for a team storming their early league season, their main response was to smash the ball out of the stadium, rather than move upfield to launch attacks.

One was constructed on 15 minutes when Tarangadza's tackle set up Harris to feed Walton in the area, but his ball across the six-yard box was to no-one.

A scrappy five minutes of rapid tackling was followed by a chance for Sedge's Oliver Fearon, but he shot too high.

The East Division leaders were picking up most of the loose balls, leaving the Runcorn men to chase and block with possession at a premium.

On 25 minutes, Ryan Brooke chased a swift ball towards the Sedge penalty area, marginal favourite to get to it before the advancing 'keeper.

Cyrus John tipped the odds in favour of Porter by stepping in front of Brooke and backing into him. I hate to sound like a broken record, but does obstruction actually exist, or did I just dream it after eating cheese too close to bedtime?

Just afterwards, Jacques Welsh might have tried a shot from 20 yards, rather than slip a pass through to the already offside Iwan Murray, who was clattered to the ground by Porter for good measure.

On the half hour, Welsh saw yellow for a late tackle 25 yards from goal.

Walker's free-kick found Tarangadza's head outside the right post, Fearon following up with a cross that flew behind for a goal-kick.

A minute later, Runcorn had the ball in the net. Brooke won an aerial duel in the centre circle then picked up the ball himself to lay off to Laurence Smith, whose shot rattled the bar.

Brooke followed up to head inside the left upright, but Joe Lynch was in an offside position too close to the path of the ball.

Ten minutes before the break, Tarangadza's arm across Eden Gumbs' throat was on the referee's blind side, and then it was tricky to see why Sean O'Mahony was cautioned after being turned by Walton.

If there was a foul, advantage might have been played, but the free-kick from 22 yards flew straight into the waiting gloves of Young.

Approaching the interval, Murray won a couple of fair fights for the ball before being fouled. He regained the ball after losing it to Jack Stockdill, who expressed his displeasure by stamping on the Runcorn No10. Mr Bruce had scarcely had time to return the yellow card to his pocket before Stockdill scythed into Ryan Brooke, possibly breaking the world speed record for chalking up two bookings. Perhaps he had an urgent appointment.

Murray hit the defensive wall with the free-kick, and it was half-time.

A one-man advantage prompted a confident Runcorn start to the second half, Lynch and Smith taking possession in the middle, setting up Short for a run up the left to cross for Brooke. He flicked on for Gumbs, who was dispossessed by John.

A first Liversedge assault of the half came from a free-kick launched forward to heads in the Runcorn area, where Downes was fouled.

Murray won a corner from which he walked the ball into the area, passing inside to O'Mahony who was out-muscled by Tarangadza.

It seemed that tiredness wouldn't soon be the outcome of Liversedge being down to ten men, so the ten per cent increase in space would have to be Linnets' best bet.

After 56 minutes, Stuart Crilly replaced Eden Gumbs, and immediately played a telling through ball into the area for Brooke, but he was offside.

An eight-man sequence of Runcorn passes probed for an opening until the hard-working Tarangadza took the ball off the toes of Murray just inside the 18-yard area.

Fearon was the next recipient of a yellow card after objecting to being penalised for pulling back O'Mahony in his own penalty area.

Linnets controlled possession again into the final half-hour, without breaking down Liversedge defensive efforts, and a breakaway allowed a Fearon shot that was safely fielded by Joe Young.

Stuart Crilly was causing headaches for the Sedge defence as he switched passes with advancing full-backs Brown and Short, and the sequence bore fruit after 65 minutes, when Ally Brown beat left-back Grant to the goal-line and snapped back a cross that Ryan Brooke buried with ease to give the eleven men the lead.

There was a consensus near me that there should be no sitting back on the hard-earned lead, and there wasn't. From a corner on the right, won by Lynch, Iwan Murray swung a tricky shot inside the near post that had the 'keeper juggling.

With 20 minutes remaining Murray was apparently tripped inside the area by a two-man challenge, but the referee disagreed.

The tie was far from won, but it had been well more than ten minutes since the visitors had seriously threatened the Runcorn rearguard.

Cyrus John's afternoon was over when he landed badly on an ankle after intercepting in the centre circle. Adam Porritt replaced him, as Ross Daly also substituted Spencer Harris.

Two minutes later, Louis Hayes stepped in for Runcorn in place of Laurence Smith.

After Crilly was wrong-footed collecting a Murray through ball, Liversedge advanced to win a throw-in on the right. A ball into the box was blocked by O'Mahony to plaintive and vain appeals for handball.

Then an aerial free-kick into the Runcorn area ended up in the net, but an offside flag had already been raised; 'keeper Young was also surely fouled while attempting to catch it.

Inside the last ten minutes, Tarangadza made a rare mistake in his own penalty area, Murray and Crilly taking possession and finding Brooke. Prevented from turning, he knocked it back for Welsh, whose shot prompted a request of 'Can we have our ball back, please?' to the licensee of the Queen of Hearts.

There were seven minutes remaining when Liversedge had their best chance of the half. Walker fired a rapid ball across the box, where Fearon controlled in a crowd and shot firmly, drawing a fine save from Young.

Then Grant floated a long ball into the area towards Fearon, who climbed over the back of Short, conceding a free-kick.

Few home fans relished the prospect of Tuesday's home fixture with Kidsgrove being replaced by a cup replay in Cleckheaton, but the ten men were not yet resigned to their fate. Such fears were dispelled with five minutes on the clock.

A one-two between Crilly and Short on the left wing provided a cross into the six-yard box that Sedge 'keeper Porter couldn't hold on to, and Ryan Brooke needed no more invitation. He extended his FA Cup goal tally to three in two games, planting a header into the undefended net.

The Runcorn defence held a high line in the middle third of the pitch to see out the victory, and as the game moved into added time, everybody was ready to go home.

The final whistle would have to wait for another half an hour, though, as Linnets centre-half Alex Downes suffered a sickening injury from a forceful elbow in the face from Joe Walton.

The production of a straight red card from Mr Bruce was instant, and it was a relief that the arrival of an ambulance and a paramedic response vehicle didn't take much longer.

Walton responded aggressively to the disapproval of the home fans as he left the pitch, and many of his teammates sprinted to join him in confronting them.

That might have been distasteful enough, even if it weren't for the fact that Alex Downes still lay motionless and unconscious on the halfway line.

Alex was thankfully conscious by the time the ambulance left the ground. Carl Spellman replaced him, but didn't have the chance to get involved as the referee restarted the game in added time and immediately blew the final whistle.

Any celebrations of an FA Cup win, and the anticipation of Monday's draw for the next round, were obscured by far more important concerns.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Alex Downes (Carl Spellman 90), Sean O'Mahony, Joe Lynch, Laurence Smith (Louis Hayes 77), Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray, Eden Gumbs (Stuart Crilly 56). Subs not used: Oladapo Olarewaju, Jordan Monthe.

Attendance: 603.

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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