The Northern Premier League

7th September 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Kidsgrove Athletic FC : 4-0 Sponsored by Frodsham Tyres

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

Runcorn Linnets played their eighth game in 25 days on an energy-sappingly warm Tuesday night, latest opponents being Kidsgrove Athletic in the Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division.

Prudent squadrotation saw Oladapo Olarewaju and Stuart Crilly start ahead of Laurence Smith and Eden Gumbs. Carl Spellman's patience was rewarded with an appearance in place of Alex Downes, who had undergone surgery for horrific facial injuries at the elbow of Liversedge striker Joe Walton in Saturday's FA Cup win.

Alex is on the mend, appreciative of all the good wishes from fans, who can't wait to see him back.

Manager Calum McIntyre suggested he will have to be physically restrained from returning too soon, describing the flame-haired centre back as a 'cyborg', in the best possible sense.

Another even contest was expected, with the visitors from Staffordshire a point above Linnets in the table, having played one game more.

Both had won three and lost just one. The first 20 minutes of the game suggested Runcorn would have to work hard to prevent that narrow gap from being widened.

Kidsgrove bossed possession and the ball spent most of that time in the home half, albeit with the rock solid defending that was becoming a Linnets hallmark keeping clear chances to a minimum.

Then it got weird. Six minutes later, Linnets were 3-0 up.

The first chance of the game had fallen to the hosts, Iwan Murray running wide right ahead of Ally Brown's pass and pulling the ball inside for Dapo Olarewaju.

His shot was deflected for a corner which Kidsgrove No.1 Kieran Harrison punched clear.

Athletic went on the attack, the heads of two Kyles, Diskin and Blake, frustrated in quick succession by that of Sean O'Mahony.

The first inevitable foul on Iwan Murray came after seven minutes, Jack Bromfield halting his sprint into opposition territory. Credit is due to Kidsgrove that on a frustrating night for them, the diminutive but dynamic Runcorn No.10 was curtailed by illegal means less often than usual.

The early pattern of the game reverted to Kidsgrove possession, and advances into Runcorn territory all across the pitch, Diskin and Adu-Gyamfi instrumental in stretching the home defence to open up chances for Blake, Whieldon and Kieran Brown.

But few real openings were forthcoming, as Ally Brown and James Short prevented crosses, and O'Mahony, Welsh and Spellman soaked up aerial pressure and allowed little room for manouevre in the penalty area.

Runcorn pressure was sparse and on the break, and was similarly pounced upon quickly by Byers and Bridge out wide, and Bromfield, Bergin and Lovatt in the middle, to put Kidsgrove back on the offensive.

Home fans were feeling it would take another 70 minutes of herculean effort for their side to send them home with smiles on their faces. The first six of those minutes turned the night upside down.

Not an inch of space was given to Stuart Crilly as he attacked from the left, so he pulled the ball back for Ryan Brooke on the edge of the penalty area, who spread it wide right to Murray.

He paused before returning the ball to Olarewaju near the penalty spot. Dapo turned his marker and whipped a shot firmly inside the left upright.

Celebrations behind the clubhouse goal were fractionally delayed, as it was a sudden lead against the run of play. Kidsgrove 'keeper Harrison also felt that 0-0 was the minimum his side were due, sprinting 40 yards to explain carefully to referee Jake Topp that Brooke had handled in the build-up.

His advice earned the first of six yellow cards that were shared between the teams.

It was a harsh tally, as it could never be described as a dirty game. Mind you, that's the judgment of a reporter, whose last game three days earlier witnessed paramedics spending more time on the pitch than several of the players.

Confidence was instantly switched by the goal, and Linnets went on the attack. Less than three further minutes had elapsed when a lightning one-two between Crilly and Brooke put the former into enough space to drill a low shot past Harrison and into the net.

My spidery shorthand would surely have time to catch up, as the yellow and green would sit back and stabilise on a 2-0 lead. But, after a flurry of tackles in the middle third, Lynch passed forward and right for Murray to head the ball on to Brooke inside the six yard box.

He netted first time past Harrison's outstretched right hand.

Lest bias be regarded as my curse, Ryan was offside. Kudos to Kieran Harrison. I wasn't alone in thinking his ire would prevent him from staying on the pitch until half-time. But this time he restricted his disapproval to his defence rather than to the two men who declined to employ either flag or whistle.

Runcorn Linnets 3 Kidsgrove Athletic 0. Sillier than a Coronation Street murder trial.

Kidsgrove might have fallen apart, disrupted by anger at officials and each other, but they regrouped against a Runcorn attack brimming with confidence. It could have been 4-0 before the half-hour, as Crilly was set free in the penalty area by Brooke, but Harrison saved well with his feet.

The visitors' early organisation and composure was understandably rattled, and they weren't closing down their opposition as tightly, or stringing together as many passes.

But they weren't resorting to fouling first and asking questions later, which was to be applauded.

Crilly set up Short to overlap right-back Will Byers and whip in a cross towards Brooke and Murray, but Bergin intercepted.

On the break, a firm header on target from wide left, was crucially tipped over by Young.

Kyle Diskin picked up a yellow card for his trip, preventing James Short's break into the Kidsgrove half.

From the free-kick, Olarewaju flicked neatly over his own head and his marker to pass to Short.

The left back's cross for Brooke or Murray 18 yards out was intercepted, and it was half-time.

Visiting manager Scott Dundas would surely be telling his players that they were not the worse side by a three-goal margin.

But the true difference between the teams was Linnets finding and exploiting dangerous space against a stubborn defence more effectively than their opponents had done.

The interval pep-talk had Kidsgrove starting the second half as they had the first, winning loose balls and advancing in numbers. Diskin and Adu-Gyamfi were instrumental in most of their efforts.

Whieldon managed two forceful attempts on goal within seconds, O'Mahony blocking a shot on the floor, and then winning an aerial duel in a crowded area.

Ally Brown blocked a charge up the left, before a second attempt was aimed at Whieldon. He headed wide under pressure from O'Mahony and Welsh.

Olarewaju shot wide from a Crilly through ball, then Jacques Welsh took the next yellow card for a trip on Adu-Gyamfi 30 yards from goal. The resulting free-kick found Jake Lovatt unmarked beyond the six-yard box, and he buried his shot.

But he had been unmarked because he was a couple of yards offside.

Lovatt was substituted soon after, along with Kieran Brown, as Twyford and Hartshorn joined the fray.

They had been on the pitch for around two minutes when they witnessed the rare phenomenon of a headed goal by Iwan Murray. He prefers the ball on the deck.

Ryan Brooke won a 50-50 challenge on halfway, and supplied Olarewaju on the right. Dapo's high cross found Iwan in the penalty area, and he had no choice but to loop a header up and over Harrison into the net. Game, set and match.

Eden Gumbs replaced Stuart Crilly for the last 25 minutes, and Kyle Stubbs came on for Kidsgrove after lengthy treatment to left-back Ricky Bridge, a strain or tear apparent from stretching for a loose ball.

A few minutes later, a trojan shift by James Short ended with the introduction of Louis Hayes.

Both sides continued to mount attacks during the last 15 minutes, Runcorn understandably looking a little less tired with the restorative powers of a 4-0 lead.

A first appearance for Jordan Monthe added fresh legs, and the determination of the Linnets under-21 graduate to make his mark.

It also allowed the fans to offer an ovation for yet another great day at the office from Ryan Brooke.

Jordan was instantly involved, a Joe Lynch through-ball setting up his charge towards the Kidsgrove area. Eden Gumbs ran in from the left awaiting a pass, but the new man went for an early stab at glory, which Kieran Harrison held on to from close range.

As the clock ticked down, Monthe turned two defenders inside-out near the left corner flag before being fouled. In added time, Carl Spellman ended a stalwart performance in the centre of defence with the game's last yellow card, holding on to both man and ball while grounded in the centre circle.

A never-say-die night for Athletic concluded with Adu-Gyamfi's run on goal, halted by a typicallystrong tackle from Ally Brown, conceding a corner that Mr Topp didn't allow time to take.

There won't be many four-goal defeats for Scott Dundas'side this season. If they had scored after 20 minutes rather than conceding, who knows what the final outcome might have been? They will win more games than they lose, and will do so by playing football.

Runcorn's haul of six wins in 25 days, with 16 goals scored and four consecutive clean sheets, must have made their only conquerors Glossop North End feel like giants.

Visits to Clitheroe and Bootle in the following seven days will constitute nothing like a well-earned breather for Linnets.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, James Short (Louis Hayes 72), Carl Spellman, Jacques Welsh, Sean O'Mahony, Oladapo Olarewaju, Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke (Jordan Monthe 81), Iwan Murray, Stuart Crilly (Eden Gumbs 65). Subs not used: Laurence Smith, Peter Wylie.

Attendance: 523.

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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