The Northern Premier League

9th October 2021, Tadcaster Albion v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-5

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

Linnets set out on another cup run, seven days after their heroic FA Cup exit against Gateshead, with a first visit to Tadcaster Albion since a 0-1 defeat in September 2019, in the Northern Premier League North West season ultimately voided by Covid-19.

These two sides are now operating in different divisions of the NPL's second tier, following a fresh geographical split, and with the visitors lying eighth in the West and Taddy propping up the

table in the East, the form book suggested a Runcorn win.

The first half suggested an even bigger gulf between the sides, as clinical finishing met sluggish defending to give Linnets a four-goal lead at the break.

But the second half was a different story, and we were left wondering what might have happened had Albion performed from 3pm as they did an hour later.

Linnets were almost ahead inside 30 seconds, when a first attack set up a Rhain Hellawell volley, which flew just the wrong side of the left post.

It set a pattern for the opening minutes. Iwan Murray found his way into the penalty area, his effort ricocheting back for Ryan Brooke to shoot narrowly wide.

Then James Short beat two defenders, cutting in from the left, to force a good save by 'keeper Ally Hughes.

The game was eight minutes old when Taddy managed a first spell of possession, but they played it forwards long, causing few problems for the Linnets defence.

Albion No7 Donald Chimalilo did give them something to think about, however, as he was to do many more times as the hosts' clear man of the match.

When Iwan Murray was disposessed inside his own half on nine minutes, Des Amponsah set Chimalilo away on the left, and he beat Wylie to deliver a good cross that none of his team mates were quick enough to meet, Short clearing the danger.

A busy first ten minutes were punctuated by four footballs being rejected as too soft; ironic, given that the last record played before kick-off was 'Pump It Up'.

Ryan Brooke evaded three attempted tackles before being tripped 30 yards from goal.

Murray's free-kick found the head of Evan Gumbs, but he couldn't muster enough power to trouble Hughes.

That free-kick set a precedent that would decide the outcome.

After 12 minutes, a similar set piece saw a 35-yard Murray free-kick from right of centre curl into the penalty area.

Ryan Brooke timed his sprint from the conga line along the 18-yard box to perfection, and was unchallenged in burying his header past Hughes.

As early as it was, the Runcorn lead seemed belated.

On the quarter-hour, Taddy shaped a response. Amponsah's shot from 18 yards was held by Joe Young, and then he combined with Burton and Chimalilo to set up Marko Basic, but he fired high.

Linnets went back on the attack, a Murray-Brooke exchange on the left being deflected out to Hellawell, whose shot curled wide.

Then Brooke outpaced his markers to advance into the penalty area, where he was tripped from behind. The nailed-on penalty was buried high and left by Jacques Welsh, and Linnets were in control with less than 20 minutes on the clock.

Taddy had a chance to stop the rot when Amponsah got beyond the Runcorn defence to shoot across goal, but his effort came off the far post. Eddie Church met the rebound, but O'Mahony and Welsh both managed to get in the way.

After a Linnets corner was repelled on 26 minutes, a foul gave Murray another free-kick from which he curled a high ball for Ryan Brooke to make it 3-0.

It was almost a mirror image of Brooke's opener, Iwan's delivery this time coming from the left.

Partisanship is the lifeblood of football, and the debate at this point hinged on whether the three-goal margin was down to woeful Albion defending or clinical Linnets finishing.

Let's be objective by suggesting there had been a bit of both.

A debate of a different kind ensued on the half-hour, when a mass scuffle broke out in the Runcorn half. Evan Gumbs reacted with vehemence to an alleged elbow by Church, and fans on both sides wondered what colour of cards referee Jack Hall would produce.

When calm was eventually restored, it was a yellow for both parties.

When play resumed, Joe Lynch went on an amazing solo run up the left into the area, beating most of the Tadcaster team on the way. Their Twitter commentary described it as 'getting out of about eight cul-de-sacs'.

It was reminiscent of Maradona's goal (the legit one) against England in 1986, except for the lack of a finish at the end of it, the ball being finally wrestled away from him inside the six-yard box.

It looked certain to be 4-0 a minute later, when another Murray free-kick into the area was headed down powerfully by Evan Gumbs. It was a goal all the way, until Hughes pulled off an incredible save on the line, somehow scooping the ball up and over the bar (think Banks v Brazil, 1970).

It was a shame that Hughes' feat was rendered irrelevant by a delayed offside call.

On 36 minutes, Gumbs the Elder was at it again but this time heading just over, from Hellawell's long throw.

Taddy achieved some respite from the pressure with a rare spell of possession around the Runcorn area with Chimalilo, Basic and Amponsah keeping the Linnets back four on their toes, and Church jockeying for profitable space.

O'Mahony eventually cleared to the centre circle, where Albion left-back Burton saw yellow for a heavy challenge on Welsh.

Linnets were back on the front foot, and it led to Rhain Hellawell stretching the lead to four in spectacular fashion.

Welsh passed forward to Eden Gumbs, who turned inside his man to play a neat one-two-three with Hellawell. The defence had the edge of the 18-yard box covered but Rhain took three strides across them into the penalty arc and curled a sublime shot around the last man and into the far corner.

The visitors had taken four chances in style, and in truth it could have been more, but it never looked as though they had their hosts outclassed. It was one of those golden afternoons when most of what you attempt comes off beautifully.

It was surprising, then, that a minute before the break, James Short took the risk of felling Vieira with a late and high challenge. Linnets fans were relieved to see that the card brandished by Mr Hall was yellow.

The Taddy No2 was not clear on goal, and even if he had been, at 4-0 up it would have seemed unnecessarily rash on Shorty's part.

It was doubtless a precautionary measure that Linnets boss McIntyre substituted him at half-time, giving patient recent signing Ollie Heywood a 45-minute debut.

The substitution was in no way responsible for Runcorn domination being over for the day. Rather than any complacency or lack of concentration on their part, it was a hugely more committed and determined performance from the men in yellow and blue that made the two halves of the game chalk and cheese.

Donald Chimalilo came into his own, involved in wave after wave of home attacks, and giving the Runcorn defence and midfield headaches.

He worked effectively with Marko Basic to create Albion's best chances from wide on the left, giving Peter Wylie a tiring last 45 minutes, and resulting in countless free-kicks from chasing tackles.

It would take 15 minutes of the half to bear fruit, bizarrely from one of the more innocuous of Basic's free-kicks into the area.

Before that, a number of headers and shots on the Runcorn goal had been blocked at close range, or saved by Joe Young.

Both goalkeepers must have felt they had been teleported into a different game after the break.

Runcorn attacks were now a rare phenomenon, and with the opposition having undergone an apparent personality transplant, Linnets struggled to find any rhythm.

Out of possession far more, tackles played a bigger role in their second half performance, and more fouls resulted, giving Albion opportunities to get back into the game from dead balls.

Evan Gumbs risked a second yellow card with a late challenge just before the hour, but escaped with a lecture. Moments later, Peter Wylie didn't enjoy similar clemency.

Basic's resulting free-kick bounced, perhaps deceptively, before continuing unmolested into the net to make it 1-4.

After the goal, Linnets did gain possession a little more, but more than two consecutive successful passes were rare.

Iwan Murray went on several accustomed solo runs, halted as usual by trips and fouls, as the game became bogged down in free-kicks both ways.

Jacques Welsh was fouled by Chimilola just inside his own half in a very similar way to James Short's misdemeanour before half-time, but the Albion No7 escaped a card because he upended his opponent rather than making heavy contact.

The same couldn't be said of Corey Roper's flying assault on Ollie Heywood eight minutes later, right in front of an enraged Runcorn dugout. It was perhaps Heywood getting quickly to his feet and making little of it that helped Roper escape with a card that matched his yellow shirt.

In between, the heavy challenges, goalscorer Hellawell had given way to Stuart Crilly, who took up residency on the right wing, Eden Gumbs moving over to the left.

The switch did give some new impetus to Linnets' advances on the ground, but with a quarter of the game remaining they still hadn't had a chance worth its name since the break.

That seemed bizarre after the embarrassment of riches in the first half. It wasn't a case of Runcorn resting on their laurels, either.

They were just disrupted in possession far more. There could have been another yellow card for Taddy when Russell brought down Iwan Murray on the march and had a niggly kick at him afterwards.

From the free-kick, Stuart Crilly took possession and won the ball back after Vieira's tackle, but it ran away from him for a goal-kick. Taking it was one of few tasks for Hughes since the break, having been overworked before it.

With 18 minutes remaining, yet another Basic free-kick from the left led to a massed scramble in the penalty area, where defenders in orange pounced on every Taddy attempt to shoot, and O'Mahony finally cleared.

Then after a Wylie-Evan-Crilly combination failed to seriously test Hughes, Chimilola was on the rampage again. He took possession on the left and tested six Linnets as they worked to keep him out of the penalty area.

Louis Hayes gave Iwan Murray a breather for the last ten minutes, and he applied fresh legs to the task of disrupting Albion's never-say-die attempts to further reduce the deficit.

The clock was soothing Runcorn fans' fears of an unlikely comeback, but they were to be calmed further by a well-deserved goal to mark a sterling 90 minutes by Eden Gumbs.

Wylie cut off another advance up the left to concede a corner, which was gathered at the far post by Young. His clearance found Joe Lynch, who exchanged passes with Eden.

The latter's hard work across the width of the pitch was rewarded when he turned his man and reached the 18-yard box, where he found the space to convert calmly past Hughes into the bottom corner.

There might have been a sixth Linnets goal, if anyone had advanced fast enough to meet a Lynch cross after he'd outrun Vieira to the goal line.

But they didn't, and the tie ended with a 5-1 Linnets win that reflected a breathtaking first half. An honours-even second 45 was less than Taddy deserved.

It was to their great credit that they never succumbed to a fate that was effectively sealed by 40 minutes.

Motivation can be hard to find when you're four goals behind. But their second- half performance suggested that they won't face many defeats by that margin, or indeed remain at the foot of the NPL East for long.

And Donald Chimalilo had a strong shout for being man of the match. How often does that happen when you've lost 5-1?

A busy week, involving Monday's draw, will see Linnets in home league action twice over the following seven days, with the visits of Newcastle Town on Tuesday 12th and Ramsbottom United on Saturday 16th.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Peter Wylie, James Short (Ollie Heywood 45), Jacques Welsh, Evan

Gumbs, Sean O'Mahony, Rhain Hellawell (Stuart Crilly 62), Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray (Louis Hayes 80), Eden Gumbs. Subs not used: Dapo Olrewaju, Carl Spellman.

Attendance: 224.

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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