The Northern Premier League

6th November 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Trafford : 1-1 Sponsored by Tommy Doyle and Alan Philips in memory of their good friend Jay Fleming

Linnets returned to Pitching In Northern Premier League action after a thumping 7-1 Cheshire Cup victory over Cheadle

Town, with the visit of top-seven rivals Trafford.

The Manchester outfit stood one point ahead of Runcorn, having played two games more.

And the fixture had provided some close, high-quality games in recent seasons.

The last two, in the 2019-20 season, had produced a 2-1 home win for either side.

This time it was a little disappointing to see a Trafford side depart from their customary ethos of playing good football on the ground, in favour of an end-to-end, long ball approach.

And far too many of the home team's efforts to get forward with a quick passing game were combatted by the easy if risky option of fouling the first man in possession.

Linnets fans felt that for too long, referee Dan Bruce didn't do enough to discourage it.

Trafford created the first couple of half chances of the game. James Neild dragged a shot across goal in the second minute, after James Short had chased down Matty Barlow and forced him to lay it off.

In the fourth minute, Alfie Belcher was allowed too much time to find Barlow in space, but he scuffed a shot wide.

Alex Downes, in an unfamiliar No8 shirt, was to initiate many of Linnets' attacks with passes to both wings.

On five minutes, he swept a long pass to the left for James Short to run on and cross.

Under pressure from three Runcorn men in the six-yard box, goalkeeper Matt Cooper elected to scoop the ball over the bar to safety.

The corner kick reached Ryan Brooke near the far post, but he couldn't get a solid contact and it flew wide of the post.

Five minutes of consistent Runcorn possession achieved few gaps through a fast-closing defence, and when the defenders in white won the ball, it went long.

Whether or not it had been formulated on the training pitch, Aidan Roxburgh anticipated one such long ball perfectly, which gave him a head start on the pursuing Ally Brown.

TheTrafford left-back was away with only Joe Young in the Runcorn goal to beat, and he found the top right corner.

The visitors had a lead out of nothing after 12 minutes.

Linnets were not fazed, and they were quickly on the offensive. Dapo Olarewaju went down under pressure in the area and appealed for a penalty, but none was forthcoming, and a moment later, an Ally Brown shot from distance cleared the bar.

On 14 minutes, Brown had another chance (after Dapo had cut in from the right past two defenders and pulled it back) but he miscued and the ball was cleared.

Ally remained heavily involved in Runcorn efforts to get level.

After Iwan Murray beat two men before forcing a throw, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes was set up for a good cross which was headed over by Brown under pressure, and then he played a great through ball to Olarewaju in the penalty area.

Dapo turned his man to get in a firm shot, but Cooper saved well to concede a corner.

Trafford's clearance found Belcher outside the Runcorn area, and his shot from distance was saved on the ground by Young.

Linnets pressure resumed, Murray jockeying left and right in the area with three defenders between him and goal.

He turned to curl a shot inches over the right angle of post and bar.

The home team continued to dominate possession, and the Brown-Olarewaju partnership repeatedly sought openings up the right-hand side.

A resulting corner on 25 minutes was heading for Ryan Brooke at the far post, but it was a touch too high for the No9 to get more than glancing contact.

Marsh-Hughes was tripped at the left corner of the penalty area, but Trafford's Adam Rooney got his head to the dangerous free-kick just before Evan Gumbs.

The first Trafford attacking effort for some time came from a free-kick wide on the right, launched into the penalty area, from where Downes headed away.

Back at the forest end, Marsh-Hughes beat two men and appealed in vain for a free-kick for the challenge of a third.

Runcorn possession continued, and patience was clearly the watchword if they were going to make it pay.

An Olarewaju run resulted in a pass inside to Brooke, who played it on forwards for Brown, but the wind took it away for a goal-kick.

A hopeful aerial contest on the halfway line left Iwan Murray in a heap after Ross Davidson landed on him, and then a Brown-Downes swap on the right didn't quite reach Marsh-Hughes 18 yards out.

The clearance set up a Trafford break, with Belcher and Barlow attacking in tandem, but a great Short tackle on the touchline frustrated their progress.

With half-time looming, a Murray free-kick from deep was blocked and Olarewaju picked up the loose ball.

He beat two men to reach the area and had a strong shout for a penalty for being tripped, but the whistle remained silent.

Runcorn attacks continued to the interval. Downes, Olarewaju and Brown combined again to provide a cross destined for Brooke's charge on goal, but Keil O'Brien got his head there first.

The Trafford defence was scrambling, with five Runcorn men in the area, but they held firm to take a narrow lead into the dressing room.

It was hard to imagine that the same level of Runcorn possession and creation in the second half could permit a home defeat.

In the event, they would not secure quite the same level of domination, but they would have felt very badly done by had the visitors seen out another 45 minutes without

conceding.

It seemed that half-time discussions in the Trafford camp might have concurred that defending tightly and in numbers would not be enough, and a rather more cynical approach began to take shape through the second period.

That said, it was a Runcorn man who received the day's first yellow card, when a Ryan Brooke foul on the halfway line halted a Trafford attack a minute into the half.

Perhaps that's what gave them the idea.

A change of tack for Trafford going forward was also suggested by the weather. Their long-ball tactics might struggle with a stiff wind behind them.

It was easy to get the ball from end to end, but trickier to control it when it got there.

Linnets continued their forward pass- and-move efforts on the ground. An Ally-Dapo move up the right produced a cross that came in just behind Iwan Murray, then a James Short through ball to Dapo in the area was cut out by O'Brien.

The yellow card count was levelled when O'Brien earned one for preventing Marsh-Hughes' progress with a foul 40 yards out.

It preceded Ryan Brooke's replacement by Craig Lindfield on 54 minutes.

Linnets settled into a period of patient control, with O'Mahony, Gumbs and Hayes holding possession across the middle third of the pitch, to allow teammates ahead of them to find space for attacking options.

Few of them were forthcoming, though, as Trafford's defensive organisation continued to limit available space.

Frustration was the word.

It was at this point that another superb attendance of 598 was announced.

With half an hour remaining, and Trafford on the break, Matty Barlow was allowed the space to turn

and shoot from 20 yards, but it flew high.

A great Louis Hayes ball out right to Olarewaju led to a cross for Marsh-Hughes at the near post, but a defensive boot intervened to concede a corner.

Another wind-assisted Trafford clearance reached Belcher, who headed on into empty space.

Gumbs hooked away, but not far enough, and Belcher passed left to Mike Burke. He flashed a shot wide across goal, which was a let-off for Runcorn as they continued to chase the game.

Olarewaju chased it immediately, breaking into the area from the left and curling a ball towards the far post.

It sneaked wide, ahead of Lindfield's charge into the six-yard box.

After the game, Linnets boss Calum McIntyre remarked that his team had created many 'chances of chances'.

It was a neat assessment. Domination of possession repeatedly threatened to open the door, but a relentless Trafford defensive performance repeatedly kept it closed, as Calum acknowledged.

Ally Brown saw yellow for a foul on Davidson just inside the Trafford half, and the free-kick allowed Davidson to pass left for Belcher to advance on goal and shoot, but too high.

Murray was prevented from sparking an attack from halfway by a foul, but Linnets were still in possession with players ahead of thre ball, and a volley of dissent at Mr Bruce's failure to play advantage earned Sean O'Mahony a yellow card.

A minute later, discretion caused Calum McIntyre to withdraw him in favour of Olly Heywood.

Evan Gumbs deflected a Burke effort from 20 yards for a corner, which was headed wide at the far post by Rooney.

Back to the clubhouse end, and Marsh-Hughes skipped past Neild's challenge to cross from the goal line, but there was nobody there to meet it.

After Trafford replaced Hazeldine with McIlwaine, with a quarter of an hour remaining, they secured their longest spell of possession of the second half.

The Runcorn defence coped well, but it restrained home efforts to salvage an outcome.

They continued to push for an equaliser, but they were not dominating possession to the extent that they had throughout the first half.

Within the 78th minute, Trafford managed two crosses in quick succession, but neither found a man in white in the area.

As so often before, Brown and Olarewaju combined on the right, and produced a cross that put Iwan Murray one on one with the 'keeper in the air. Cooper was always favourite.

Lindfield clipped Davidson in a 50-50 challenge on the halfway line, and after the free-kick was taken long and cleared, Lindfield set Olarewaju away on the right.

His options were limited, and having kept the ball from four challenges by three defenders, he eventually lost out.

With seven minutes remaining, Heywood played a through ball to Marsh-Hughes just inside the area. He turned and shot, for a deflection to bounce wide for a corner, when it could easily have found the net. Frustration persisted.

From the corner, a free-kick was awarded for a foul in the air by Marsh-Hughes, amid home demands for a decision the other way.

It looked increasingly like one of those days when it just wasn't meant to be, all the more so as Heywood endeavoured to move up the left touchline with Ross Davidson wrapped around him like a cheap suit.

The referee deemed the protracted embrace acceptable.

With two minutes remaining, justice was done in more ways than one.

It had seemed that if Linnets were to get the goal their efforts had deserved, it would come from a rare defensive slip.

But in the event, Trafford were cut open by two sublime touches.

Alex Downes strode into the Trafford half from the centre circle, and played a measured ball into the penalty area in front of Lloyd Marsh-Hughes.

He struck a volley which gave Cooper less than no chance, to roars from behind the clubhouse goal.

Runcorn sensed a famous turnaround, and threw everything at getting a winner.

Craig Lindfield charged forwards on the right, and was cut in half by Trafford scorer Roxburgh just outside the penalty area.

A red card, for a second yellow, was the response, and while it was too late for a one-man advantage to make a difference, Murray's free-kick might just have done so.

O'Brien saved the day, getting his head to it just before Marsh-Hughes.

A sub was subbed when MJ Monaghan was introduced in place of Craig Lindfield (who had sustained a head injury fro a high boot in the challenge which prompted Roxburgh's dismissal) for four added minutes.

Trafford replaced Mike Burke with Ollie Ford at the same time. MJ set out to make the substitution a stroke of genius, with a fantastic run up the left.

Picking up the ball 40 yards out, he beat two defenders twice each to reach the area, before Ford tweaked the ball away from him.

Iwan Murray took possession and shot from 20 yards, Rooney blocking to concede a corner.

It was cleared, as was a follow-up Heywood effort, and then Evan Gumbs won an aerial challenge but was judged to have fouled. And that was it.

The final game stats would show that Linnets had snatched a point, but that was not the story of the afternoon. Trafford were fortunate to lead for 75 minutes against a team, which had played the vast majority of the football and created most of the chances.

The Mancunians came close to taking all three points, thanks to solid defending and, increasingly as the game wore on, a cynical approach to preserving their lead.

Justice was done by their ultimate failure to do so.

Before kick-off, a 1-1 result would have been afforded short odds by a bookie.

The pattern of the game, though, varied wildly from expectations. Rather than a meeting of like with like, it was a classic case of an irresistible force met by an immovable obstruction.

A Tuesday night trip up the M6 to Kendal will be next for Linnets, followed by a much-needed 11-day break before the home fixture with Warrington Rylands on 20th November.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, James Short, Louis Hayes, Evan Gumbs, Sean O'Mahony (Olly Heywood 70), Dapo Olarewaju, Alex Downes, Ryan Brooke (Craig Lindfield 54 replaced by MJ Monaghan 90), Iwan Murray, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes. Subs not used: Peter Wylie, Carl Spellman.

Attendance: 598



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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