The Northern Premier League

20th November 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Rylands FC : 2-0 Sponsored by Left Side Ultras in memory of Lee Chesterson

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

Since an excellent 3-0 away win in Kendal on 9th November, Linnets had enjoyed a welcome 11-day break, due to scheduled opponents Marine being in FA Trophy action.

Visitors Warrington Rylands had taken advantage, leapfrogging Linnets in the table with a thumping 7-2 win over Prescot Cables.

Form became harder to read three days later, when Cables went on to beat high-flying Mossley, who had been 4-0 victors in Linnets' last home league game at the APEC.

Another great crowd of 679 came to witness the highest-ranked clash of the day, and it promised to be a suitably close affair, with tentative early exploration upfield from both teams, and quick and tight defensive efforts in response.

In the third minute, an Ally Brown cross from the right was glanced wide by the head of Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, and that was to be the only real chance during the first ten minutes.

In the 11th, the first obligatory foul to prevent Iwan Murray's progress into the opposition half produced a free-kick from halfway. It flew long on the freshening wind to Rylands 'keeper and captain Graeme McCall.

At the other end, Joe Young rushed a clearance from outside his penalty area, resulting in a scramble inside the

touchline on Rylands' right. Coveney's cross reached the penalty spot before being headed away by Sean O'Mahony.

On the break, Louis Hayes, Murray and James Short combined to reach the Rylands area, left-back Short's cross flying just too high for the head of Hayes.

Short's afternoon ended after just 17 minutes, when he was injured in a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the Rylands half.

He was helped from the field, unable to stand on his left foot, and replaced by Rhain Hellawell.

Short was to leave the APEC on crutches, and it is to be hoped he won't be on the Linnets injured list for too long.

Tinning, Dolan and Gerrard built a Rylands attack that ended with a Coveney shot being held well by Joe Young. Then Brown and Wylie swapped several passes on the right before Lewis Doyle's cross-field ball for Hellawell was intercepted.

Rhain was quickly back in defensive mode to halt Dolan's move up the right.

It was end-to-end stuff, but with little threat to either goal, as both defences set about their work with determination.

A first attempt on goal for a while saw Murray shoot well but wide from Brooke's pass on the left.

The Linnets' No.10 shaped a similar attempt on 22 minutes.

The pace was fast, and both sides would be hoping to achieve a little more time on the ball.

It was the 24th minute when the hosts did. Left-back Tinning was caught out by a quick turn and cross by Hellawell.

It found Lloyd Marsh Hughes in a yard of space in the centre, and his header found the left corner of the net to put Linnets ahead.

The goal cemented a period of Runcorn control. Alex Downes played a neat ball forward to Iwan Murray outside the area, but Sam Egerton smashed it out of the ground.

Wylie's throw found Brooke, who hooked a ball over the defence, just a bit too long on the wind for Marsh-Hughes.

Another ball into the area by Brooke was cleared, and in a first Rylands foray into the Runcorn third for some time, three faced three until O'Mahony and Downes combined to clear the danger.

On the half-hour, O'Mahony won the ball from a crowd in the middle of the Runcorn half.

Hellawell was pulled back in the centre circle, and he was found wide on the right by Murray's free-kick.

A great cross was inches too high for Brooke's head on the edge of the six-yard box.

From the media platform above the stand, we could feel the wind strengthening, and as so often in recent weeks, it would have a real bearing on the pattern of the game.

McCall's clearances from the forest end were increasingly curling back towards him.

In the 36th minute, a Wylie ball from deep into the penalty area was met by a great flick goalwards by Brooke, but McCall held on to it well.

Rylands broke forward on the right through Dolan, who was dispossessed by Downes, but the Linnets centre-back miscued to concede a corner.

It flew over everyone before being put back into the area by Richard Smith, but Ally Brown scrambled the ball away before Gerrard could get to it.

Into the closing minutes of the half, Rylands were beginning to fall prey to what commentators usually call 'frustration', increasingly calling a halt to Linnets attacks with fouls.

Walker caught Downes on the ground after the Runcorn man had won a challenge, and three minutes from the break, Brooke was cynically tripped from behind before he could shape to shoot, outside the left corner of the Rylands area.

Murray's free-kick was headed out from a crowded box, but only as far as Lewis Doyle, 20 yards from goal.

He marked his home debut for Linnets with a bullet of a volley into the top right corner. If his first Runcorn goal doesn't end up being his best, we won't want to miss the one that tops it.

The final attack of the half came from a Rylands free-kick wide on the right, but it failed to produce a chance as Sean O'Mahony rose above the crowd to head clear.

Linnets haven't always prospered when the wind blows at their backs towards the forest, but on this occasion they had made the most of it to put a lot of pressure on quality opposition.

It remained to be seen whether the visitors could do likewise in the second half, to salvage the game and preserve their second place in the league.

Rylands certainly attacked with more urgency with the wind behind them, and they were to apply a lot

of pressure in the second half, provoking a man-of-the-match performance from Joe Young in the Runcorn goal.

In the 47th minute, Walker's cross was headed wide by Coveney.

Linnets responded with a Murray through-ball for Marsh-Hughes, whose shot from 18 yards was blocked at close range by Egerton.

Hellawell's long throw was intercpted by Gerrard in the area, prompting home shouts for handball.

A long clearance on the wind reached the Runcorn area, where Wylie won an aerial duel with Akeel Francis, then Coveney was hurt in a 50-50 challenge with Wylie 25 yards out.

Widespread Rylands claims of foul play by the Linnets skipper were dismissed, play re-starting with a drop-ball.

After 56 minutes, Rylands manager David McNabb made a bid to change his team's fortunes with a double substitution, Francis and Gerrard giving way to Kane Drummond and Andrew Scarisbrick.

Both replacements made their presence felt quickly, their two-man move up the right demanding a confident high save by Young.

Rylands were to cause repeated trouble in the Runcorn area with crosses on the ever-stiffening wind. But time and again, Young dealt with them superbly, not just getting to the ball first, but holding on to it with gloves like fly paper.

O'Mahony headed out Dolan's ball from the right for a corner. That produced a shot from Charlie Doyle that flew high.

Rylands' best chance of the afternoon came on the hour mark, as Drummond outstripped Ally Brown on the right flank and fired in a cross that found Bunney unmarked in the six-yard box.

It looked a certain goal, but the Rylands No6 somehow steered it wide of the left post.

Coveney and Walker combined on the right to provide another cross into the box, but Young gathered it again.

Rylands were in control of second-half possession, but the combination of solid defending and Joe Young's invincible mood made the 2-0 lead look secure.

Ryan Brooke had a chance to put the game out of reach as he broke away from 30 yards out. Charlie Doyle took a yellow for the team by deliberately upending the Linnets centre-forward from behind.

The free-kick was from Iwan Murray's ideal distance but, uncharacteristically, he slammed it into the defensive wall.

With 27 minutes remaining, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes gave way to Stuart Crilly.

Rylands pressed again, Alex Downes heading away Walker's firm ball into the area.

Linnets went on the attack, and Smith collected the game's second yellow card for a two-footed lunge that stopped Murray's sprint up the left touchline.

Iwan's free-kick set up a Downes header from the far corner of the penalty area, but McCall saved well.

The pattern of the second half continued with Linnets emphasising defence, against a wind which was now propelling rain down the pitch and a Rylands team fully aware of the urgent need to half the deficit.

The Runcorn defence soaked up pressure with confidence, but when they won possession, passes went increasingly astray on the wind, invariably into touch.

With 20 minutes remaining, Ryan Brooke was away in the Rylands half and passed forward to put Crilly one-on-one with the 'keeper, who did well to obstruct an attempted chip shot.

Two minutes later, Rylands were surely back in the game when Scarisbrick let rip from 20 yards, but Young had other ideas, pulling off a brilliant save to steer the ball over the bar.

The corner was cleared, but then another from the left was swung into the six-yard box by Walker. Once again, the ball found Young's magnetic gloves.

Scarisbrick kept trying, a low shot through a crowded area with 15 minutes remaining, being saved on the ground by Young.

Three more Rylands attempts within a couple of minutes failed to penetrate determined Runcorn defending.

The last was deflected surely for a corner, but Joe Young wouldn't allow even that, pouncing on the ball outside the left post.

Stuart Crilly was penalised after winning a header and falling over the back of Smith. The free-kick from 25 yards out cleared the angle of the right post and bar.

On the break, Brooke fed Murray, who passed right in front of Hellawell. His shot flew a yard wide of the right post.

With ten minutes to go, Crilly won a throw on the left. It was taken into the area, where Brooke was clearly pushed to the ground, but Mr Beckett saw no foul.

Rylands broke back, and Calum McIntyre was livid when the referee again saw no problem with Dolan getting past Hayes by tripping him from behind.

When Joe Young punched away Walker's corner into the six-yard box, I wrote the word 'flawless' to describe the Linnets 'keeper's performance.

It was a reckless gesture, with eight minutes still on the clock, but the Runcorn No1 would not be denied his bottle of fizz.

A seemingly innocuous 50-50 challenge gave Rylands a free-kick from wide left, and it was flighted dangerously intio the area.

Needless to say, Young grabbed it with ease.

David McNabb tried a last saving gambit by replacing Dolan with Adam Buxton seven minutes from time.

Alex Downes has been in fine form since his recent return from long-term injury, and there was consternation among the Runcorn faithful when he clattered into the perimeter fence after winning an aerial challenge with Smith, who also went down hurt.

It was especially worrying for Linnets with fellow centre back Evan Gumbs having returned to Warrington Town earlier in the week.

Thankfully, both Downes and Smith were fit to continue.

Runcorn clearances were swirling wildly on the wind, and one fell to Walker for a powerful shot from just outside the area.

It was no longer surprising when Joe Young pulled off a stunning save.

As the game entered added time, O'Mahony was caught late as he cleared from the 18-yard line, and Dapo Olarewaju replaced Lewis Doyle.

A Rylands corner from the left provided a header which clattered the bar, and at the other end Murray on the break passed right via Hayes to Hellawell, who shot narrowly wide.

Rylands had the last attacking word with a corner from the right, which Buxton headed wide.

Linnets had secured a victory as impressive as any of their ten from 15 games this season.

Logic suggested it was won by the two goals scored before the break, but there was immense satisfaction to be taken from a superb defensive second half display against quality opposition.

Rylands had previously failed to score in only one league outing this season, in a goalless draw at Trafford in mid-September.

Their attacking endeavours here were limited by a first-class Runcorn defence. But the FA Vase holders still created numerous chances.

Any pundit will tell you that goalkeepers don't win football matches. If any individual won this one, it was Linnets custodian Joe Young.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, James Short (Rhain Hellawell 17), Peter Wylie, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Lewis Doyle (Dapo Olarewaju 90), Louis Hayes, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes (Stuart Crilly 63). Subs (not used): Olly Heywood, MJ Monaghan.

Attendance: 679.



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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