27th December 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Prescot Cables : 2-1 Sponsored by Halton Village Linnets
Linnets hosted the second of three festive season local derbies, with a first encounter of the season with Prescot Cables.
A stunning Boxing Day Bank Holiday crowd of 880 saw an entertaining game. Perhaps not quite matching the quality of the stunner of a 5-3 win at Widnes, but certainly absorbing right to the final whistle.
Prescot would also have been brimming with confidence after a 7-0 demolition of Market Drayton in their previous game.
Linnets, who had only 14 available players including new signing Kain Dean, played in away orange, as part of Shelter's Homeless Awareness Initiative.
In the first minute, Dapo Olarewaju launched an attack, as he was to do many more times, and won a free-kick from what looked like a strong but honest challenge by Cables left-back Clinton Agho.
The pair were to play out an intense duel for 90 minutes, until Agho made way for Charlie Glennon.
On the break from a throw, Cables attacked. A header from Peter Wylie, moved to centre-back in the absence of Sean O'Mahony, flew high with Lewis Buckley's shot then being blocked by James Steele before Ally Brown cleared.
Prescot were getting forward quickly, and appealing for fouls for every tackle, mostly in vain.
One that was given was delivered by Taylor Brickell, for me the visitors' man of the match. It was headed well over by Buckley.
An end-to-end pattern emerged, and persisted for most of the afternoon. John Shaw was a little fortunate when Ryan Brooke edged a 50-50 from him 25 yards from goal, but the ball ran away for 'keeper Mitchell Allen to gather it.
Sam O'Halleron spied a chance, breaking towards the Linnets area, before Alex Downes tackled. The Prescot player demanded a free-kick, but the pair had tripped over each other's feet.
A Cables corner, after Dapo had blocked Agho's cross, evaded everybody in the six-yard box.
On ten minutes, Dapo was on the attack again, thwarted by Hollett blasting it out of the ground.
Downes and Steele prevented O'Halloren from shooting, before a 25-yard punt by Gregory went straight into the arms of Joe Young.
The end-to-end charges continued, and Iwan Murray was fouled in the penalty arc after a neat one-two with Brooke.
Linnets fans rubbed their hands at the prospect of Iwan reprising his double strike from similar distance at Widnes, but this time his kick dipped just over the bar.
A spell of more continuous Runcorn pressure kept Prescot numbers in their own area, to resist the efforts of Olarewaju, Brooke and Murray from the right, and Heywood and Steele on the left.
Midway through the half, Ally Brown received the first of the day's three yellow cards. It was harsh, as his honest and successful attempt to take the ball from Agho involved a clattering of boots.
The 25-yard free-kick narrowly cleared the bar, with both of Young's gloves just below it.
Alex Downes was working on a man-of-the-match performance, involved in most of Linnets' solid defensive efforts, and in breaking out of defence to find attacking team mates.
He set up the opening goal with a great 30-yard ball forward to Dapo, who dipped right and crossed through the six-yard box. George Nugent had to intervene, with Brooke roaring in beyond him, but he could only bundle the ball into his own net.
Prescot responded on the offensive, their shouts for hand ball at the right corner of the Runcorn area rejected, and then Buckley was judged to have fouled in a duel with Steele.
Dapo was in the Prescot area again, marshalled by four defenders, resulting in a Heywood corner that was headed on wide. Another by Murray from the left was curling in under the bar - until Allen punched it away.
We saw the rare adjudication of a foul throw, when Brown tried to drop it short to Murray.
Steele's ball in from the left allowed a Murray shot from 25 yards, but he got too much power behind it, and it was still climbing as it cleared the bar.
Dapo was flagged offside in collecting a through ball from Heywood. It must have been very close.
Then the Linnets No7 outran Mafolo and Agho to cross for Brooke's knock down. Murray shaped to shoot three times before firing wide across a crowded area.
The first Cables threat for a while resulted in a dangerous zig-zag move between Liptrott, Buckley and O'Halloren, but the latter was put off sufficiently by Downes for the ball to run through to Young.
On the break, Ryan Brooke was away free into the area, but his shot was preempted by a very late offside call.
On the stroke of half time, Murray advanced 20-yards from halfway past three men and passed forward to Brooke, who flicked it on left to Steele. He appealed for a penalty after going down from Gregory's challenge, but the referee was adamant in saying no.
It hadn't been the silkiest of first halves, but it was action packed, with the ball seeing plenty of both penalty areas.
Based on chances created, Linnets were worth their 1-0 lead.
The second half started scrappily, with tight marking and long balls from both teams.
It was almost ten minutes old before a real threat came either way.
Iwan Murray's long run up the left was halted by Hollett's considerable weight advantage. Then Mafolo was allowed a header from the left corner of the six-yard box, but it failed to trouble Joe Young.
Dapo continued his quest to open up the Prescot defence, and this time Agho wiped him out to earn the day's second yellow card.
Ollie Heywood's free-kick cleared everyone in the area, and drew 'oohs' from the throng behind the goal, as it curled inches past the far post.
The end-to-end pattern of the first half returned.
Brooke and Steele couldn't find space for either to shoot, from the penalty arc, and a dangerous through ball by Buckley on the break was intercepted, predictably by Alex Downes.
Then all of a sudden, on the hour, Linnets achieved a breathing space. Cables relaxed their marking grip enough for Murray to win the ball wide right and deliver a peach of a long, diagonal ball into the area.
James Steele had timed his run perfectly, and met it five yards out to open his Runcorn scoring account with ease.
It was a well-taken but surprisingly easy goal, after 59 minutes of such tight defensive work all over the pitch.
Calum McIntyre aimed to keep the opposition unsettled by introducing Lloyd Marsh-Hughes up front, in place of Ryan Brooke.
He almost had an instant impact, with Heywood's free-kick from the right destined for his head at the far post, but Gregory cut it out.
Moments later, Gregory was penalised by the referee, Abid Hussein for flattening Murray as he crossed the halfway line in possession.
New Linnets signing from Mossley, Kain Dean, was given a 25-minute debut, in a straight swap for Ollie Heywood at left-back.
Steele ran on to a great Murray diagonal ball into the area, and pulled a shot across Allen's goal, but also beyond the right post.
A long ball up the right reached Taylor Brickell, who had provided more attacking threat than anyone in Prescot yellow. His cross was blocked by Dean for a corner.
Back at the clubhouse end, a great Louis Hayes ball over the defence found Steele, but his mishit shot bobbled wide.
We were end-to-end again, as a Cables corner from the left was headed out by Wylie. Nabil Rahim, who had replaced Mafolo on the left, fired back on goal, but well high and wide.
Murray attempted a diving header from Olarewaju's cross, but was beaten to it, then Brown cut out Agho's break to concede a corner. A tricky looking in-swinger was gathered well by Young.
Dean earned his first yellow card as a Linnet for vocal dissent, feeling he was victim rather than villain in a clash on the halfway line.
His skipper Peter Wylie was heavily involved in the debate as well, and Mr Hussain chose to ignore Buckley's repeated accusation that he had "bottled that".
Two home corners in quick succession maintained Runcorn pressure into the final ten minutes. Downes looped a header just over, helped by Allen's fingertips, then Murray's in-swinger just cleared the far angle of post and bar.
Iwan then evaded five opponents over 40 yards up the right before winning another corner. Lewis Doyle picked up the loose ball and beat two men into the area, but his cross by-passed three in orange shirts, lurking towards the far post.
A third goal was on the cards. Doyle launched a great four-man move ending with a Brown cross, headed down by Dapo and saved by Allen on the ground.
Dapo shot again, from a tight angle wide right. The effort ran off the bar on to the roof of the net.
Cables had mounted their fair share of attacks, but concerted Runcorn defending kept real threats to a minimum, in a way that Market Drayton had clearly failed to do nine days earlier.
Four minutes of added time provided Cables' most dangerous spell of the game.
A corner from the left was cleared, but regular danger man Brickell hit a low shot from the edge of the area which rewarded his afternoon's efforts. It found its way through the crowd and into the net.
It was game on for three minutes, and what had been looking for half an hour like a comfortable Linnets win, threatened to turn into a point apiece.
Joe Young made two solid saves from balls into the area, and Brickell had another chance to disappoint the bulk of the 880, when he found more space than he should have done on the right.
Young was spared the need for heroics, when the cross flew long to safety.
The final whistle heralded as much relief as it did jubilation, but Linnets had their second win from the trio of festive local derbies.
The third leg will involve the short journey to Barnton on New Year's Day, to pursue a league double over 1874 Northwich.
Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, Ollie Heywood (Kain Dean 65), Louis Hayes, Alex Downes, Peter Wylie, Dapo Olarewaju, Lewis Doyle, Ryan Brooke (Lloyd Marsh-Hughes 60), Iwan Murray, James Steele. Sub not used: Jacques Welsh.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.
Site Last Updated13:05 21/5/2022
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