The Northern Premier League

8th January 2022, Runcorn Linnets FC v Kendal Town : 7-0 Sponsored by In memory of HMS Glorious

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

Linnets faced their first home game of 2022 in a rich vein of form, having won their last three Northern Premier League West Division outings, and off the back of a 5-0 Cheshire Cup victory in Winsford three days earlier.

Kendal Town lay 19th in the table, but under newly-appointed manager Craig Dootson, their resolution would be for a rapid upturn in fortunes, encouraged by an excellent away win at Colne on New Year's Day.

In a facsimile of the Winsford cup-tie, Linnets took confident attacking control from the start, but again took half an hour to find a way through resilient opposition.

And again the breakthrough came with a Joe Lynch penalty kick.

But 'breakthrough' was certainly the word. Only six minutes later, it was over as a contest, thanks to an incredible Ryan Brooke hat-trick.

As is often the case, a stiff breeze down the pitch, behind Runcorn backs, would be a factor in the first half.

In the second minute, Brooke was tripped near the left corner flag. Iwan Murray's in-swinging free-kick was curling in under the bar until Town 'keeper James McClenaghan punched it away.

Herepeated the feat from a Murray corner, gained from his exchange up the left with Kain Dean and Stuart Crilly.

Brooke won an aerial duel with McClenaghan, but the danger was cleared at the third attempt, and he headed towards goal again from Lewis Doyle's cross.

Will Higham's head intervened, but demanded a reflex save from his 'keeper to prevent an own goal.

Alex Downes was next to head on goal from a corner, and again McClenaghan had to prevent an own goal, when left-back Billy Batch deflected it towards the target.

A five-minute siege ended with Kendal advancing into the Runcorn half from a throw-in, but Sean O'Mahony and Downes prevented Mobbs and Brogan breaking through the middle.

Lloyd Marsh-Hughes was yellow-carded for a late tackle on Batch as he cleared Kendal's lines.

O'Mahony headed away two long balls in the centre of the Runcorn half, and Wylie halted Brogan's run up the left wing.

Batch was warned by referee Jake Topp for an apparent revenge foul on Marsh-Hughes inside the Kendal half.

The free-kick reached Brooke in the area, but it was Batch who did enough to put him off his stride, and McClenaghan picked up the loose ball.

Crilly and Wylie worked in tandem up the right to cause repeated headaches for the Town defence.

Downes went down chasing a ball into the area from club captain Wylie, but his penalty appeal was optimistic.

The Linnets skipper then crossed to Murray's head near the penalty spot, but his attempt looped over the bar.

The Crilly-Wylie double act delivered a high cross for Brooke to head down inside the near post, but McClenaghan got down well to save.

The volume of pressure in Kendal's defensive third made it hard to believe that the game was barely 20 minutes old, and on his second appearance in the Linnets goal, Jak Stewart was still to make his second save.

He still didn't, as O'Mahony headed away a long punt intended for Dylan Mobbs, and from a clash of heads with Fagan that left Wylie floored, the ball cleared the angle of post and bar.

Linnets returned to the offensive, with Crilly cutting across the defence from the left and shooting a yard over the bar from outside the area.

Crilly, Dean and Murray swapped passes on the left, providing a cross for Brooke.

He knocked it back for Lynch, whose shot from 20 yards curled wide of the left post.

A long central ball chased by Mobbs held up into the wind, calling Linnets 'keeper Stewart into action at last, as he hared out of his area to get a boot to it before the Kendal centre-forward.

The home team had been well on top so far, but the game was about to change beyond all recognition in seven crazy minutes.

Crilly passed forward for Dean to break from the left into the penalty area, where he was fouled as he prodded it right for Murray.

The referee waited until Iwan's shot cleared the bar before whistling for the penalty, much to the aggravation of everyone in black and white stripes.

Much argument ensued before Joe Lynch, for the second time in four days, opened the scoring by slotting home left as the 'keeper dived right. Linnets 1 Kendal 0.

I was still scribbling notes for those two paragraphs when Ryan Brooke made it 3-0.

After a Kendal punt up the middle resulted in O'Mahony being fouled by Brogan as he cleared, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes received a long pass up the left and cut inside along the goal line, evading three defenders who didn't dare launch a tackle in the area.

He pulled it back across the six-yard box, where Brooke was one of three Runcorn players waiting to pounce. He slotted it calmly into the bottom right corner.

As my ballpoint struggled to keep up, Linnets regained possession from the kick-off, and Crilly was away up the right wing. He crossed for the unmarked Brooke to head home from close range. 3-0.

There was just enough time for Gary Basterfield to see yellow, for a foul on Downes, before Crilly was set free on the right again.

There were bodies in the way this time as Brooke met the cross, but they couldn't prevent him from completing a 'perfect' hat-trick in the space of four minutes. Right foot, head, left foot.

Linnets had scored four goals in less time than it has taken me to describe them.

But that wasn't the sum of an incident-packed ten minutes. Crilly and Murray were shaping another assault up the right wing when Basterfield launched a reckless challenge that earned him a second yellow card, within four minutes of his first.

Kendal would have to regroup at half time with ten men.

First-half controversy still wasn't exhausted.

Kendal launched an attack which caused Jak Stewart to save just inside his area, and he repeated the feat to stop a shot from the rebound, a couple of yards outside.

Amendments to the laws regarding 'keepers handling outside their area have changed more in recent times than Covid-19 safety rules. Confused? I know I am.

Kendal players and management were adamant that the infringement demanded a straight red card for Stewart. Such was the case on Boxing Day 2016, when Linnets 'keeper Dean Porter was dismissed for saving six inches outside his area against Runcorn Town, centre-back Chris Lawton going on to play a blinder after borrowing Dean's gloves.

But these days, the referee is required to make a decision based on intent to prevent a certain goal.

Stewart had teammates behind him, and Mr Topp decided that a yellow card was appropriate.

Had he shown a red, Jak's short-term loan from Everton would have been over, after one-and-a-half games.

The devil in me wondered how interesting events might have becomne if he had been dismissed.

Ten against ten, and Linnets 4-0 up, but with a makeshift goalkeeper.

Half time debate turned to who might have taken over the gloves. My money, and I wasn't alone, was on Ryan Brooke.

If so, the home support would have stayed behind the forest end goal, for the banter.

In the event, Jak was still there for the second half, which surely couldn't continue the drama of the preceding 15 minutes. It did its best.

Two minutes in, Jack Byrne connected with Stuart Crilly rather than the ball, near the halfway line.

From the free-kick Joe Lynch went on a run past three defenders into the area, and tried a chip shot over the 'keeper for the far post, but into the wind it fell short.

In the 50th minute, Peter Wylie advanced up the right wing and measured a low cross perfectly for Lloyd Marsh-Hughes to run on to and deliver the fifth goal from close range.

It was his third goal in as many consecutive games, which would be a fitting way to end a successful loan spell at the APEC Taxis Stadium should it not be extended.

Runcorn pressure was relentless. From near the right corner flag, Wylie found Brooke in the area, but his header was beaten away by McClenaghan.

Murray's follow-up shot was blocked at close quarters.Only two minutes had elapsed since the fifth goal when Ryan Brooke bagged his fourth and Linnets' sixth, all of them within an unbelievable 21 minutes of playing time.

Marsh-Hughes cut into the area from the right, drawing defenders to leave Brooke in enough space to pick up a short pass and side-foot into the bottom left corner.

Kendal boss Dootson made a double substitution, Reeve and Waighte on for Mobbs and Brogan, but it was a tall order indeed for them to have much impact on the result in the final 35 minutes.

With Town seemingly powerless to repel Runcorn attacks, we began to ponder on the prospect of double figures. In the event, the lightning scoring spree would come to look all the more extraordinary, after Kendal returned to more competitive form for the last half hour of the game.

Linnets were still creating chances, though. Iwan Murray's ball into the area called for two clearances off the line, and a swerving 22-yard rocket by Joe Lynch demanded a great diving save from McClenaghan.

Murray found Lynch again just inside the area, and he turned his man to shoot on target, only for the 'keeper to scoop it over the bar.

Jacques Welsh substituted Lewis Doyle after 61 minutes. Five minutes later, Ryan Brooke's quest for a fifth goal was terminated. An ovation saw him to the bench as he gave way to Dapo Olarewaju.

Dapo got involved quickly, determined to join the goalscoring jamboree. His first shot, after the ball was headed away from a corner won by Crilly's deflected 22-yard curler, prompted another excellent save by McClenaghan.

The Runcorn substitute blotted his copybook just afterwards, though, the referee having to spell 'Olarewaju' following Dapo's trip on Darren Nightingale as he broke out of defence.

Kendal sub Chris Wraighte followed him into the book for a late lunge at Alex Downes.

In a rare foray into the Linnets area, a Reeve chance was lost when he was judged to have fouled O'Mahony.

Another fine Iwan Murray performance ended with James Steele being given the last 19 minutes to try to add to Cumbrian woes.

Joe Lynch, who would have had a compelling claim for the man-of-the- match award if not for Ryan Brooke's goal frenzy, was firing passes right for Crilly and left for Dean, for them to supply crosses that won a sequence of corners.

He and Dapo also strode forwards, seeking openings for themselves.

But Town were again showing that they can keep it tight, and when gaps were found to allow shots on goal, McClenaghan continued to prevent a return to the scoring avalanche.

It led to a less dynamic period for Linnets, and to Kendal spending more time in the Runcorn third of the pitch during the final ten minutes than they had in the first 80.

A 40-yard free-kick found the Linnets area, and Higham won the aerial duel, but was deemed to have fouled.

Kendal achieving a more promising attacking spell proved ironic, as Joe Lynch plagued them again on the break and made a diagonal pass right for Dapo.

He feinted right past Batch, created a yard of space for himself, and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.

The last two minutes showed that Linnets were not satisfied with seven.

Dapo forced another fine save from McClenaghan, Lynch hit a post, and Byrne blocked what could possibly be Marsh-Hughes' last shot as a Runcorn player, conceding a corner.

Twelve goals without reply in four days means there are no January blues for Linnets.

But there was a downside to a great game and result: Ryan Brooke's signature song being set to the 'tune' of Baby Shark.

I had to listen to Rick Astley on a loop for an hour to get rid of it.

And now, so will you. Sorry!

Runcorn Linnets: Jak Stewart, Peter Wylie, Kain Dean, Lewis Doyle (Jacques Welsh 61), Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Stuart Crilly, Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke (Dapo Olarewaju 66), Iwan Murray (James Steele 71), Lloyd Marsh-Hughes. Subs not used: Rhain Hellawell, Louis Hayes.

Attendance: 627.



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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