The Northern Premier League

25th January 2022, Colne v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-1

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

A second trip into Lancashire in four days took Linnets to Colne, for a fixture postponed on 4th December. The last meeting between the two was as long ago as October 2018, when Runcorn came away from Holt House with a stunning 6-1 victory.

This belated rematch was not destined to be as stunning, and a point apiece from a frustrating game reflected the fact that neither side really delivered enough to win it.

Runcorn started with intent down Colne's famous slope, a high ball to the edge of the area won by Ryan Brooke against his considerably bigger opponent Tom Dean, who ended the duel in a heap.

It set a pattern, with several of Colne's biggest lads spending large parts of the evening on the ground after limited contact with their generally smaller opponents.

It lent an irritatingly stop-start nature to proceedings.

Lewis Doyle was seizing possession in the middle third from early on, and his pass enabled Brooke to turn Dean again, finding the net from outside the penalty area, but well after he had been called offside.

A first Colne attack came from a throw-in on the right, Sean O'Mahony heading clear of the area.

Reece Webb-Foster tried a speculative shot from 25 yards, which Linnets' new 'keeper Scott Reed, just signed from Bangor City, appeared to have covered inside the right-hand post.

It bounced once, and over him, to open the scoring after eight minutes.

It was an inauspicious start to Scott's Runcorn career, as his first duty on his debut was to retrieve the ball from the net.

With the visitors stunned from the early blow, Webb-Foster tried again within a minute, but his shot flew well over the bar.

Runcorn regrouped, and set about gaining control with passing possession in the middle third.

A Joe Lynch exchange with Kain Dean targeted Lloyd Marsh-Hughes inside the Colne area, and he shot powerfully from the left corner of the six-yard box.

Home 'keeper Hakan Burton came out quickly to block from close range, as he was to do many more times on the night.

Lynch, Crilly and Steele strove to supply measured balls down the hill to Brooke and Marsh-Hughes in the area, but play stopped repeatedly as Reds players, unusually kitted out in white, went to ground with groans and screams from most 50-50 challenges.

Three drop-balls in less than ten minutes reflected an accident-prone passage of play that forbade much free-flowing football.

A good Stuart Crilly cross was blocked before Marsh-Hughes could get his head to it, then Crilly himself shot powerfully from 22 yards. Burton did well to palm it over the bar.

The corner was deflected out for another, and likewise for a third. That reached Brooke, who was outnumbered but managed to turn and shoot firmly against the right post, with Burton beaten.

On 23 minutes, Colne mounted a siege on the Runcorn area, three defensive headers clearing their lines, the last by Scott Reed as he advanced out of his area.

With the 'keeper still off his line, Webb-Foster chanced a long shot again, but again it flew high.

Colne remained in control in the Runcorn third, but a somewhat frantic Linnets rearguard kept the door closed.

Linnets regained possession and headed downhill, a Kain Dean ball from deep reaching Brooke, who beat Tom Dean in the air, but couldn't muster enough power to trouble Burton.

He got more force behind an attempt off Peter Wylie's cross from the right, but Burton saved well.

Jack Worrall had been working hard with Kingsley Williams to contest possession in the middle third, and Worrall earned the game's first yellow card for a hefty challenge in the centre that left Kain Dean needing treatment.

It came long after Kain had played the ball, and it prompted a prolonged scuffle, and vocal Runcorn demands that the card should be red.

Referee Paul Roots continued a familiar season's theme, of officials' reluctance to produce cards for clearly deliberate fouls.

It was not surprising that the game became increasingly scrappy, with more than two consecutive passes a rarity.

The away side were not blameless in the descent into niggly fouls. Crilly was fortunate not to see yellow for taking the legs from under Charlie Russell just inside the Colne half.

James Steele turned Paul Dugdale near the right corner flag, and cut inside towards the area. His cross for Brooke was headed away. Kkkk

Pugh fouled Crilly inside the left touchline, and he headed away the free-kick into the area.

Lynch crossed over the defence to Steele, but he was offside.

Lewis Doyle received Linnets' only yellow card, for a late tackle near halfway.

In the last minute of the first half, Crilly beat Gourley down the left touchline and turned inside, only to be flattened by Dugdale.

Despite the reclusiveness of Mr Roots' cards, it looked increasingly unlikely that the game would end with 22 men on the pitch.

Lynch chipped the free-kick into the area, where Brooke's knock-on glanced off two defenders before falling to Marsh-Hughes, who slammed in an unchallenged shot from three yards out.

Three minutes were added to the first half, and seven actually played, but they produced no more chances.

Time was eaten up by both Roberts and Pugh lying prone and receiving attention, neither having been near the ball when stricken.

Half time discussions concluded that the fixture would start from scratch over 45 minutes, hopefully comprising more of a football match.

Iwan Murray took over from James Steele for the second half, and the cynics among us felt that his efforts with the ball at his feet would be unlikely to alter the balance of the action from free-kicks towards fluid football. Unless Mr Roots' notebook started to see more ink.

Such opinions weren't challenged in the first minute of the half, when Iwan was upended in the area as he collected Ryan Brooke's cross, from Dean's ball up the left touchline. No foul.

Meanwhile, 25 yards away, Jack Worrall received lengthy physio for the third time.

On 50 minutes, Peter Wylie crossed from the right to Marsh-Hughes, who turned to shoot, but the ball squirted away thanks to Pugh's close- range block.

Harry Winstanley replaced Oliver Roberts for Colne.

Brooke set Crilly away up the left. Tom Dean stepped in and played the ball twice in 'shielding' it out of play, but a goal-kick followed.

That led to massed home possession in the Runcorn area, with an uncharacteristically frantic scramble among their defence. Alex Downes eventually cleared long.

Ryan Brooke was playing the role of creator more than target man, and he worked again with Crilly wide on the left to deliver a cross for Murray in the centre.

His shot was blocked on the edge of the area, then Brooke was back in the middle to meet Crilly's cross, his first time shot flying a foot wide of the post.

Colne made another change, William Shepherd on for Kingsley Williams.

Marsh-Hughes delivered a great cross from the right, which was glanced away by Tom Dean.

Brooke picked up the loose ball as Kain Dean was fouled outside the area, the referee playing advantage, and Crilly shot from 18 yards, wide of the left post.

Colne set off downhill on the break, and Downes slipped to allow Webb-Foster a clear run on goal.

An awkward bounce made his shot too straight, and Scott Reed palmed it over the bar.

Prince Haywood unleashed a powerful shot from the corner, drawing a fine save from Reed. It was the best chance of a concerted spell of pressure from the Reds/Whites, but the Linnets defence kept them

out, if a little uncomfortably.

A long Colne throw into the area was headed away by O'Mahony, Haywood shooting again through a crowded area, wide of the left post.

Dapo Olarewaju joined the fray in place of Stuart Crilly for the last 25 minutes. His first involvement was a rapid advance up the left to cross into the six-yard box.

Burton caught it with confidence, and it was clear he wouldn't be beaten easily with high balls into the 'mixer'.

The game took on a more end-to-end character, for its most entertaining spell for the neutral, if any were present.

But Colne were spending more time on the ball, with more consecutive touches. Both defences held firm, though, if not with the greatest of confidence.

Runcorn passes were longer than they would prefer, and not enough of them found the feet of men in yellow and green.

Iwan Murray dedicated his efforts to winning possession in the centre of the pitch, but he was being closed down fast, and tackled rapidly by both fair means and foul.

When he passed the ball, it was with more urgency than he would have liked, and too often it went astray.

Inside the last 20 minutes, Dapo ran the left touchline and was upended at full tilt by Gourley.

Murray's free-kick into the area produced a vertical header from each side, Brooke's falling into Burton's gloves.

A Colne advance ended with a loose pass, Murray taking possession only to be fouled in the centre circle by Haywood.

The long free-kick found Brooke in the penalty area. He wrestled free from the grip of Dean and Pugh to turn and shoot, but was penalised for his efforts.

A Wylie ball up the right was collected by Brooke, who slipped it inside for Dapo. Burton closed down his advance to the near post, from where he crossed into the middle.

Pugh's challenge left Murray clutching his shins, but it won the ball.

End to end again, Colne attacked on the left, winning a free-kick from Wylie's tackle at the corner of the penalty area.

Webb-Foster slammed the free-kick into the feet of the defensive wall.

Wylie conceded a corner with a tackle after a Colne throw-in. It produced a wild shot from Winstanley that remained in play at the left corner.

Brooke was provider again up the left, his cross cleareed off Marsh-Hughes' toe by Gourley.

Jack Worrall gave way to Louis Myers with eight minutes remaining. The industrious Worrall was to be crowned man of the match by Colne, but Hakan Burton in goal might feel hard done by.

And Linnets fans felt that the Reds' No8 might have departed much earlier, given a more punitive referee.

With five minutes remaining, the absence of the red card was questioned again by the visitors. Tom Dean timed his push in the back on Iwan Murray perfectly, inches outside the penalty area, with nobody else but the 'keeper ahead of Iwan's run on goal.

Had the foul come three yards earlier, Murray would have had a much better chance of guiding the free-kick under the bar rather than over.

He might still have done so, if Mr Roots had insisted on the wall staying at the ten yards back he had retreated them, rather than the seven yards to which they returned.

Into added time, both teams charged on for a winner.

Lewis Doyle's lob into the area had three potential recipients. Which of them was flagged offside remains unknown.

Russell won a 50-50 chase with Reed on the break, but the Linnets 'keeper doubled back and tackled to concede a corner, which Downes headed clear.

Doyle set Dapo away on goal, but Burton came out bravely to block, and the Colne 'keeper regained his ground to make a great save from Ryan Brooke's shot from the rebound.

Dapo beat Gourley up the left and cut inside to shoot inside the left post, but yet again Burton got down quickly to make another superb save.

Added time rolled on, and Colne had three attempts down the hill in a frantically-crowded Runcorn area, all of which were blocked by flailing limbs.

A strange game ended with two points shared.

The second half had thankfully delivered far more excitement than the first, but nobody could attempt to call it a classic. The ball was dead far too often for that.

It could have resulted in at least a three-goal margin either way, but neither side could realistically claim they deserved to win it.

The Highways Agency appeared to have decided that Linnets deserved punishment for their display, by closing sections of every motorway in the north west of England while the battle was in progress. It would not be a straightforward journey home.

Next in line for Runcorn, still fifth in the table, is a crunch home fixture with league leaders Workington, on Saturday 29th January.

Runcorn Linnets: Scott Reed, Peter Wylie, Kain Dean, Lewis Doyle, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, James Steele (Iwan Murray 45), Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke, Stuart Crilly (Dapo Olarewaju 64), Lloyd Marsh-Hughes. Subs not used: Jacques Welsh, Louis Hayes, Eden Gumbs.

Attendance: 333.

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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