The Northern Premier League

8th February 2022, Runcorn Linnets FC v Marine : 1-1

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

The visit of Marine gave Linnets consecutive home games against the top two sides in the division, with the tough trip to Trafford in between.

It would be no mean feat to avoid two defeats in a row being turned into three.

With three minutes remaining on the clock, that outcome was on the cards, but after a truly breathtaking finale to proceedings, Marine must have spent the short journey back to Crosby feeling a touch relieved to be taking a point with them.

Scott Reed was back in the Runcorn goal after missing the Trafford defeat due to a training injury, and Iwan Murray returned sooner than expected from a similar problem.

He was to join in from the bench for the last 20 minutes, and was instrumental in the attacking frenzy of the closing stages.

Two far more belated returns to the line-up changed the look of the Linnets defence, with starts at full-back for Ally Brown and former Mariner James Short.

The latter had been sidelined since a nasty injury 17 minutes into the 2-0 home victory over Warrington Rylands on 20th November.

Marine attacked from the first whistle, Lewis Reilly making two attempts to break through a slightly-panicky flurry outside the area, but Alex Downes and James Short blocked the way.

An immediate Linnets response drew the night's first free-kick, when Ryan Brooke was bowled over by Joe White 35 yards out. The kick was heading for Lloyd Marsh Hughes in the area, but White blasted clear.

It was an end-to-end start, which continued with Ally Brown running wide right with a loose ball from the centre circle. He crossed into the six-yard box, but only 'keeper Aidan Dowling was close enough to claim it.

A Marsh-Hughes shot from outside the area ricocheted out for another by Joe Lynch, again repelled, and a third by Ryan Brooke was blocked by the boot of White.

In the first ten minutes, it was surprising to see Marine concentrating on long balls from their own half, with only Reilly and Neil Kengni sitting forward to pick them up.

Their first attack on the ground, up the right touchline, ended with a James Short foul on wing-back Ben Hughes.

The ball was launched menacingly towards Kengni beyond the far post, where Sean O'Mahony intervened and hooked it out for a corner.

O'Mahony headed that away, as far as James Barrigan, who was dispossessed by Louis Hayes.

A number of Runcorn throw-ins up the left reminded us how much of a threat can be provided when James Short has the ball in his hands, with well-aimed throws to teammates over longer distances.

On 13 minutes, one such into the area was knocked down by Marsh-Hughes for a Joe Lynch shot which climbed over the bar.

The growing pattern of the game was similar to that of Runcorn's recent outings against Workington and Trafford, with plenty of endeavour from both sides to carve out chances, mostly with longer balls from deep, but few opportunities resulting as both also defended solidly.

Neither goalkeeper was being sorely tested, although at the midway point of the half, Scott Reed had to have his wits about him to save a spectacular overhead kick by Irwin, from Hayde's cross.

O'Mahony headed away a cross from a promising Hughes run up the right, then a Marine throw from the left into the area was touched on by Kengni for Alex Doyle to shoot over the bar.

Another Kengni advance up the left won a corner off Ally Brown. A period of Marine pressure then bore fruit.

James Barrigan's corner on the left just cleared O'Mahony's leap to find the head of Mark Howarth.

The ball dropped to the edge of the six-yard box and into the path of Dean Winnard, who had the easiest of tasks to score his first goal for Marine from close range.

Some defensive lapses have cost crucial goals against Linnets recently, but it would have taken real determination to blame anyone for this one.

Wrong bounce, wrong place, wrong time.

Just credit Winnard for being ready when the chance, in a game of hitherto few chances, arrived.

The home side responded with five minutes of concerted activity at the forest end.

A personal battle between Ryan Brooke and Joe White resumed, each taking it in turns to get the better of the other, with the odd verbal disagreement resulting, but not getting out of hand.

Louis Hayes was tireless in front of the Runcorn defence, picking up possession and taking it forward repeatedly to seek out teammates in threatening positions. But any such threats were limited by close attention from Hughes, White, Howarth and Hayde across the back for Marine.

Brooke and Marsh-Hughes made a chance for each other, from Hayes balls forward, but strangely dressed Marine 'keeper Dowling timed runs from his line perfectly to get there fractionally first.

Dowling's oranges and lemons kit resulted from his all-yellow ensemble clashing with ten of the opposition.

His shirt had therefore been swapped for a tangerine training top. I don't pretend to know why it was necessary to fashion a No1 on his back with gaffer tape.

Kengni and Hayde continued to threaten on the left for Marine, while Brown and Short, regularly fed by Hayes and Downes, troubled for Linnets up both flanks.

But none of their efforts succeeded in creating many real chances, as both defences earned their corn with aplomb.

There appeared to be at least two James Shorts on the pitch, perhaps prompting Marine to wonder why they ever let him go.

His performance overall was good enough to deny Louis Hayes the Linnets man of the match award, which was no mean feat.

Half time brought the view, for anybody with a measure of objectivity, that there was nothing in it. Except, of course, that Marine were 1-0 up.

The restart was delayed by five minutes, as a gap in the forest end net was rectified. The crisis was averted by Linnets kit man, community liaison officer and hard working all-purpose nuisance Josh Christian.

According to Josh Christian.

The one-goal deficit possibly benefited Runcorn's approach to the second half, in contrast with Saturday's 45-minute stalemate at Trafford, where a brief lapse in vigilance at the back leaked two goals and denied them any points.

The first ten minutes after the break continued to see industry from both teams to try to seize control, with concerted defending still limiting worries for either 'keeper.

If there was a difference from the first half, it lay in less reliance on long balls from half to half, and more close passing on the floor.

Perhaps it had something to do with an ever-freshening wind, although it was nothing in comparison with the gale that had dogged the Workington fixture ten days earlier.

That change in pattern might have promised to bring Eden Gumbs'strength on the ball into play more, but his contribution ended with a substitution by Kain Dean.

Since joining Linnets, Dean had deputised at left-back, but the return of Short enabled him to take up the more attacking role on the left he relishes.

He was quickly served with balls from Hayes and Lynch, to deliver promising crosses from the left but the heads of White and Howarth, and the hands of Dowling, frustrated Brooke and Marsh-Hughes in the penalty area.

A similar fate met Marine attacks, as Short, O'Mahony, Downes and Brown ensured that hard work by Kengni, Irwin, Barrigan and Hayde came to nothing.

The war of attrition produced penalty shouts for both sides, referee Dan Bruce unimpressed by appeals from Irwin at one end and Lynch at the other.

In both cases, outrage was mild.

With 25 minutes remaining, Sam Phillips announced an attendance of 735, which was at least double what would have been expected for a winter midweek game two or three years ago.

Noisy support for both teams provided a great atmosphere, and they were to be rewarded when the battle of attrition turned into frenzied excitement in the closing stages.

Frustrated chances continued at both ends. An in-swinging Linnets corner from the right was headed off the line by Howarth just before it could reach Downes. Then a Marine free-kick, for what looked a perfectly-sound tackle by Short, was glanced wide off the head of Reilly.

Iwan Murray was introduced in place of Lewis Doyle after 70 minutes and from beyond the left post, he immediately collected a cross from Joe Lynch on the right.

His ball back into the area was headed away.

Alex Downes charged diagonally from inside his own half to within yards of the penalty area, but was brought down by Irwin with a tackle that earned him a yellow card.

Murray's free-kick flew left of the goal, from where Brooke won a corner. That was blocked and cleared, as was Murray's follow-up into the area.

Downes earned a yellow of his own for a foul on Hayde.

Louis Hayes won two tackles in the centre circle and passed left to Dean, who reached the goal line and crossed into the crowded area, where Joe Lynch went down under pressure. Mr Bruce again said no.

Entering the last ten minutes, it was all Runcorn pressure, and Marine looked resigned to seeing out the 1-0 win with determined defending, leaving Kengni up alone to exploit any chances on the break.

One of those came when a long clearance found him, with space ahead. Scott Reed advanced rapidly out of goal to close him down, but a very late offside flag saved him from having to make a risky one-on-one challenge.

Linnets continued to charge forward, Dean a thorn in Marine sides on the left, and Brown advancing with menace up the right.

Short was picking up balls fielded by O'Mahony and Downes, and repeatedly finding Kain and Ally on the wings, as well as Iwan Murray in the middle.

Brooke, Marsh-Hughes and Lynch were all itching to pounce on any passes into and around the penalty area, but the Marine centre backs continued to get their heads to most of the crosses.

Murray was crowded by two or three men at a time as he twisted and turned to create an opening. But credit was due to his opponents, who strove to relieve him of the ball without resorting to fouls.

With six minutes remaining, there was a mad scramble in the Runcorn area after Reed was forced to head clear just outside it, only for the ball to loop vertically and drift towards goal on the wind.

O'Mahony headed it down, and Short cleared, but only as far as Barrigan, who shot was saved well by Reed inside the left post.

Murray found enough space for two snap shots into a crowded Marine area, but both connected with a man in blue, and eluded those in yellow and green.

Two minutes of normal time remained when James Short brought the ball forward from his own half yet again, and curled a long pass to just inside the centre of the area.

Dowling was off his line to punch but wasn't quite quick enough.

Brooke's header looped over him, and found its way into the net with Marsh-Hughes in hot pursuit but ultimately not needing to get to the ball to make sure.

Brooky's finish put him on top of the Pitching In West Division's scorer list, with 18.

The hard work invested to get back on level terms was almost undone straight afterwards, when Marine broke away through Kengni again, and a shot from just outside the area dipped a foot over the bar.

Nobody in yellow and green had any thoughts about parking the bus to preserve a point.

Ally Brown gave way to Dapo Olarewaju for a final minute that Mr Bruce extended to five, and that proved plenty of time for Dapo to join Brooke, Marsh-Hughes, Lynch and Murray in a siege on the Marine area, egged on by noisy efforts from the fans at the clubhouse end to suck the ball into the net.

A five-second burst of pressure saw shots by Brooke, Marsh-Hughes and Olarewaju hit a post, two defenders and the ground, but the ball flatly refused to find the net.

Then an in-swinging corner from the right was on its way in, bouncing sharply in front of Ben Hughes, who managed to head it out.

He was standing behind the line, but there weren't many vehement claims that the ball had crossed it.

Runcorn hearts were in mouths, and they might have been broken at the death, as a final breakaway set Kengni off into the Linnets area.

O'Mahony and Short managed to overlap Kengni and shepherd him wide right, turning his shot into more of a cross, which was gratefully pounced upon by Reed.

It seems ridiculously anti-climactic to say the 1-1 draw was a fair result, suggesting the game was a couple of notches up from a bore-draw, but if it was a classic, that status was crammed into a period of no more than ten minutes at the end.

That micro-thriller left Linnets fans feeling they should have won the game, and in those breathless last few minutes, they might well have done. But they also could have lost it, and neither side deserved to lose.

So a fair result it was, with excellent performances and no quarter given on either side.

There would be four days for Linnets players and fans to get their breath back, before the rearranged visit to foot-of-the-table Market Drayton, on Saturday 12th February.

Runcorn Linnets: Scott Reed, Ally Brown (Dapo Olarewaju 89), James Short, Louis Hayes, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Eden Gumbs (Kain Dean 55), Lewis Doyle (Iwan Murray 69), Ryan Brooke, Joe Lynch, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes. Subs not used: Peter Wylie, Jacques Welsh.

Attendance: 735.

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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