The Northern Premier League

12th February 2022, Market Drayton Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

After fighting hard for two points from their last four Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division games, and deserving more, Linnets made the

journey to Shropshire with reasonable expectations of cementing their play-off qualifying position with three more.

Market Drayton were propping up the table with only seven points from 26 games to date, and were 19 points from improbable safety.

By the end of this game, it had to be assumed that the current Town defence and goalkeeper had not been responsible for a goal difference of minus 60, as they restricted an entirely dominant Runcorn side to a win that was ultimately comfortable, but never a demolition.

There was a significant contribution, however, from all three officials, who made some frankly bizarre interpretations of the offside law.

There were two changes to the Linnets line-up from Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Marine.

Iwan Murray gave his seat on the bench to Eden Gumbs, and with Scott Reed having played through a hand injury against Marine, Wigan Athletic teenager Owen Mooney came in, via Newcastle Town, to be Runcorn's sixth goalkeeper in ten league games.

He was to celebrate his 18th birthday with a clean sheet.

Market Drayton were first to go on the offensive, with Cameron East and the spectacularly-named Panashe Madama combining down the hill on the right to win a corner.

Sean O'Mahony headed it away, for Iwan Murray to pass forward to Joe Lynch. Lynch was penalised for a foul, and I still don't know why.

Linnets took over attacking duties. A James Short throw found Ryan Brooke, who passed on to Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, and on again to Lynch, who took on two defenders before losing out.

Iwan Murray was next into the Town area, and he beat three men before miscontrolling on the bumpy surface.

A lot of recent rain had left the Greenfields pitch very muddy, and while it did cut up, it actually held up pretty well.

Drayton headed back downfield with a free-kick, which Short headed away. Ally Brown and Louis Hayes returned the initiative to the top end, a cross finding Ryan Brooke outside the penalty area.

The assistant flagged Brooky offside, despite the fact that Town centre-half Joe Care was standing right behind him. I checked whether 'keeper Ashley Rawlins was in the Linnets half, but no, he was on the edge of the six-yard box. Strange.

Brooke laid off a clearance from Alex Downes to Marsh-Hughes, who was tackled well by Brendon Price.

A trend was established, with Lloydy working hard to break through the Drayton rearguard, but they held firm.

Chasing Brown's ball up the right touchline, Brooke forced a throw-in. Marsh-Hughes headed on to Brooke from Brown's cross, but Rawlins came out and got there first.

Town's first shot on goal came in the 16th minute, Jordan Jones firing wide after Alex Downes had headed away a corner.

Downes joined the attack three minutes later, with a powerful diving header from a corner on the right, but Rawlins made the first of many excellent saves.

Linnets tried to break through with a series of fancy passing moves across the home half, but the bumpy pitch and the determination of the Drayton defence both suggested a more direct approach might be necessary.

Domination of possession was not resulting in many attempts on goal. Marsh-Hughes was propelled into the perimeter fence by a firm but fair Price challenge.

The throw-in produced a cross for Brooke, who swivelled and volleyed a yard high and wide from 18 yards.

Brooky kept plugging away, and after winning an aerial duel with Care, he was yellow carded for something referee Brendon Scaife saw, but I didn't. It presumably involved the use of an arm.

Ryan's verbal response to the decision did nothing to endear him to Mr Scaife.

He was penalised again two minutes later, for trying to take the ball away from a prone Cameron East on the touchline.

Matt Johnson escaped censure for a retaliatory shove to Brooke's back.

A great James Short ball across the Town penalty area was met by the head of Marsh-Hughes, but his attempt was parried by Rawlins and cleared by Price.

Madama collected the third and final yellow card of the half, for clattering the shins of Louis Hayes on the halfway line.

Marsh-Hughes beat three men with great work up the right, allowing him a curling ball along the length of the crossbar.

It evaded Rawlings' leap, but found nobody in yellow and green beyond the far post.

A Brown-Lynch one-two on the right produced another cross for Brooke in the penalty arc.

He was flagged offside again, with the close attention of Jordan Jones this time playing him transparently onside.

In the 38th minute, Brooke's flicked header put Marsh-Hughes through for a shot, which was blocked well at point blank range by East.

A Linnets breakthrough looked increasingly inevitable, and it came from the penalty spot, five minutes before the break.

Iwan Murray's solo run into the area was halted by a blatant trip from behind, and Joe Lynch buried the spot-kick, hard and low to the left of the 'keeper.

This account of the game might appear biased, as it describes consistent one-way traffic, but that is how it was.

Linnets continued the onslaught up to half-time.

An excellent Lewis Doyle ball up to the penalty area was cleared by Price after Brooke and Marsh-Hughes failed to agree on who was going to do what.

Care and Brooke contested a ball heading towards the Town 18-yard line. Care got there first and lobbed the ball into the arms of his 'keeper.

Mr Scaife appeared to be unaware that that isn't allowed, unless he thought that it was Brooky who had played it.

The last action of the half saw the ball in the Market Drayton net, Marsh-Hughes converting Lynch's cross. This time, Lloyd actually was offside.

The second half began as the first had been spent, with the yellow and green in control and on the attack.

It would produce even more scoring opportunities, but the Market Drayton defence, especially Joe Care and 'keeper Ashley Rawlins, repeatedly prevented a rout.

Ryan Brooke won the ball out of nothing, to the right of the Town area, and pulled it back for Murray.

He delivered into the area, where Lynch's shot bounced off the turf and lost the power to beat Rawlins.

The half was four minutes old when Linnets' latest 'keeper Mooney played a superbly-targeted long ball to Brooke on the halfway line.

He flicked it on into the path of Murray, who charged on into the penalty area, feinted past Jones, and buried a shot inside the left post beyond the grasp of Rawlins.

The 2-0 margin would surely open the floodgates, but chance after chance for the rest of the game failed to bear fruit, not because of poor finishing, but because the home defence made the goal appear to be wrapped in clingfilm.

Louis Hayes was the engine room behind Runcorn attacks, as he had been against Marine four days earlier.

Brooke and Doyle switched passes to set Murray away into the area again, but Care launched a perfect saving tackle to avert the danger.

Care fouled Brooke just outside the penalty arc, but the referee played advantage as Marsh-Hughes charged on goal.

His shot was blocked by Rawlins, as an offside flag was waved, and Mr Scaife brought it back for the free-kick, booking Care in the process.

Iwan Murray's free-kick cleared the wall and by-passed Rawlings, but went wide of the left post.

The hour was almost up when Market Drayton managed a three-man move across the Runcorn third, but Joe Lynch won the ball and cleared.

He played it long for Murray, who won a corner from Price's challenge but Rawlings plucked the ball from the air.

The Runcorn back four appeared to have far less work to do than had been demanded during recent games, but they were solid in preventing avenues back into the fixture for the home team.

It looked easy, because they made it look easy.

Iwan Murray did well to catch an Ally Brown long ball with a quickening wind behind it. It was Joe Care, predictably, who blocked his cross.

Lloyd Marsh-Hughes made a great run on the left to deliver a cross into the area, for Murray to hit a volley that drew a superb reflex save by Rawlins.

Lynch instantly fired in another volley that was met by an identically brilliant save.

With 25 minutes remaining, Kain Dean replaced James Short, who had taken a knock to the head a couple of minutes previously.

Marsh-Hughes dragged a shot wide of the left post under defensive pressure.

Louis Hayes won the ball in the centre circle, yet again, and played it forward for Murray on the right, with Ryan Brooke screaming 'Hayesie!' to his left.

After the ball had run long for a goal-kick, Brooky continued to scream 'Hayesie!' repeatedly for ten seconds afterwards. The referee was probably relieved to see someone else take the flak for a while.

There were fewer than 20 minutes remaining when Market Drayton had their best of very few chances.

An unnecessary foul, 30 yards out, produced a free-kick which presented Owen Mooney with his first real challenge as Linnets' 'keeper.

I wasn't alone in thinking that Matthew Johnson's kick had found the top left corner beyond Mooney's outstretched fingertips, but the net had been rippled from the wrong side of the post.

Town continued on the offensive for their most promising spell, but the Runcorn defence was in no mood to let them back into the game.

With a brilliant solo run up the right flank, Joe Lynch beat two defenders twice each, and his cross was destined for the head of Brooke beyond the far post, until Care's bicycle kick hooked it away.

On 77 minutes, Jacques Welsh replaced Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, as the amateur strategists among the Linnets fans wondered whether Dapo Olarewaju or Eden Gumbs might provide the fire power to put the game to bed.

Into the last ten minutes, Owen Mooney launched a carbon copy of the move that had produced the second goal. His precision clearance was headed on from the halfway line by Ryan Brooke for Iwan Murray to race into the penalty area.

Iwan aimed a shot at the same spot inside the left post, but this time Rawlins made a great save.

Linnets attacked again, a Kain Dean cross headed into the air by O'Mahony, but no Runcorn man was close enough to intercept as the ball ran wide.

Louis Hayes made a solo run up the right, evading three tackles before delivering a cross through the area.

Jacques Welsh launched a diving header which flashed across goal and beyond the right post.

Iwan Murray received an unprecedented yellow card, for a tackle that was deemed to have been aimed at the man rather than the ball, and in the space of a minute he twice fell foul of the officials' novel view of the offside law.

Murray ran past the defence to collect Ally Brown's pass, and was judged offside. He was in an offside position when he picked up the pass, but not when it was made.

He was in an offside position when Downes' clearance was launched towards the opposition half, but Iwan stopped running, to ensure he wasn't involved in play.

Ryan Brooke picked up the loose ball, passed three opponents to reach the penalty area, dragged it back from the advancing Rawlins and planted a shot into the top right corner.

It became the great goal that never was, after Mr Scaife consulted the assistant whose flag had been raised throughout Brooky's charge.

We will never know how the referee was persuaded that Murray's position had any bearing on what should have been Ryan's 19th league goal of the season.

Rawlins and Care continued two be a two-man barrier to a more convincing Linnets victory, each blocking efforts on target by Lynch and Welsh.

Murray reached the goal line on the left and crossed into the six-yard box, where Brooke was well placed, but Rawlins' elbow deflected the ball out for a corner.

He had little control over where the ball went, but he had more than earned a lucky one.

A last Market Drayton assault was fashioned by Randane Larmond, who had been introduced in place of Eshan Greer early in the second half.

Alex Downes intervened. Larmond might have been involved earlier, as his physical presence caused more problems for the Runcorn defence than anyone else in red.

The last action of the game involved Iwan Murray trying to beat the entire Town team on his own, until Cameron East whipped the ball away on the 18-yard line.

The final whistle heralded a 2-0 Linnets victory, which didn't tell the full story of a comprehensively- dominant performance. But the recipient of three available points was never really in doubt.

Runcorn Linnets retained fifth place in the league, with ten games remaining, and an eight-point cushion to secure a place in the play-offs.

A home fixture against Bootle will be the next step in a promotion charge that, back in August, nobody could reasonably have expected.

Runcorn Linnets:Owen Mooney, Ally Brown, James Short (Kain Dean 65), Louis Hayes, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Joe Lynch, Lewis Doyle, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes (Jacques Welsh 77). Sub not used: Dapo Olarewaju, Eden Gumbs, Peter Wylie.

Attendance: 222.

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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