The Northern Premier League

26th February 2022, Mossley AFC v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2

Report - David 'Bill' Davies

Two weather-washouts meant Linnets visited Seel Park for their first Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division outing in two weeks, seeking redress for a humbling 4-0 home defeat to Mossley in October, when all four goals came in a defensively weak 25-minute spell after half-time.

That win put the Lilywhites top of the table, and they looked a force to be reckoned with. But they would go on to lose their next six league games, and despite a revival of 14 points from their last nine fixtures, they came into this one eight points behind their visitors, with a goal difference that was inferior by 18.

Despite that resounding away win, Mossley clearly remembered the threat posed by Iwan Murray, and robust challenges on the Linnets No10 left him in a heap twice in the first minute.

In only the second minute, however, Iwan timed a burst beyond his marker in the Mossley area perfectly to meet Ryan Brooke's through ball. I was standing directly behind the referee's assistant when he flagged Murray offside.

Not for the first time this season, I was left wondering about a change to the offside law that I must have missed, and felt a strange yearning for VAR.

In the third minute, a Runcorn corner on the right was met by a Jacques Welsh volley that was deflected from close range over the bar, but a goal-kick was awarded.

A 30-yard Linnets free-kick, for a foul on Ryan Brooke, was headed away by Harry Pratt before Sean O'Mahony could connect.

Then O'Mahony headed powerfully away from his own box towards Brooke, who was chopped down by Ben Richardson as he turned on the centre spot.

The foul commenced Mossley's eventual collection of seven yellow cards.

There was a lucky escape for Linnets when a loose pass allowed Jack Bannister a run into the penalty area, but a moment's hesitation enabled Ally Brown to intervene.

Then a misunderstanding between Ally and Alex Downes left room for a long shot by Jordan Butterworth, but it flew well wide.

There would be precious few protracted spells of passing in a war of attrition that Mossley boss David Fish was to describe as a 'dreadful game', and as a result, not many great scoring chances.

Ryan Brooke created a chance for himself with some clever skill in the area, confounding three defenders, but his chipped shot was held easily enough by 'keeper Bradley Kelly.

Balls won in the middle third by either side were quickly closed down, and possession changed hands repeatedly, and seldom for long.

Welsh and Hayes took custody and tried to open up wide avenues for Brown and Short, but any resulting crosses were headed away by centre-backs Evans and Matthews.

At the other end, forays by Morris, Fawns and Bannister were similarly repelled from the area by O'Mahony and Downes.

After 18 minutes, Linnets achieved a breakthrough. Lewis Doyle won a challenge with Fawns that most in black and white proclaimed a foul, but the man in all-black disagreed.

Louis Hayes found Iwan Murray in the middle, and he advanced past Matthews towards the 18-yard line, from where he placed a shot perfectly past Kelly's dive, and in off the left post.

It was a development which did nothing to discourage the home side's apparent belief that the only sure-fire way to thwart Murray was to bring him down.

Lloyd Marsh-Hughes was making his presence felt across the width of the Mossley third, and Evans was employing hands more than feet to subdue him.

The Runcorn No7 collected a through ball from Welsh, shrugged off an embrace by Evans and crossed, only for Matthews to head clear.

A frankly harsh free-kick, for Hickman's close attentions on Ryan Brooke, was again headed away by Matthews, who repeated the feat from Doyle's follow-up shot.

Both Murray and Marsh-Hughes executed clever reverse flicks back into the area, but they were again cleared by prompt defensive interventions.

Bannister broke clear before Jacques Welsh earned the only Runcorn yellow card of the day for bringing him down.

Butterworth brought down Murray in a very similar fashion, but for now the card score remained at 1-1.

Harry Pratt turned inside Ally Brown from the left and shot across the Linnets area, with a deflection beyond the far post seeing a corner conceded.

A ricochet, more than a shot, ran wide of the left post.

Lloyd Marsh-Hughes' trojan efforts to break down the Mossley rearguard from either flank bore fruit after 32 minutes.

He controlled Short's ball up the left touchline, initially with his chest, and accelerated past Declan Evans. The Mossley skipper again tried to foil him with a bearhug, but he slipped and missed, much to the amusement of the Runcorn fans behind the goal.

Lloyd's cross to six yards out was met by Ryan Brooke, who volleyed over Kelly into the roof of the net.

It wasn't clear whether Evans' yellow card was for the attempted foul, or for his inexplicable remonstrations with Mr McQuillan.

In fairness to Evans, after he fumbled a clearance to concede a throw two minutes later, he took the inevitable ribbing from behind the goal with good grace.

Seven minutes before the break, great work up the right by Murray saw off three challenges, and his cross was headed on target by Brooke.

Kelly got down to save well, and Brooke was penalised as he scrambled on the ground to get in a shot on the rebound.

Marsh-Hughes was on the move again until Matthews hauled him back by his shirt, but the referee was in a minority who didn't see it.

O'Mahony met a 30-yard free-kick, awarded for another foul on Murray, with a diving header that went wide of the left post.

Mossley had their most concerted spell on the attack for the last five minutes of the half.

Bannister had a powerful shot blocked, another by Fawns flew wide, and from a corner on the right, Bannister launched himself into a crowded six-yard box.

Matthews received the next yellow card for his protestations about the resulting free-kick for Runcorn.

Bailey Marsden replaced Mossley right-back Richardson at half-time.

Solid scoring chances had been less than abundant in the first period, but after the break they took on the scarcity of hen's teeth.

Linnets full-backs Brown and Short spent much less time in the opposition half than they would like, as they conspired with Downes and O'Mahony to frustrate Lillywhites attempts to get back into the game.

Meanwhile, Jacques Welsh competed with Lloyd Marsh Hughes for Runcorn man-of-the-match honours, winning challenges and picking up loose balls in front of the back four with monotonous regularity.

Matthews went on to secure the award for Mossley star man, as he continued to batter away most of Linnets' successful efforts to find the penalty area, and Evans put an accident-prone first half behind him with a similarly-effective rearguard performance.

It was unusual to see a Runcorn side mount so few multiple passing moves, but not too surprising.

They were perpetually occupied in taking free kicks from between their own penalty area and the halfway line, as almost every time a man in yellow and green took possession, he was fouled.

After the game, Iwan Murray was accused by Mossley manager David Fish in an interview on his club's twitter account of 'screaming and getting free-kicks when anybody went within five yards of him'.

A quick look at Iwan's shins and ankles would prove that accusation to be as empty as the Lilywhites boss's follow-up renarks: 'That's not a slight against Iwan'.

Fish's next statement about Iwan - 'He's that type of player who does get fouled' - was nearer the mark.

Credit to the Mossley manager, however, for apologising when publicly challenged by Linnets counterpart Calum McIntyre online over his comments about Murray, recognising that it had been 'a poor choice of words'.

'The comment on fouls was about consistency of refereeing, No offence meant to a young man who is a real talent,' added Fish, the clarification being welcomed and accepted by McIntyre.

Mossley's match reporter was more egalitarian than Fish had earlier been, the former blaming the whole Linnets team, as 'Runcorn players squealed and screamed and hit the floor in just about every challenge'.

Perhaps he realised that picking on Iwan Murray alone wouldn't wash, as Iwan was substituted by Kain Dean after 62 minutes, to spare him further cuts and bruises.

Mr McQuillan's supposed one-sided gullibility will remain a mystery, as will the perceived decision by Linnets to abandon their usual, and highly-effective, skilful quick passing game for one of diving to obtain free-kicks inside their own half.

A trip on Fawns early in the second half reached only the Linnets defensive wall, from where Marsh-Hughes headed away.

Most of my notes for the rest of the afternoon catalogued foul after foul, followed by card after card for Mossley.

If that were the norm, resulting from innocent opposition being successfully cheated, I would have stopped watching Runcorn games a long time ago. Vinegar goes best with a pinch of salt.

Grundy felled Welsh in front of the dugouts without attracting a card, but a second late clatter in Marsden's six minutes on the pitch, on Brooke then Marsh-Hughes, did.

Within a minute, Fawns became an ironic addition to Mr McQuillan's notebook, for diving in the Linnets area as he tried to bypass Downes and Doyle.

After O'Mahony headed a Mossley free-kick out for a corner, which was cleared, Marsden arrived late again as Murray passed him.

Travelling fans felt the No15's contribution should have ended there, after 15 minutes of the second half, but the referee let it go with a free-kick only.

Andreas Beanga replaced Bannister for the Lilywhites just before the hour mark.

Murray went down in the area chasing a Marsh-Hughes cross. There was no obvious foul this time, but Iwan was replaced by Kain Dean shortly afterwards, possibly to take him out of harm's way.

The harder a player is to beat by fair means, the more he will be fouled.

Marsh-Hughes continued to trouble home defenders wide on the right, and Short advanced more up the left to join Dean in knocking on the door. But Runcorn balls into the middle were being dealt with by the heads of Evans and Matthews, and booming clearances out of play.

Welsh tried to find Downes' head outside the six-yard box, but Matthews was there first again, and Jacques tried a speculative shot of his own from distance, but it flew high.

Mossley centre-forward Pratt continued battling for possession mostly within ten yards of the halfway line, having failed to find much service further up the pitch.

He proved adept at keeping the ball, but advances into the Linnets third remained rare.

A spell of tit-for tat headers in the middle third did set up a shooting opportunity for Fawns, but it was gathered easily by Owen Mooney in the Linnets goal.

The tireless Marsh-Hughes took the ball into the Mossley area twice more, and looked for Kain Dean.

The first time Kain was foiled by a tackle, and second time by the speed of the ball.

Lloyd was there again on 80 minutes, going solo past three men from the right touchline into the area. But his own pace put him off his stride, and his shot squirted well wide.

Eden Gumbs came on for Ryan Brooke for the last eight minutes. He set out to emulate Lloyd's safe-cracking efforts right across the pitch, but the Mossley defence still refused to give an inch.

Grundy advanced well up the left at the other end, but Welsh tracked back quickly, and hustled the ball away from him.

Grundy had another go, and was hurt in a challenge that resulted in a throw-in.

Will Hartshorne replaced the Mossley No3 for the last two minutes.

Neither defence was prepared to allow any further scoring, and during four added minutes, Mossley upped their card count to seven, Morris and Butterworth seeing yellow for late challenges on Short and Welsh.

Two superbly taken first-half chances took all three points back to Runcorn.

Opinions will probably remain divided on who prevented the match from being a classic, but it was worth remembering that when Mossley won in Runcorn at the end of October, it took them to the top of the NPL West Division.

David Fish conceded that defeat in the return fixture had now probably ended any hope of promotion, from 8th place, with a goal difference of plus-three.

It seemed unlikely that Linnets' alleged 'game plan' could be responsible for the change in fortunes of the intervening four months.

With a vacant Saturday ahead, Runcorn will next retrace their steps beyond Ashton-under-Lyne on Tuesday March 8th, for a Cheshire Senior Cup quarter final at Stalybridge Celtic.

Runcorn Linnets:Owen Mooney, Ally Brown, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, Louis Hayes, Ryan Brooke (Eden Gumbs 82), Iwan Murray (Kain Dean 62), Lewis Doyle. Subs not used: Joe Lynch, Dapo Olarewaju, Peter Wylie.

Attendance: 548.

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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