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6th August 2016, Hemsworth MW v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-1

Defeat in a season-opening FA Cup tie was not the outcome Runcorn Linnets would have hoped for, or wanted, from Michael Ellison's first competitive match in charge.

At the same time, the visitors will certainly feel unfortunate and most probably aggrieved at not getting a second stab at what was always expected to be a tough task.

Runcorn looked to be out of the cup almost before they were in it, after conceding twice inside the first quarter.

However, their response was strong and spirited and it was a pity that their goal reward came too late to give them a realistic chance of staying in the tie.

The unavailability of a handful of new signings for Saturday's extra preliminary round tie (plus a hangover suspension from last season for new club captain Kyle Hamid) had contributed to first-afternoon selection problems.

So all told, a largely young and in parts inexperienced Linnets side did remarkably well to take the contest down to the wire.

Only three from last season's squad Antony Hickey, Mark Houghton and young Taylor Kennerley were in Ellison's first starting line-up and with two of the defence having been drafted in at 48 hours' notice in a raft of late signings, the early exchanges were going to be key.

Runcorn looked very effective going forward from the outset with newcomer Bevan Burey (ex-Ramsbottom United) on the right and Kennerley attacking down the flanks at high speed but unfortunately, the Northern Counties East League Division One champions stole a quick march in the game.

Conceding a goal from a free-kick from which the hosts had been given a free back-post header and another direct from a corner, the ball this time flicking off the woodwork at the far upright, ultimately proved very costly for Linnets.

In between the two goals, by Harry Viggars (7 mins) and Nash Connerly (16), the Linnets created a glorious chance when Burey's cross found Kennerley free beyond the far post but with time to spare, the promising teenager was unable to direct his shot on goal.

Trying to claw back a 2-0 deficit, the Linnets must have thought they had begun to make inroads when skipper-for-the-day Mark Houghton, having got clear, was blocked off by the home 'keeper after knocking the ball beyond him. It was a clear penalty but the referee waved appeals away.

The official did likewise in the second half - firstly as Houghton, again, was pushed in the back by the outrushing Hemsworth 'keeper and then when a defender obviously handled the ball in his attempts to complete a clearance.

Yes, he had kicked the ball against his hand but this was all done under his control and in hurried efforts to get it away from danger. All the visitors had asked for was consistency.

A few minutes beforehand, a free-kick had been awarded on halfway against Runcorn - Burey being adjudged to have handled, when the ball was kicked against him at close range.

Linnets assistant boss Matt Cross, one of the Linnets substitutes, said as much to the referee and was promptly sent from the technical area.

There had already been two on-field dismissals in the 25th minute when the referee failed to blow instantly for a foul against Antony Hickey, who ended up being kicked two or three times on the floor.

The resulting melee was followed by red cards, after consultation between the referee and a linesman, for Hickey for violent conduct and Hemsworth's No.11 with the home 'keeper being cautioned.

Runcorn looked stronger as the game wore on and totally dominated the second half. Ex-Cammell Laird midfielder Dan O'Brien skimmed the bar from 20 yards while the impressive Kennerley forced a save with an effort from an acute angle.

But the break Linnets needed, after all their pressure, just wouldn't come. Centre back Chris Lawton, welcomed back into Linnets colours after a three-and-a-half year absence, was thrust into an attacking role late on.

If only the visitors had scored a little earlier. As it happened, influential midfieldman Adam Wade was introduced off the bench to continue his comeback after missing much of last season and stabbed home at an 85th minute corner at the second attempt to give Linnets late hope.

Wade's initial effort had also crossed the goal line but there was no signal from the officials.

Patience will be a watch word for all concerned at Linnets as a new-look team finds its way but there were plenty of encouraging signs.

Aaron Morris looked very much at home in central midfield, his skill and forcefulness bringing the corner from which Runcorn scored, while 18-year-old left back Dan McKenna, on a dual registration from Witton Albion, settled in well, showing plenty of intent and tenacity.

"Think it's safe to say that the major decisions which changed the game didn't go our way," said manager Ellison, who was particularly disgruntled at the dismissal of Hickey.

"Shielding the ball he had three men around him, one came through the back of him and one through the side. The referee should have blown then which, to be fair to him, he agreed with when we spoke after the game. "What followed was the Hemsworth player on top of Hickey, throwing punches while Hickey was trying to protect himself. The rest of the team got involved, which is normal. Sending the Hemsworth lad off was correct but to even it up was really poor to say the least."

With scheduled midweek opponents AFC Liverpool drawing in the FA Cup, Runcorn Linnets' Wednesday evening visit to The Arriva Stadium has been postponed because of the replay. The Linnets will, therefore, now play their first home game of 2016-17 this Saturday, when West Didsbury & Chorlton visit in The Hallmark Security League Premier Division (ko 3pm).

The Linnets boss added: "Me and Crossy have a week now to work with the players we have and there will be one or to more faces coming in and a couple more available. "We can't change the Hemsworth result but we can build on the positives we took from the game and concentrate on getting a result against West Didsbury on Saturday." Following the match, from 6pm onwards, will be a start-of-season party in the clubhouse at The Millbank Linnets Stadium, with barbecue, as a welcome to the new (if in some cases, already familiar) management team and players. All supporters are welcome.

Runcorn Linnets: Jack Cookson, Dan McKenna, Chris Lawton, Kevin McGrath, Jay Roberts, Dan O'Brien, Aaron Morris, Taylor Kennerley, Antony Hickey, Mark Houghton, Bevan Burey. Sub: Adam Wade. (Not used): Adam Donohue, Paul Reddy, Carl Bishop, Adam Christopher (GK), Matt Cross.

Attendance: 171.

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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