23rd August 2016, Cammell Laird v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-3
Michael Ellison is somehow still waiting for his first competitive win as Runcorn manager after his charges let a last-gasp lead slip in a high-scoring draw at Birkenhead on Tuesday night. Opponents Cammell Laird 1907 had started the season in disappointing form with two defeats and had also been looking for their first win.
The Linnets' starting line-up changed yet again with Jay Roberts returning at right back and Aaron Morris dropping from midfield to centre half. Danny O Brien and Anthony Donaldson both started in midfield for the first time.
The pattern of play was set from the opening minute with the visitors, wearing our striking Dutch-style orange away kit, taking control of the game and looking very dangerous in attack.
Paul Shanley pulled off a cracking finish, running on to Kyle Hamid's through ball and chipping the 'keeper with one touch but the linesman gave a marginal offside against Shanners to deny him a great goal.
However, the deadlock was soon broken by skipper Hamid, who nonchalantly chipped home from outside the box to give the Linnets a deserved lead.
The defensive frailties that are dogging Ello's back four at the minute started to show within a few minutes of Hamid's opener, Morris and Simon Woodford both leaving a long ball for each other which in turn allowed Lairds a free run at goal. The resulting attempt ended up wide of the post.
A warning shot had been fired but not heeded as Lairds so found not only an equaliser but another goal to give them the lead. The leveller came from nothing more than a drop-kick clearance from the Lairds 'keeper that the back for couldn't deal with and Jamie Hayes did well to gather the ball, take it round Tom Hunt and finish from a tight angle.
Lairds' second came from an attack that worked its way goalwards from the left wing, with three passes in our box leaving the defence rooted and setting up Adam Edgar, who had the easy task of poking home unmarked from a few yards out.
Chances began to rain in for the Linnets, who were still dominating the game despite being behind. Shanley's back-post header was tipped over the bar, O'Brien had a cracking 25-yard strike touched over at full stretch and Hamid saw a low strike from outside the box fumbled on to the post by Lairds' stopper.
The home 'keeper was proving to be a real thorn in Linnets' wing and he dug the spike in even deeper just before half-time, somehow saving Paul Shanley's penalty with his elbow - the ball then rolling along the goal line and hitting the opposite post before being scrambled clear.
The half ended with Linnets trailing 2-1 when the score could have been 2-5 on a luckier day!
I have no idea if it was a case of a clock being wrong, the riot act being read or something else entirely, but the away side came out very early for the second half, a good 10 minutes before kick-off. The balance of play evened out a little but Linnets still looked the far more likely side to bag the next goal.
Linnets had to try to ignore some frustrating issues with sub-standard match balls being offered to the referee as the pressure was building on Lairds' goal. Woodford knocked a cross wide at the back post before the referee awarded the Linnets second penalty of the evening for a foul on Shanley.
This time, Hamid stepped up to send the 'keeper the wrong way and level at 2-2. Mark Houghton and Marcus Cusani were introduced by Ello who sensed a win was possible. Both had great chances to get a goal - Houghton not quite managing to connect with Shanley's low cross and Cusani should have scored when he was set clean through but scuffed his shot wide.
The usually sizable travelling support thought their prayers had been answered with two minutes to play, strong refereeing by the man in the middle saw the award of a third Runcorn penalty, this time for hand ball.
Hamid was on call to send the 'keeper the wrong way again, the opposite way to his penalty 10 minutes earlier, for his hat-trick goal to spark scenes of jubilation around the ground.
Linnets only had to hold on for three minutes but as soon as the goal was scored the nerves of a team desperate to get their first win were visible for all to see. Suddenly, their excellent football of the night turned into sliced clearances, misplaced passes and other mistakes.
You actually felt Lairds equaliser was in the air before they scored it, with most around me calling the goal as they were awarded a free kick 40 yards from goal.
The last throw of the dice was floated all the way to Liam Dodd, who found himself completely unmarked near the far post four yards from goal, and he had the simple task of bundling the ball over the line to snatch an unlikely draw for the home side.
Those close to it say that the ball was put in by Dodd's hand which is just the kind of bad luck that befalls a team in Linnets' current form, but the truth is that no player should be able to head a 40 yard ball in from close range without being challenged and it again showed that there is much work for Ello and Crossy to do with their defensive unit.
This is a game that the Linnets had deserved to win comfortably, there is no question about that. We looked excellent when attacking, there is a real pace and cutting edge to the side with Bev Burey, Roberts, McKenna and Shanley, not to mention the suspended Hickey.
Hamid and O'Brien also turned in strong performances, and when the defensive unit does settle and become more cohesive, the wins will come from all angles and we will begin our climb up the league table.
Two tough games follow for Ello's men; top of the table Irlam visit the Millbank on Saturday, hoping to extend their impressive 22-game unbeaten run, before a Tuesday night visit to Congleton, a ground where our record shows the difficulty of the task in hand.
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Hunt, Dan McKenna, Aaron Morris, Simon Woodford, Jay Roberts, Dan O'Brien, Kyle Hamid, Tony Donaldson, Steve Foster, Paul Shanley, Bevan Burey. Subs: Mark Houghton, Marcus Cusani. Not used: Chris Lawton, Sean Carlson, Adam Wade.
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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