15th October 2016, Padiham v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-0
The Linnets' incredible unbeaten run was finally ended at the 14th time of asking - and by the finest of margins - in the Lancashire sunshine at Padiham on Saturday.
Manager Michael Ellison and his staff will be disappointed at the way that this game was lost, with Runcorn rarely getting close to the style and substance of play that had lifted them to within a couple of points of top spot in recent weeks.
Padiham, managed by popular former Linnets boss Steve Wilkes, were understandably delighted with their win, having stuck rigidly to their game plan of making it very difficult for the visitors to play.
Neither side truly got going in the first half, Linnets in particular unable to move the ball around with the quality or speed they have shown of late. Far too many passes didn't find their intended target.
Padiham had a good chance with a free header from a corner that went wide and Mark Houghton completed a cracking move by finding the Storks' net, only for the linesman to raise his flag for offside - a frustrating scourge of Linnets' afternoon.
Tom Hunt did well to save and hold on to a rasping drive from Padiham's number seven but shortly after this, the home side scored what proved to be the only goal.
Vita Mbdokele lost the ball by the opposition corner flag with the Linnets attackers in position to attack a cross. One huge punt upfield later and James Dean found himself in behind Danny McKenna, who had misjudged the flight of the ball.
Dean, after needing just one touch to control, rifled a half volley into the bottom corner, giving Hunt no chance.
The hugely-impressive Dean would go on to be a real handful for the Linnets' defence for the rest of the game.
The visitors did find their feet a little in the second half and started to dominate possession while limiting Padiham to counter attacks, although a few of these could have seen the hosts doubling their advantage.
Within 10 minutes of the second half beginning, another long ball set Dean in again, only for Aaron Morris to cover a huge amount of ground and throw in a last-ditch tackle which resulted in a corner.
The in-swinging kick, a great delivery, led to a free header for the hosts. Luckily, the crossbar intervened and the rebound was cleared to safety.
Linnets were still struggling to make inroads into a well-marshalled defence, the final pass or cross always seeming to come a split second too late.
There were shouts for a Runcorn penalty midway through the half, the affectionately named "Chopper" of Padiham being accused of knocking the ball away with his hand while lying on the floor. But the claims were more from the crowd than players.
Ello introduced Kris Holt, Bevan Burey and Steve Foster while adopting a system change to try and carve out an equaliser.
It looked like persistence had finally paid off in the last minute of injury time.
The penalty area was fully loaded for a Linnets corner, which was partially cleared to the far touchline.
Morris was quickest to it and he delivered a low cross that Chris Lawton sent sailing towards the bottom corner with a diving header - only for the ball to strike the inside of the upright, roll along the goal line and out to Foster who could only hit the other post with the angle against him.
The closest you could ever come to scoring without the ball actually crossing the line!
There has been a lot to savour and enjoy in the last eight weeks or so, but you learn nothing in football by winning matches. All the education comes when you lose.
With Ello and his assistant Matt Cross both having played in Linnets sides that had so much success in the last five to 10 minutes of games, they will no doubt be looking to instil that trait into this new-look outfit.
It's a similar learning curve for the team against well-drilled, disciplined sides who will do all they can to stop you playing and punish any mistakes.
We now move on quickly to a tasty-looking encounter at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Tuesday evening when AFC Liverpool bring a raft of last season's Linnets side for a league encounter.
Kick off is at 7.45pm and you would be mad to miss it!
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Hunt, Danny McKenna, Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Vita Mbdokele, Adam Wade, Ronnie McCarthy, Kyle Hamid, Paul Shanley, Mark Houghton, Antony Hickey. Subs used: Kris Holt, Bevan Burey, Steve Foster.
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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