30th November 2016, AFC Liverpool v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-1by Ste Bignall
The last day of November 2016 was a day to forget as Runcorn Linnets turned in comfortably their most lack lustre performance under Michael Ellison's stewardship when going down 3-1 at AFC Liverpool, who deserved their victory.
Jay Roberts made his long-awaited return to the starting eleven along with defensive partner Chris Lawton who had missed the four previous games. However, there were only places on the bench for usual regular starters Danny McKenna, Adam Wade and Anthony Hickey.
Stu Wellstead earned his first start for the club with Kristian Holt beginning in his more familiar midfield role.
AFC Liverpool took the lead early on when a cross from the left was headed down into the danger area, and livewire Emini Adegbenro raced onto the loose ball to poke it past Tom Hunt, who tried to make a brave block.
A dangerous cross from Zac Aley almost led to a Runcorn chance but the ball was scrambled clear. Minutes later, AFC should have doubled their lead when a defence-splitting through ball set Adegbenro in but his shot from close range was tame and straight at Hunt.
The evening turned all the more bleak for the Linnets mid way through the first half when front man Mark Houghton, ultra committed as ever, threw in a challenge on the by-line with momentum carrying him head first into an advertising board.
Houghto received a good amount of treatment as the game continued and deserves enormous credit for returning to the field of play in a "Terry Butcher"- style head bandage.
However, he had to be withdrawn at half-time and was taken to hospital for a precautionary check. All at the club hope Houghto makes a speedy recovery.
AFC's very pacy attack caused the Linnets back four problems all night when playing on the counter attack. Adegbenro, in particular, was a painful thorn, and when two AFC players chased down a back pass to Hunt, their endeavours were rewarded.
The visiting keeper's clearance smacked into Adegbenro and rolled, of all places, straight towards the empty net - presenting the forward with the easiest finish of his career.
The second goal, coming in the first minute of stoppage time, crowned a miserable first half for the Linnets, who had offered very little to the game by this point and were facing the tough ask of coming from two goals behind.
New signing Brian Matthews was introduced at half-time as Runcorn went about trying to get back in the game.
Paul Shanley tried to force the issue when he cut in from the left to place a shot just wide of the wide post, the closest Ello's men had come up to that point.
Ronnie Mcarthy made way for Hickey as the Linnets changed shape to a 4-4-2 and it seemed that the luck might be about to change as AFC were reduced to 10 men - the referee correctly awarding their left back a second yellow card for a foul on Wellstead.
The Linnets main threat was coming from Shanley, and he should have won a penalty with half an hour to go when he was brought down cynically by Mike White, but the officials showed little interest.
Hickey headed a great chance over from six yards as the game entered its final quarter, but the three points were secured by the home side with 12 minutes to go. A poor pass out from the back fell straight to Jason Carey, who looked up and struck a thunderbolt from the halfway line.
It caught Hunt, understandably, out of position and surely tied up AFC's goal of the season competition.
Linnets teams are renowned for never saying die and this game was no different. The edge was finally taken off the scoreline when Hickey tapped in from close range to complete the evening's proceedings at 3-1.
AFC Liverpool were visibly up for this game. They pressed us hard and despite Linnets having most of the ball, we had no clue how to break down a well-marshalled defence.
This led to passes going astray and crosses drifting high and wide. AFC, on the other hand, counter attacked very well and were effective when they had the Linnets back pedalling.
This was most definitely a night to forget about quickly. Luckily, performances like this do not happen often.
This is the only time we have seen such a display under Ello's management and that includes the early- season period when we struggled somewhat while everything was settling down.
As the bad weather closes in, games will start to become intermittent and frustrating, but hopefully the milder weather will hold out until the weekend and give the Linnets a chance to make amends against Abbey Hey at the MLS on Saturday afternoon, ko 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Hunt, Aley, Lawton, Morris, Roberts, McCarthy, Holt, Hamid, Houghton, Shanley, Wellstead. Subs: Matthews, Hickey, McKenna. Not used: Wade, O'Brien.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.