13th February 2017, Winsford United v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-1
They largely dominated at St Luke's Barton Stadium but through a combination of not finding a 'final ball', missed opportunities and one excellent save by Winsford's goalkeeper Matthew Green, the win the visitors craved and needed just would not come.
The game was memorable for two goals, which were remarkable for different reasons, and also its full-blooded local derby qualities - culminating in the late dismissal of Winsford striker Kyle Riley for a second cautionable offence. He had kicked out at Kyle Hamid as the Runcorn skipper tried to take a free-kick.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, Linnets players had already ended up being punished as a result of blatant or heavy opposition fouls. Michael Simpson and Hamid were booked for retaliation (after being rugby tackled in the centre circle while chasing forward) and (presumably) a verbally reaction to the referee after a bad tackle on a team-mate, respectively. At least the perpetrators were cautioned too.
Winsford's only recent defeat had come on penalties at Stockport County in the Cheshire Senior Cup - they thrashed tenants 1874 Northwich 4-0 on Boxing Day, so Linnets were under no illusions as to the size of their task.
With Danny McKenna unavailable, manager Michael Ellison named Zac Aley as left back in an otherwise unchanged starting line-up.
The Linnets began positively but were gifted the opening goal after only six minutes. Taking full advantage of the long run-off between the touchline and pitch perimeter fence, Aley launched a long throw-in from the Runcorn left.
The home 'keeper was caught a awares, and also caught out, as the ball some how escaped his clutches and dropped into the net.
With Paul Shanley full of confidence and running, boosted by his goals in the two previous away games, Runcorn continued to take the game to The Blues - forcing numerous corners - but ultimately without further success.
Mark Houghton came closest to making it 2-0, just clearing the bar on the rebound after Tom Hardwick's header had been saved.
Winsford had done little or nothing to trouble Tom Hunt before producing a stunning equaliser five minutes from the break.
Hunt's clearance was easily intercepted in his own half and while Runcorn did their best to hold up a riposte, Winsford advanced for Jordan Johnson to unleash a terrific shot from all of 30 yards. It hit the apex of bar and right post and went in.
Any doubt as to the validity of the strike was removed by the referee pointing to the middle and there were no complaints by the Runcorn players nearest to the ball.
The second half saw Winsford make more of an impression teritorially, threatening to catch the Linnets on the break.
From one such counter attack, after a Runcorn corner, it needed the bravest of blocks by Stuart Wellstead, against one of his former clubs, to deny Winsford a scoring opportunity.
Other than their goal, the only serious attempt from United was a header which went narrowly over the top.
The Linnets could and probably should have wrapped up the game after two chances in quick succession. Simpson's left-wing corner was directed to the far post by Aaron Morris' glancing header but Hardwick nodded the ball against the woodwork.
A couple of minutes earlier, left winger Shanley had gone the long way around Winsford's defence - on the outside right - and while having to be careful of the bounce as the ensuing cross fell to him eight yards out, Wellstead fired in a shot to which the home 'keeper was spectacularly equal.
With little more than a 48-hour turnaround and 10 players who had featured for Runcorn on Saturday starting and indeed finishing this game, the Linnets - and also their hosts - deserve credit for providing such an intense contest, particularly on an icy cold evening.
Runcorn Linnets:Tom Hunt, Zac Aley, Tom Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs (none used): Chris Lawton, Danny O'Brien, Bevan Burey, Matt Cross.
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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