23rd September 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Abbey Hey : 2-2 Sponsored by The Fore Golfersby Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets failed to fully capitalise on their game in hand over neighbours and early pace setters, Runcorn Town as Abbey Hey battled it out for what their hosts will view as a frustrating 2-2 draw at the MLS on Saturday afternoon - the third time in four seasons that Abbey have gone away with this same result.
The performance levels of recent weeks could not be reached, and with key players still missing, the last thing Michael Ellison needed was to lose Aaron Morris to an injury with only 20 minutes played.
The starting eleven had been unchanged from Tuesday's victory against AFC Liverpool, Matty Atherton maintaining his seamless return at left back. A welcome sight was Antony Hickey on the substitutes bench, following a few games of unavailability.
The Linnets started brightly and took the lead in spectacular fashion with 15 minutes played. The ball was worked from the left wing to Mark Houghton, who flicked it on with his head for Stuart Wellstead to unleash a first-time volley from outside the penalty area that sailed over Jonathan McIlwayne in the Hey goal and found the top right corner.
Ello's men would have been looking to push on from there and take the game away from the visitors, but within three minutes, Abbey were level. A long ball up the left flank wasn't dealt with by Danny O'Brien or Morris, who had come across to cover, and with the defence exposed and Hey players flooding the Linnets penalty area, they moved the ball across well for Adam Farrand to blast home from close range, giving Terry Smith no chance.
Morris had hit the deck, clutching a knee, as he tried to cover the danger and couldn't continue. He was replaced by young full back Adam Jones, who had ironically signed for Linnets from Abbey Hey in the summer.
With no recognised central defender on the bench, Ello decided to move Matty Atherton central and put Jones in at left back. I can't personally remember Athers playing this role for us before, so it's another to add to the ultimate utility man's list of positions!
Kyle Hamid had a decent chance to restore the lead shortly before half-time as he made a great run into the box at the far post, but couldn't connect cleanly with the bobbling ball in to him and sliced his shot wide.
It proved a costly miss as Hey took the lead in first half injury time. Another long ball forward found a gap between Atherton and Jones and with Terry Smith unsure about staying on his line or coming to close the attacker down, he got stuck in no man's land and Peter Watling made no mistake with his first-time finish.
Abbey Hey were forced to put striker Ashford Blake in goal for the entire second half due to an injury sustained by McIlwayne. However, the most disappointing aspect of the whole afternoon was that we only managed to get two shots on target against the makeshift stopper.
There was little to report from either side for much of the second half, Hey soaking up what pressure the Linnets could build and looking dangerous themselves on the counter attack without testing Smith.
The Linnets were given a fortuitous lifeline with 20 minutes to play when they were awarded what looked a very soft penalty. On-form hitman Stu Wellstead was not feeling sorry for the visitors, however, as he sent the 'keeper the wrong way to level the scores up at 2-2.
Ellison shifted to a 4-4-2 as he set about trying to win the game, and the home side certainly upped it a few gears but lacked the killer touch as haste got in the way of composure.
Hickey and Callum Lucy were brought on to make something happen and Hickey had a great chance to put the Linnets ahead when he got on the end of Atherton's free kick into the box, but couldn't connect fully. His left-footed attempt hit the crossbar and came back out to safety.
Stu Wellstead went close with an effort from outside the box and Lucy should have done better when presented with a chance from a corner but his rushed attempt was sliced wide from eight yards out.
The unthinkable almost happened as injury time approached when Abbey Hey managed to break out up the right wing to slam an effort off the foot of the post with Smith beaten.
This was followed by two strong penalty shouts in the Linnets area, neither of which interested the referee - much to the frustration of the visitors.
The big chance came with almost the last kick of the game. Lucy and O'Brien combined well near the corner flag and this sent O'Brien charging into the penalty area with no markers close by. With Linnets players lining up for a squared pass that would have been stroked home for the winner, O'Brien opted for glory himself and tried to bend the ball into the far top corner with the outside of his right foot. A very difficult technique better suited to a more comfortable score line.
It was further evidence that the decision making had been off all afternoon for the Linnets, and Abbey Hey left with a good point which ultimately was the minimum that they deserved for a very strong showing on the day.
Ellison wont be happy with two home draws in the league already, both in games that he would have been looking to win. We head back on the road now after three successive home games as we make the journey up to AFC Darwen for a rearranged fixture on Wednesday night.
And don't forget to keep an eye out for the FA Vase 1st round draw on Monday as we enter the competition for the first time this season.
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Rory Fallon, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs A Jones, Lucy, Hickey. Not used: Sam Fitton, Mitch Bryant.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.