28th October 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Barnoldswick Town : 1-1By Ste Bignall
It was a frustrating afternoon for the majority inside the MLS on Saturday afternoon as the Linnets never got going in a game against mid-table Barnoldswick Town.
The 1-1 draw was in the end a point gained rather than two dropped as it took a goalkeeping masterclass from Matt Holmes to prevent the Lancashire side from heading home with a win.
Mitch Bryant had replaced Adam Jones while Stuart Wellstead came in for Kris Holt, the latter returning to duty with first-claim club Atherton Colls, in the only changes to the starting 11 which had won through in the FA Vase the previous Tuesday.
Michael Ellison seems to finally be getting back some of his longer-term injured for consideration with Freddie Potter and Kieran Nolan both named as substitutes on Saturday. But after being injured in his first game on returning to the club, Chris Lawton is facing a lengthy lay-off with an arm injury while Zac Aley has suffered a further setback on his long road to recovery.
New signing from Trafford, Rio Gill was also on the bench.
The howling wind played a major factor throughout this game and was a considerable advantage to each side when kicking away from the clubhouse end.
It made for a very scrappy affair where control of the ball was difficult to come by. While the strong wind was making it difficult in the first half for Barlick to get out of their own half, it was also tough for the Linnets to get a hold of the ball, with several passes being carried by the wind out of reach of the intended targets and often out of play.
It took a while coming but the first decent chance fell to Paul Shanley, who was the length of a stud away from converting Mark Houghton's cross.
Shanley's reaction showed that it was a chance that he was frustrated not to have taken.
The Linnets took the lead on the half-hour mark in slightly fortunate fashion. Danny O'Brien's in-swinging corner kick caught the wind perfectly and curled beyond the reach of the Barlick goalkeeper to nestle into the top corner of the net - giving Danny his second goal in as many games.
A good spell followed for the hosts and a second goal may well have closed the game out, but the ball refused to cross the goal line. The closest it came was from a moment of magic by Paul Shanley, caressing a half volley towards goal and watching it beat the 'keeper all ends up but come back off a post. It fell kindly for Mitch Bryant but his effort on the rebound was deflected over the crossbar.
Matty Atherton sent a rasping shot just wide of the post before Kyle Hamid, a stand out performer on the day, stung the 'keeper's fingertips with a low shot from outside the area.
Similar to that in midweek against Team Northumbria, the second half would be a different animal with the Linnets having to defend their way through to full time.
Holmes came to Aaron Morris's rescue as the ball was pinched from the centre back's control in the six-yard box. Holmes was instrumental again when punching a wicked free kick, which was destined for the top corner, over the crossbar.
Next up was a last-ditch blocking tackle by Jimmy Moore with Barlick about to equalise before Holmes stepped up again to take a catch in a crowded penalty area.
The Linnets had a great chance to put the game to bed when Mitch Bryant found the ball at his feet with space on the edge of the 18-yard area but he took too many touches and allowed the 'keeper to make a strong but comfortable save when the effort on goal eventually came.
It was to be the home side's solitary second-half attempt on goal.
O'Brien and Bryant made way for Nolan and newcomer Gill as Michael Ellison looked to try to retake a foothold in a game that was edging away from his men.
Within minutes of entering the fray, Nolan gave away a penalty. It was likely a rush of blood to the head of a usually faultless player, who has missed a lot of game time this season with injuries.
The danger had seemed only mild as Barlick attacked close to the left edge of the 18-yard box, but Nolan threw out an arm to block the run and gave the referee little option but to point to the spot.
Holmes guessed the right way but it was a well- taken penalty by Andrew Hill and found the bottom corner to level the scores.
The Linnets just could not get any fluidity to their play and never looked likely to restore the advantage. With the wind against them, passing and control were at a premium with the ball coming away from Linnets players more often than not.
Ello made the bold decision to surrender full back Matty Atherton for Freddie Potter in trying to force the issue, but this gamble almost ended in catastrophe in injury time.
Barlick found themselves with two unmarked players on the edge of the Linnets six-yard box with the ball at their feet.
With the visitors having time to control, move to the left and get the shot away it was nothing short of miraculous that Matt Holmes was able to cover the length of his goal and not only save the shot but get it far enough away to allow the Linnets players to give cover and defend the rebound.
It was a truly astonishing save that deserved the rousing applause that it received from all corners of the MLS.
However, it's unlikely that Barlick will see it the same way, because Holmes should never have been able to make the save. They should have buried the chance and won the game.
The full-time whistle blew to a frustrated groan, two points dropped on a day when most around us picked up wins.
While no game is easy in this league, we have now already drawn three home games which Ello would have been looking to win to keep the pressure on our neighbours in top spot.
It gets no easier as we enter a tough week of fixtures starting away this Tuesday evening at Irlam, where the Linnets will be looking to avoid a Hallowe'en scare (sorry!) before we host West Didsbury & Chorlton at the MLS on Saturday afternoon.
Irlam are a side who left the MLS with a point early in the season and West Didsbury & Chorlton the only team to inflict a league defeat on the Linnets - way back on August Bank Holiday Monday, a 4-0 reversal that stung Runcorn to the core.
Runcorn Linnets:Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Kyle Hamid, Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton, Mitch Bryant, Paul Shanley. Subs: Kieran Nolan, Rio Gill, Freddie Potter. Not used: Adam Jones, Kasie Jones.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.