2nd December 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Marske United : 2-3 Sponsored by The Fans In Memory of SiBy Ellis Clarke
In Runcorn Linnets' annual battle with North East clubs, the final score this year is W2 D2 L1; not too shabby all things considered.
Despite lacking Kyle Hamid, Mitch Bryant due to bans along with Zac Aley and Michael Simpson due to injuries, Linnets fielded a strong side, including a high-quality bench. So we went into the game with high hopes of venturing further on the road to Wembley.
Conditions were good considering the postponement due waterlogging a week before and a full-blooded game in midweek. No thoughts of another postponement after an early look at the pitch meant that the Marske fans could set off on the cross country journey to The Millbank.
They arrived around 1.30pm and quickly knocked on the door of the new clubhouse, obviously keen to utilise the facilities after a long drive down the motorway.
The game was preceded by another touching tribute to Simon Charlesworth, flowers, a hearty round of applause and the LSU belting out "There's only one Simon Charlesworth", all witnessed by his wife and sister. Rest in Peace, Simon.
The game was even from the off. Linnets used the ball well but weren't able to create the clear-cut chances they needed. The second of the early free kicks had to be punched away by the Marske goalie. Deano, as their fans called him, is obviously a larger than life character who was definitely game for the banter with the fans behind his goal.
Marske had a chance in the 10th minute, their eventual hero Craig Gott shooting over the bar. After this, the game was a bit cagier and the referee came to the fore.
The Marske fans weren't happy with the referee for most of the first half. In the 23rd minute, Linnets carved out a half chance that Wellstead headed quite tamely back to Deano.
Marske followed this with the best chance of the half. A deflected shot from Round fell to Earl but he managed to knock it over from close range. An audible sigh of relief all round.
In the 40th minute, a Carling foul led to a booking and a free kick from 20 yards out. Danny O'Brien stepped up but his sweet strike went just over. There followed a flurry of end-to-end activity. A cross flashed across the Linnets box and the ball quickly went up the other end for a chance that went over the bar.
At the end of the half, Marske got a free-kick on the edge of the box. The ref, who had previously got everything wrong for their fans was now "spot on"… This was not the opinion of the Linnets players as Aaron Morris was harshly penalised.
Craig Gott stepped up and curled a good right-foot shot around the wall into the bottom corner of Linnets net. A very similar goal to Sunderland RCA's in the previous round.
Linnets started well in the second half. An early penalty shout was denied but a corner ensued that led in turn to goalmouth scramble.
A couple of Runcorn set-pieces led to nought and then, in the 57th minute, Gott crossed from the right for Leon Carling to nod home from very close range.
This was quickly followed in the 60th minute by the 3rd goal. A Linnets corner was knocked away, the break led to Gott being brought down for a penalty. Naturally, it was Gott who stepped up to score.
In the next few minutes, Marske had a couple of chances before Linnets mounted a strong comeback. On 70 minutes, a cross came in that Freddie Potter netted with his own version of the Hand of God, the goal was disallowed and Freddie received a justified yellow card.
Marske had another chance before Wellstead hit a post. Then, on 74 minutes, Danny O'Brien netted a penalty to make it 3-1.
Two minutes later, a lively Ant Hickey scored a gem from a narrow angle… he has subsequently confessed that it was a cross, it was a deserved bit of luck anyway.
The last 14 minutes plus time added were frantic to say the least. The Marske 'keeper contrived to give Linnets an indirect free kick on the right edge of his six yard box.
The ball was rolled to Wellstead who hit it cleanly but ever so slightly too high. Heads in hands all round.
Into injury time and the noise levels rose further. A couple of Linnets corners were comfortably headed away. In the fifth minute added on, a chance for Stuey Wellstead one, on one with the pantomime villain Deano… palmed away.
That was the cue for the final whistle. The Linnets players were clearly frustrated at the loss, later tweets indicated that they would remember this missed chance to advance towards Wembley for some time to come.
The Linnets fans were exemplary in applauding both teams from the pitch.
The Marske players had been to their own fans at the far end before leaving the field to unanimous plaudits from Linnets supporters, who were appreciative of what had been an excellent battle between well-matched teams.
Marske march on among the favourites for the FA Vase, but this Saturday's opponents visitors for Linnets, 1874 Northwich (now the North West Counties last remaining representatives in the competition), should take heart that they can compete in the way Linnets have with the best the Northern League can offer.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Adam Jones, Kris Holt, Mark Houghton (C), Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs: Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey, Chris Lawton. Not used: Kasie Jones, Terry Smith (GK)
Marske United: Robert Dean, Josh Rowbotham, Liam O'Sullivan, Glen Butterworth, Leon Carling, Adam Wheatley (C), James Fairley, Craig Gott, Daniel Earl, Chay Liddle, Curtis Round. Subs: Michael Roberts. Unused Subs: Peter Bulmer, Matthew Bell, Ian Clark.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.