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13th January 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Congleton Town : 3-1 Sponsored by Simon Charlesworth's Family

By Ste Bignall

Whenever Runcorn Linnets face off against Congleton Town it's a pretty safe bet that the game will be anything but uneventful.

Saturday afternoon's fixture at the Millbank Linnets Stadium was no different, with Linnets having to overcome a below- par performance, well-drilled opposition and a floodlight failure to secure three valuable points.

New signing Louis Corrigan was thrown straight in at the deep end by Michael Ellison, playing the full 90 minutes at left back. Terry Smith, Danny O'Brien, Aaron Morris, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt and Mark Houghton all returned to the starting eleven.

Particularly eye catching was the strength of the Linnets' bench, with Adam Jones, Matty Atherton, Kyle Hamid, Stuart Wellstead and Freddie Potter all waiting in the wings.

That bench strength was to pay off in a big way later in the day!

Congleton had a couple of former Linnets in their ranks. Left back turned centre back Jonah O'Reilly started for the Bears along with striker Steve Foster. 'Fozzie' was only with us for a relatively short time last season but became a cult hero among the Linnets faithful in that time.

They also had in their team NWCL journeyman and regular thorn in the Linnets side Emini Adegbenro, and it was 'Mini' who got his customary goal against us to give the Bears a lead inside four minutes.

A rather aimless punt forward drifted towards our goal with Terry Smith backtracking and palming the dipping ball onto the crossbar. The rebound fell kindly for Adegbenro, who managed to finish well first time from a tight angle.

There was little improvement throughout the first half for the home side, Congleton employing a high press that disrupted our own game plan.

Congleton would go on to have the better of the first half, but with Linnets struggling to move the ball around or create chances, we did at least perform well at the back to prevent the visitors from creating any further chances of their own.

The only real chance first half chance for the Linnets came when Antony Hickey headed over Corrigan's in-swinging corner from close range. It was a chance with which Hickey will feel he could have done more.

The first half had been a pretty drab affair, but the second half would be nothing of the sort!

It was clear that Ello had given a strong talk to his team at half-time as Linnets came out for the second half a born again side.

The pace, passing and movement, lacking so visibly in the first half, was back and Congleton looked troubled.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart, Kris Holt was very unlucky to have a goal ruled out for what was a very tight offside decision. Mark Houghton then almost broke the deadlock but was denied a tap in by a scrambling clearance by Congleton's goalkeeper Danny Eccles.

Then, in the 64th minute, a dramatic turn of events unfolded! Paul Shanley made a run at full pace into the Bears penalty area and was brought down, the referee awarding the Linnets a penalty.

There was a great deal of shenanigans and delaying tactics from Congleton's players, particularly the 'keeper, but eventually Danny O'Brien began his run up to strike the ball, only for all four of the floodlight towers to fail at once!

It took a short while to diagnose the problem, but with some generator tinkering we were able to restore power to the floodlights and the players returned to the pitch.

It was now almost 5 o'clock - the delay (extended to allow the players to warm up again) took almost 45 minutes.

We were now faced with the uncomfortable situation of Danny O'Brien once again having to go through the penalty- taking routine. There were more diversionary tactics from Town's goalkeeper, but close to 50 minutes after his initial, aborted attempt, Danny coolly beat the big keeper's dive to find the bottom corner - levelling the scores.

If there has ever been a more interesting 64th minute in a football match than that I'd like to have seen it!

With renewed belief, and looking the fitter of the sides, the Linnets sensed that victory could be sought from what had been a difficult game up to that point.

Corrigan almost marked his debut with an exquisite goal, his free kick from 25 yards curling towards the top corner, only for Eccles to pull off an outstanding save at full stretch.

It was merely a stay of execution though for the Bears, as another stunning strike a minute later was to find the back of the net.

Immediately after equalising, Ello had signalled his intentions by bringing on Freddie Potter and Stuart Wellstead for Hickey and Houghton.

It was Wellstead who gave the Linnets the lead, when volleying in a loose ball from 20 yards. He caught the left- footed strike perfectly to give the goalkeeper absolutely no chance of making a save.

The MLS had erupted and the atmosphere was buzzing. Breath had only just been caught when the Linnets scored the killer third goal a minute later.

Congleton, with their high defensive line, had played the offside trap very well all afternoon, but a non-descript ball forward caught them out completely and with the whole defensive unit static with arms in the air, trying to draw a raised flag from the linesman, Freddie Potter strode forward into 30 yards of space.

Despite having what seemed too much time to pick his spot, he rolled the ball under the advancing keeper's legs and into the net.

The home side continued to look for further goals, never content with the lead they had.

However, the Bears almost grabbed a goal back when Adegbenro lobbed Smith only for a combination of Corrigan and Jimmy Moore to pull off an unbelievable goal line clearance.

Corrigan leapt into the air to bicycle kick the ball off the goal line and Moore was in the right place to head the loose ball over the crossbar with several Congleton players waiting for a tap in.

Genuinely, a piece of defending that was a good as a goal being scored at the other end.

Kyle Hamid, the third Linnets sub, almost scored a brilliant goal of his own, slamming a far-post volley towards goal only to be denied once again by Eccles who had an inspired afternoon between the posts for the Bears.

The determination in the Runcorn side was displayed in injury time when midfielder Kieran Nolan ran fully 60 yards to make a perfectly-timed tackle by the corner flag, preventing a cross into the Linnets' penalty area.

It had been an afternoon full of unusual events, including everyone in attendance knowing that Runcorn Town were going to lose at Padiham long before Danny O'Brien had the chance to take his penalty.

It added a pressure, knowing that a win would put us seven points clear at the top of the table, and thankfully, a blistering 10-minute spell after the lights came back to life secured it.

We now have a week to catch our breath before another game at the MLS next Saturday afternoon - and it's a big one! We know little about Charnock Richard other than the fact that they have risen through the leagues rapidly and are once again a serious title threat this season.

It's sure to be a fascinating first ever encounter between the two sides, so don't miss it!

Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Michael Simpson, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Freddie Potter, Stuart Wellstead, Kyle Hamid. Not used: Matt Atherton, Adam Jones.

Attendance: 375.

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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