17th March 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v City of Liverpool FC : 1-1 Sponsored by The Quizlings
It's doubtful that many among the 448 strong crowd at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday will have encountered such astonishing variances in the weather for a match in mid- March.
With spring only a week away, it was baffling to endure warm sunlight, bitter finger-snapping cold, swirling snow storms that sapped visibility and howling winds playing havoc with the ball flight.
All came and went intermittently during the 90 minutes, but the wind and snow stayed for most of the second half. It made for very difficult playing conditions for both sides.
City of Liverpool, CoL or the Purps as they prefer to be called, came to the MLS for the second time in their short history. Their first visit had brought a proud moment for both weekend opponents as the Linnets provided the host venue for the Purps' first ever cup triumph in last season's LWC Drinks Trophy final.
CoL returned this time with a point to prove, having taken a heavy 1-5 beating by the Linnets earlier in the season at Bootle.
Their noisy, colourful, partisan following made for a great atmosphere throughout and kept the Linnets LSU on their toes!
Michael Ellison made a couple of changes to his starting 11 after the narrow loss at Widnes a fortnight ago. One was routine as Louis Corrigan returned at left back in place of Adam Jones, but the other was eye catching to say the least.
Dylan Forth, a goalkeeper signed from Stockport Town on the morning of the game, was thrust straight into the action and started in goal for the Linnets. The imposing 21 year old comes with good grounding, having spent much of his Youth career at Aston Villa until 2015. He has since played for FC United, Hyde and Glossop North End.
As with both of the games against Widnes, in which points were likewise dropped, things could have been very different if a slice of luck had gone the Linnets' way in the opening minutes. It seemed like the chance had gone when Paul Shanley tried a through ball to Freddie Potter as opposed to going for goal himself, but Potter managed to defy the angle to get a shot on goal that CoL goalkeeper Ben Ashcroft saved well.
Ashcroft then found himself out of position as the loose ball fell at Shanley's feet but with the goal gaping, Shanley's shot was clearly blocked by the arm of defender Craig Robinson as he slid in to make the challenge.
Only the referee will be able to give any mitigation as to how this was not pulled back for a penalty kick.
A few half chances came and went for the Linnets, Potter twice and Shanley with a header all finding the target but without the ferocity to test the goalkeeper. Both of them then went very close and were denied only by brave and committed CoL defending, blocks flying in from all angles to divert efforts on goal away to safety.
Shortly before half-time, Forth was called upon to make his first save as a Linnets player, getting down well to turn David Forbes' low strike around a post.
The Linnets came out much stronger after half-time and created two gilt-edged chances to take the lead within five minutes of the half restarting. Without a doubt the best chance of the entire game for Linnets fell to Antony Hickey, who got in front of his marker to get on the end of Corrigan's wicked cross into the six-yard box.
But with the goal at his mercy, Hickey somehow managed to clear the crossbar with his header.
Within a minute, another glorious headed chance went begging. Danny O'Brien picked out Freddie Potter with a cross but Potter, usually deadly in the air, also put his chance over the bar.
As is so often the case in football you get punished for not taking your chances, and that is exactly what happened to the Linnets with an hour gone. Franny Smith (not to be confused with his ex-Linnets namesake) picked out the run of Forbes with an inch-perfect through ball that split the Linnets defence in half, and Forbes made no mistake from eight yards out.
Ellison wasted no time in making a pair of attacking changes to freshen up the Linnets attack straight after conceding the opening goal. Kieran Nolan and Hickey were replaced with Kyle Hamid and Stuart Wellstead.
Ello's men kept at the task in hand of trying to work their way back into the game. They had to wait only six minutes to grab the equaliser.
Mike Simpson had scored a pair of stunning goals in the reverse fixture at Bootle, and he wasn't finished with CoL just yet. A corner was cleared to just outside the penalty area from where Simmo slammed the loose ball through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner of the net.
The home side went on to dominate the last 20 minutes but couldn't force Ashcroft into any significant saves due to resolute defending by CoL, well marshalled by Robinson in the heart of their defence.
The Linnets did come within an inch of taking all three points as full-time loomed. Potter found himself out on the right flank to send in a deep cross towards the far post. Completely unmarked and a yard from goal, Shanley and Wellstead both went for it.
It can only have been the presence of each other that caused a split second of doubt for the pair as the ball sailed agonisingly past the post and out for a goal kick when only the slightest of touches from either player would have earned the Linnets maximum points on a tough day against a good side.
Michael Ellison's side have only dropped points in consecutive games on one other occasion this season, way back in October. In both the recent defeat against Widnes and the draw with CoL, we have created enough clear chances to win the game, which will have pleased Ello.
But he will no doubt be asking his forwards to try to get back to their devastating best, as displayed over the winter.
Creating chances but not taking them isn't a trend we want to fall into at this stage of the season.
We now turn our attention quickly to Tuesday night and a visit to Congleton Town. Booth Street has proved to be one of the more fruitless venues for the Linnets over the years, with only two league victories in 10 visits.
This is certainly a stat that Ello and his players will be looking to improve as we move into what is going to be a thrilling, nail-biting and heart-stopping final quarter of this fascinating Hallmark Security Premier Division season.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Michael Simpson, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Kyle Hamd, Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton. Not used: Adam Jones, Matt Atherton.
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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