27th March 2018, Padiham v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-1
By Ste Bignall
The manner in which a result is decided can often take away from the positives of the result itself, and that that was very much the feeling among the Runcorn Linnets faithful leaving Padiham on Tuesday night.
On paper, a point against a strong Padiham is far from a bad one, but most will feel that this is a game which - for various reasons - should have yielded all three.
There was a rare change to the Linnets' defensive unit, as the injured Aaron Morris watched from the terraces. Matty Atherton took the centre back's place and turned in an assured performance in one of his less frequent utility positions.
That was the only change to the side that had started at Congleton Town a week earlier.
The Linnets would go on to totally dominate the first half of this game and should have put the result beyond Padiham's reach.
Linnets hit the bar early on, and Padiham forced Dylan Forth into a save as the game settled down.
Danny O'Brien almost opened the scoring with a free-kick which he curled low around the wall, but Padiham's goalkeeper produced a terrifc save to turn the ball around the post at full stretch.
Stuey Wellstead found a yard of space to flash a shot wide of the post before Kyle Hamid flicked a header over the crossbar, from Louis Corrigan's corner.
The pressure was becoming relentless on Padiham's goal. Kieron Nolan was next to go close when he shot through a crowd of bodies from outside the penalty area, the ball clipping the outside of the left post.
You felt that it was imperative that Linnets scored a goal while on top and the breakthrough came on the half hour. Great interplay between Paul Shanley and Wellstead pulled Padiham out of position and when the ball was played to the edge of the penalty area, Kyle Hamid was lurking in the D. His first-time strike found the bottom corner of the net.
Almost immediately, Mark Houghton was withdrawn through injury and replaced by Freddie Potter.
Potter was soon deep into the action, hitting a great dipping volley that beat the goalkeeper but also the crossbar.
The last chance of the half fell to Shanley, who was sent through on goal via a magnificent ball by Matty Atherton.
Shanners got a good strike at goal from a narrow angle but the keeper made another very good save.
0-1 to Linnets at half time and the performance had been superb. The only thing missing was another goal that would have been thoroughly deserved.
The second half would prove to be a much tighter affair with neither side being able to take control.
Padiham came out with renewed vigour and while they rarely threatened Dylan Forth's goal they certainly had much more of a foothold in a game which had completely passed them in the first half.
The untimely withdrawal of Houghton had appeared to play right into Padiham's hands. Their big defensive line that had pulled from pillar to post in the first half but were much more resolute under the different threat that Potter brings.
Potter uncharacteristically wasted a gilt- edge chance to secure the win for the visitors.
Finding himself unmarked and six yards from goal, the ball was put on a plate for him by Danny O'Briens corner kick, but Freddie's header went over the crossbar.
There was a let off for the Linnets as we entered the last 15 minutes. Under no pressure, Forth tried a chipped pass out from his goal that landed straight at the feet of Padiham's Dom Craig. Luckily, Jimmy Moore was alert to the danger and threw in a crucial last-ditch tackle to prevent the equaliser.
Padiham pressed hard in the last quarter, and it was starting to feel like Runcorn's inability to get the second goal could bite them.
Despite the pressure they were applying, the Linnets defensive unit stood firm and didn't allow Padiham any clear efforts at goal with Forth remaining untroubled.
Having had no joy with trying to carve out an opening through the Linnets defence Padiham tried a different approach, and it paid off in truly spectacular fashion.
From a Padiham goal kick, the ball didn't touch the ground again until it was nestled in the back of Forths net. A goal kick and two Padiham flicked headers found Louis Corrigan who was forced to clear on the volley with is weaker right foot.
His attempted clearance fell perfectly for Craig, who took a touch and launched a looping half-volley goal wards from fully 35 yards.
The ball dipped at the crucial last second and bounced in off the underside of the crossbar. Without doubt the best goal that we have conceded this season.
If you thought that goal had ended the evening's drama, but you couldn't be more wrong!
Antony Hickey had replaced Stu Wellstead with 15 minutes to go but had not got himself involved in the game up to this point.
But picking up the ball on the left wing, he cut inside with his run, beating two defenders before being cynically brought down five yards outside the penalty area.
With 92 minutes on the clock, Corrigan's free kick beat the wall and was palmed up into the air by the goalkeeper.
A trio of Linnets players followed the ball in and it was Freddie Potter who rose highest to nod the ball into the empty net and spark jubilant scenes of celebration on and off the pitch.
However, a very late flag was raised by the linesman, who had spotted an offside somewhere during the move.
While the Linnets players were still unaware of the decision against them, the referee allowed Padiahm to take the free-kick quickly and launch a 6 v 3 counter attack on goal with most Linnets players well out of position.
Fortunately, the stranded few that were tracking back managed to snuff out Padiham's attempt at goal and deny what would have been a hugely controversial winner for the home side.
There was still time for Potter to come within a hair's breadth of scoring a last-kick of-the-game winner when he threw himself at Corrigan's cross..
But with the 'keeper beaten the ball could only glance past Potter's head and wide of the post. Even a slight touch would have secured the much sought after goal.
With tensions still high after the final, whistle there was a red card shown to Antony Hickey for dissent.
So the state of play now is as follows...
We still sit top of the Hallmark Security League Premier Division table.
We have finally played the same number of games as second-placed Widnes, 35 each.
We are nine points ahead of our mates from over the Mersey Gateway and we each have nine games left to play.
We have 108 point still available to us.
In short, we are still in a very strong position.
We now face three of the toughest games that we will have faced all season, starting with Bootle away on Good Friday afternoon. A place where success has been very scarce over the years, and Bootle themselves are pushing hard for promotion this season, a tough afternoon is in prospect.
Let's look no further than Bootle for now, because that's the only game that matters until Friday evening. The lads need your support more than ever, so get yourselves there in numbers and roar them through. Kick off on Friday is at 3pm.
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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