30th March 2018, Bootle v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-0
Michael Ellison's Runcorn Linnets side played out their first goalless draw of the season on Good Friday - only the third such result in Ello's two seasons as manager.
The game was much tighter than many had expected as it saw the league's two highest-scoring sides facing off against each other.
Fixtures involving Bootle often produce a plethora of goals at both ends and they came into the game on the back of a 3-3 draw with AFC Liverpool in midweek.
Aaron Morris again missed out for Runcorn, although he did take up a place on the bench while working his way back to full fitness following injury.
Mark Houghton and Antony Hickey were both unavailable, which prompted Ello to play Kris Holt wide right in the front three.
The first half was a rather drab affair, with both sides unable to take any kind of foothold and neither goalkeeper having to make a save.
Linnets' play seemed rushed, with passes being played blindly into nobody or balls forward being hit too strongly for the chasing pack.
There was also a noticeable lack of width on the right of the attack with Holt drifting into his more natural and threatening central role.
Bootle also struggled to assert themselves. They had in their side one of the league's most-feared strikers in Ryan Cox, but he was stuck out wide on the left for much of the afternoon and made little impact.
Most frustrating of all was the continual stoppages by the referee for seemingly any kind of contact by and against both sides.
This killed off any sort of flow that the game desperately needed, especially as both sides play a fast-paced attacking style.
The Linnets did get the ball into the net midway through the first half when Kyle Hamid applied a lovely finish to Paul Shanley's headed knock-down, only for the referee to give a foul against Shanley for jumping up to win the header.
It was one of the countless very soft decisions for things which wouldn't normally have warranted a free kick.
Bootle had a great chance of their own as half-time approached. They won a series of quickfire corner kicks and, from the last of these, the ball found the unmarked head of Joel Powell six yards out but he flashed his effort wide.
Both sides will have felt that they needed to improve in the second half to take all three points, and both sides did.
The game remained extremely tight, but the quality and pace of play improved significantly.
With just under an hour played, Bootle were given a glorious chance to break the seal on the game from the penalty spot. The Linnets actually had the ball under control on the right but lost possession, allowing Bootle to counter attack at pace.
They cut into the penalty area where Matty Atherton's challenge gave the referee little to think about.
It's only fair to say that the resulting spot kick was a poor one, but Dylan Forth still had to dive the right way and push the ball away from the follow-up danger to keep the scores level.
The missed penalty acted as shot in the arm for the Linnets, who upped their game in the following spell.
A good passage of football on the right flank set Freddie Potter up with a chance but he could only snatch at the shot and slice it wide. Potter then turned provider when his excellent cross just evaded the head of Paul Shanley in the six-yard box.
Shanley himself then had a good chance when a Danny O'Brien corner fell to him at the back post but, possibly blindsided until the last split second, Shanley tried to force the ball over the line with his knee as opposed to his head - ultimately clearing the crossbar.
Kieran Nolan was replaced by new signing Danny Burns. A bit of a reshuffle saw Holt move central and Burns take up the wide-right position. This gave the Linnets much-needed width while adding Holt's significant threat from late runs into the heart of the penalty area.
The change almost paid off immediately as Holt danced through a number of challenges to get in a low shot which many thought had sneaked inside Ryan Jones' near post. Alas, it was the outside of the netting that was rippling as opposed to the inside.
That was to be the closest that either side would come to scoring the winning goal in the remainder as both seemed more than content to take a solid point against strong opposition.
While the attacking flair and quality for which both sides are renowned was lacking in this game, both defences performed admirably against very strong attacking forces. Linnets and Bootle have scored a huge 197 goals between them so far this season, so both rearguards deserve praise for their respective shutouts.
A special mention from me to Matty Atherton, who has come into the side after a spell away from the starting eleven and been asked to perform a job at centre back alongside Jimmy Moore. Certainly not his natural position; but you would never have known it, after two towering performances at Padiham and Bootle.
How things stand...
At the same time as we were drawing with Bootle, Runcorn Town played out a 2-2 draw with City of Liverpool. The big shock of the day involved second-placed Widnes, whose long unbeaten ended with a 6-1 defeat at Barnoldswick.
Charnock Richard also dropped two points, while Hanley and 1874 Northwich played out a 1-1 draw. We still remain top of the league table with 82 points, 10 ahead of Widnes who stay in second.
With the situation unchanged after a total wipeout of the rain-affected Easter Monday programme the teams who can attain the highest points totals (as we enter the remainder of this midweek's fixtures) are Runcorn Linnets (106), 1874 Northwich (102) and Runcorn Town (98).
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Matt Atherton, Jimmy Moore, Daniel O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Kyle Hamid (c), Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Kris Holt. Subs: Dan Burns, Stuart Wellstead, Mitch Bryant. Not used: Aaron Morris, Adam Jones.
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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