12th August 2018, Hallam FC v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2
Runcorn Linnets made a successful return to competitive football at the weekend - and while we have a final agonising wait before this coming Saturday taking to the stage for the first time in the EVO-STIK League West Division, this Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round encounter saw an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable Sunday outing to Yorkshire.
Our hosts were Hallam FC, the first time the two clubs have ever faced off. Located a right turn at the end of the infamous Snake Pass, this wonderful football club is fascinating at all angles. They hold several places in global footballing history, their Sandygate Road HQ being officially recognised as the oldest football ground in the world.
Hallam formed in 1860 to provide opposition for Sheffield FC, the oldest CLUB in the world.
John Charles Shaw, Hallam's founder, got together with Charles Alcock of the London Football Association (now known as the FA) to create the first set of standardised rules for the game.
If you're an aficionado of football history, then do yourself a couple of favours; research Hallam FC's history and take in a game at their ground. You will be disappointed with neither!
Another quirk of this fixture is that because of a ground share with Hallam Cricket Club, it took place 24 hours later than most ties in the round.
Linnets boss Michael Ellison had admitted in the local press on Thursday that pre-season had been very tough to get through, with a whole host of players absent through injuries or holidays. So much so, in fact, that he had to call on 'Mr Runcorn' Matt Atherton to sign forms late in the week and go straight into the heart of defence, despite having played 90 minutes for West Lancashire League club Euxton Villa on the Saturday.
The starting eleven was very familiar as Ello stood by his champions, although we did get to see one new signing from the start with Adam Gilchrist making his Linnets debut as part of the front three.
The other anomaly was Mike Simpson filling in at right back, as opposed to his usual attacking midfield role.
The game started evenly and at a good pace, Linnets kicking up a very considerable slope in the first half. Freddie Potter had a good chance on five minutes but couldn't angle his header goalwards. From that point on, the Linnets totally dominated the half.
Paul Shanley was showing his marker a clean pair of heels time and again, and his crosses were leading to a seemingly never ending run of Linnets corners.
Louis Corrigan drew a fantastic save out of Hallam's goalkeeper, Josh Branch when his curling free kick was clawed out of the top corner. But soon after, the deadlock was broken.
Atherton directed an in-swinging Corrigan corner goalwards only for it to be blocked and cleared from the goal line for another corner.
This time Corrigan picked out Freddie Potter, who found himself totally unmarked at the far post to power in a header for a 27th-minute lead.
The pressure didn't ease on Hallam's defence and when Shanley beat his man once again, his low cross seemed certain to be converted but Kris Holt couldn't get quite enough on it to turn the ball into the net.
Shanley himself was next to go close when he rose highest to head a deep cross towards the top corner, but Branch tipped it over the bar.
The first half display had been excellent from the Linnets and the only dampener was that we went in at the break with just the solitary goal to our name.
You would have expected the tide to remain as Linnets kicked down the slope in the second half, but in truth the first 30 minutes were way below the standards set in the first 45 from a Linnets perspective.
Hallam got themselves more into the game as they looked to rescue the cup tie.
Their biggest threats came from set-pieces and counter attacks, and if their finishing had been better they would have brought themselves level at least. Two free headers from close range failed to find the target, and Dylan Forth had to vacate his area several times to play the role of sweeper and clear the danger.
Hallam's big chance came when a low cross into the six-yard box narrowly evaded everyone when any touch would have given them the equaliser.
Mitch Bryant replaced Adam Gilchrist but it was a short lived adventure for Mitch, as he left the pitch within 10 minutes of being brought on.
I didn't see what happened so it would be wrong to comment or guess, but Bryant is a man who takes some putting down and he received lengthy treatment before being withdrawn.
Hallam's Lewis Whitaker was given his marching orders by way of a second yellow card. Ronnie McCarthy was brought on for Bryant.
This seemed to knock the stuffing out of Hallam and Linnets went on to finish the game strongly and get the all important second goal with 10 minutes remaining.
Great play by Kris Holt, in flicking the ball over a defender's head as he manoeuvred his way into the penalty area, created space for Holty to pick out Paul Shanley, lurking unmarked on the penalty spot.
Shanley steadied himself with a touch but was blatantly brought down for a penalty; no complaints from anyone wearing blue and white.
With usual taker Danny O'Brien on the substitutes bench, it was left to Louis Corrigan to send the imposing Branch the wrong way and secure the victory, a nice little pay cheque, and a place in the next round.
There was still time for Linnets to really kill the game off and they came very close to doing it. Branch had already denied Holt twice in one-on-one situations and when Holt was sent clean through again, he seemed certain to get the goal his afternoon's play deserved. But again, he was denied by Hallam's MOTM goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner, Kyle Hamid ghosted in at the near post to flick a header towards goal but it rebounded back off the crossbar and away to safety.
A thoroughly entertaining and satisfying afternoon was soon brought to a close and the large travelling contingent of Linnets supporters showed their appreciation to the players, who deserved this victory without question, despite the uncomfortable period after half-time.
The draw for the Preliminary Round had already been made, and we will host Maltby Main from the Toolstation Northern Counties East League Premier Division (a step above Hallam) at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday, August the 25th - Maltby having defeated visitors and league rivals Athersley Recreation 3-0 in their extra prelim game on Saturday.
But in the meantime, we've got a new league to sink our teeth into....
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Adam Gilchrist. Subs: Mitch Bryant, Ronnie McCarthy. Not used: Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kasie Jones, Chris Lawton, Matt Holmes (GK).
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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