8th September 2018, Colwyn Bay v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-1
RUNCORN Linnets left North Wales with a clean sheet and three excellent points on Saturday afternoon, following a hard-fought and entertaining encounter at Colwyn Bay.
This was a fourth league victory on the bounce for Linnets, and moved them up to third place in the EVO-STIK League Division One West ahead of the midweek matches.
Despite a morning of torrential rain, the playing surface at Colwyn Bay was in pristine condition.
Bay have played as high as the National League North in recent times, spending four years at that level before relegation in 2015.
Their Llanelian Road ground is a very good set-up, having a 500 capacity seating stand along one side with covered terraces on two of the remaining three sides.
Danny O'Brien's suspension forced Michael Ellison into a change from his last starting line-up, Mike Simpson reverting to right back and youngster Liam Collings making his first start in midfield.
Colwyn Bay started the brighter, taking the game to Linnets and trying to stamp their authority.
They almost scored the opening goal after five minutes when a crisp passing move created space for Josh Brizell to shoot low from outside the penalty area. Thankfully for Linnets, the ball struck the foot of the post and was cleared away to safety.
Bay continued to apply pressure and search for the opening goal, but the Linnets defence stayed well disciplined and limited the opposition to very few real chances.
As Bay's frustration at not finding the opening began to set in, the visiting Linnets started to ask questions of their own.
In a 15-minute spell before half-time, Collings and Kyle Hamid were both unlucky not to open the scoring as solid goalkeeping denied them. Louis Corrigan came even closer for the Linnets, his free kick drawing a fine save from Bay's 'keeper Paddy Wharton.
Bay came close again as a deep cross to the far post drew a looping header towards goal. Aaron Morris did very well to hook the ball clear from the goal line with Dylan Forth beaten.
Despite looking comfortable in the game, Michael Ellison felt that a tactical change was required at half time, bringing on Freddie Potter and Kris Holt in place of Adam Gilchrist and Liam Collings.
As was so often the case last season, Ello's choice and timing of substitutions proved a master stroke. The impact was both striking and immediate.
Less than two minutes after entering the fray, Holt almost opened the scoring. Ghosting into the penalty area, he couldn't quite connect fully with his effort on goal but it still took a smart save by Wharton to keep the ball out.
Holt turned provider soon after, playing in Niall Watson who had cut in from the left but delayed his shot when well placed, eventually firing over the crossbar.
Freddie Potter was also making a telling difference in the Linnets' attack. His imposing presence caused the Bay defence to have a torrid time.
It was the movement and hold-up play of Potter that was making space for others to run into.
Potter did have the ball in the net with a tremendous dipping volley from fully 30 yards, but the linesman correctly pulled the play back for offside.
The Linnets had taken total control of the game and deservedly took the lead on the hour mark, and what a goal it was that broke the deadlock!
Kieran Nolan outmuscled two Colwyn Bay players to win the ball back in his own half, turning sharply to create a yard of space for himself and lay the ball off to Freddie Potter, who had his back to goal 25 yards out.
Despite being marked at close quarters, Potter dropped a shoulder and completely bamboozled the Bay defensive line before sliding a perfectly-weighted ball through to Paul Shanley, who raced through on goal and finished with his left-foot from outside the six-yard box.
As well worked a team goal as you are ever likely to see!
Sensing that Bay's heads had dropped somewhat after going behind, the Linnets kept the pressure up and tried to score the all-important second goal.
Potter would come closest when he rose highest to meet Louis Corrigan's corner kick, heading the chance inches wide of the far post.
New signing Connor McCarthy (brother of Linnets midfielder Ronnie) replaced Niall Watson in the attack as Ello looked to secure the victory by redoubling efforts to increase the Linnets' lead.
McCarthy tried a shot from a tricky angle, striking the ball well but clearing the crossbar, before being played in by a flicked header from Potter but shooting over from eight yards out with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Colwyn Bay had threatened very little for the first 40 minutes of a second half totally dominated by the Linnets, but they started to push hard in the closing stages to rescue a point.
Forth pulled off a fine save when he managed to catch and hold on to a well-struck, dipping free kick when the penalty area was full of bodies, all waiting for a rebound.
As the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, a critical moment occurred in the game.
With players committed forward for an attack, the Linnets found themselves backpedalling when a long clearance set Mendes through into Forth's penalty area.
Forth came out to beat Mendes to the ball but from some distance away, the referee awarded Bay a penalty to the despair of the Linnets players.
The referee then went over to discuss the incident with his linesman, and took no time at all to rescind the penalty decision and award Bay a corner kick instead.
It was a very well-executed example of how to handle a crucial incident by the match officials.
There would be one last nail-biting moment for the Linnets faithful to endure as a free kick was awarded to Bay near the dugouts.
Every player, including the hosts' goalkeeper, piled into Forth's penalty area, but the set piece was over hit and shielded out of play by Simpson. With this, the points were secured for Ello's men.
RUNCORN LINNETS: Forth, Corrigan, Morris, Wylie, Simpson, Nolan, Collings, Hamid, Gilchrist, Shanley, Watson. Subs: Potter, Holt, Connor McCarthy. Not used: Ronnie McCarthy, Dobie.
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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