1st December 2018, Ramsbottom United v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-3
Runcorn Linnets made the trip to Lancashire on Saturday afternoon to take on and complete the difficult-looking task of overcoming Ramsbottom United away.
Ramsbottom's Riverside Ground has been a place of nightmares for the Linnets over the years - going back to when The Rams were our colleagues in the North West Counties League Premier Division.
Our five previous visits had yielded just one victory and four defeats, with a mammoth 18 goals being conceded along the way.
Early in the season, Ramsbottom brought in as manager Chris Wilcock, boss of the highly-successful Glossop North End side of 2015. This move has brought about a significant upturn in form with The Rams being unbeaten in 14 games going into the encounter with Runcorn.
The well-covered and tightly-appointed ground along with rain and an occasional hoot from passing steam engines on the East Lancs railway, made for a tremendous atmosphere for what would end up an enthralling encounter between two very strong sides.
Dylan Forth returned in goal for the Linnets with Kyle Hamid missing out through suspension and being replaced by Bobby Evans. Striker Connor McCarthy was unavailable for selection, prompting a change in shape with midfielder Zac Aley coming in.
The pitch was wet but not sodden and supported the fast-flowing footballing style of both sides.
It wasn't long before a slick move gave the Linnets a chance to open the scoring on five minutes. The ball was worked into the Rammy penalty area from the left and when Paul Shanley turned away from goal just inside the penalty area, a nearby defender mistimed his tackle and tripped Shanley.
Louis Corrigan resumed command of penalties once again to curl his spot kick into the top corner, totally unsavable even if the 'keeper had gone the right way.
Runcorn had a couple of half chances following the opening goal but as the game settled down, it was Ramsbottom who started asking the bigger questions.
A fast attack up the right wing allowed space for a shot that Forth turned away superbly, but luck was not to be on Dylan's side.
The ball, although cleared, was immediately played forward again to just outside the penalty area where a perfectly-timed Linnets challenge was very harshly pulled up for a free-kick by the referee.
You almost knew that we were about to get stung, and Thomas Kennedy pulled off a sublime equaliser from the free kick - his left-footed effort curling and dipping into the top corner, giving Forth no chance.
The hosts would have wanted to take control, following their equaliser, but within two minutes they found themselves behind again.
With 26 minutes on the clock. Shanley again beat his man near the left edge of the Rammy penalty area but was cynically brought down.
Corrigan swung in a dream of a free kick that was begging to be knocked into the net. Peter Wylie made no mistake with his header from a few yards out.
Runcorn had the better of the remaining first-half minutes as they looked to extend their advantage.
On 39 minutes, a great footballing move set Kris Holt in on goal. His fierce strike was destined for the bottom corner but kept out by a remarkable sliding block from a Rams defender.
On the stroke of half-time, Mike Simpson won a corner for the Linnets but with the set piece ready to be taken, the referee blew up for half time, not allowing Louis Corrigan to take the corner kick.
Ramsbottom made a double substitution at half-time (one of the players replaced being former Linnet, Tony "Kaka" Donaldson) and they came out with renewed vigour.
Rammy had a great chance to equalise in the 46th minute when, with a clear sight of goal, they sliced an effort wide at the far post.
In the 53rd minute, the dynamic of the game changed as Ramsbottom were reduced to 10 men.
Freddie Potter and Kyle Jacobs went in for a 50/50 challenge with Jacobs going in over the top of the ball. The referee was close by and drew his red card immediately.
Despite falling behind in terms of numbers on the pitch, Rammy soon drew the scores level after another questionable decision.
Another strong Linnets tackle was made in the area - a penalty being awarded, despite the ball appearing to be won and momentum in the aftermath bringing down former West Didsbury & Chorlton player Nic Evangelinos. Nialle Rodney converted the 59th-minute penalty.
The equaliser galvanised Ramsbottom once again and they should soon have taken the lead. With the Linnets slightly rattled, Rammy worked an opening for a clear sight at goal 10 yards.
The resulting shot drew an immense save from Dylan Forth, but the rebound fell perfectly for Jamie Rainford, who thankfully cleared the crossbar with his attempt at the gaping goal.
With 15 minutes remaining and 10-man Ramsbottom well in the game, the hosts shot themselves in the foot in a perplexing moment of madness.
Breaking up a Linnets attack, Kieran Lugsden drove forward with the ball and was dragged to the ground by Linnets midfielder Evans - the sort of challenge that coaches would expect their players to make in very particular circumstances and one that invariably earns the offender a deserved yellow card.
All of the aforementioned took place, but Lugsden then inexplicably appeared to aim a punch at Evans, who was on the ground among a tangle of legs.
The referee had no hesitation in brandishing his red card to a Rammy player for the second time, leaving it 9 v 11 with a score of 2-2 and 75 minutes played.
This gave the Linnets a golden opportunity to go for the win, and on 80 minutes Freddie Potter scored the goal which would settle the outcome.
With seemingly oceans of space to move the ball around, and The Rams deciding not to go for an all-out rearguard action, Zac Aley had space on the left wing to deliver a gem of a cross.
Potter anchored his feet, picked his spot and headed the ball across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner to spark an eruption of joy among the large travelling contingent of Runcorn supporters.
With nothing to lose, depleted Ramsbottom gave their all to try to rescue an unlikely point.
The Linnets didn't manage the closing 10 minutes particularly well, often caught in two minds whether to play down the clock or attack in numbers for another goal.
This led to some passes going astray in dangerous positions and several set pieces being conceded. Thankfully, the Runcorn rearguard were in top form and dealt with any threat that Rammy made.
This was a very fine away victory for Michael Ellison's side. For long spells, there had been very little to seperate the teams, with Ramsbottom looking as good as any side we faced so far this season.
But Ello's men relish the big games against the top sides and often save their best for these occasions.
The win, coupled with results elsewhere, saw the Linnets return to the summit of the EVO-STIK League Division One Wet table. I never get bored of writing that!
We now have the pleasant distraction of the Integro Cup 3rd round tie away at Hyde United on Tuesday night, kick off in Tameside being at 7.45pm, before returning to league action against visiting Glossop this Saturday, ko 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Michael Simpson, Ronnie McCarthy, Robert Evans, Kristian Holt, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley (capt), Zac Aley. Subs: Kurt Sherlock, Danny O'Brien. Not used: Jack Hinnigan, Josh Dobie, Ryan Gibson.
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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