14th September 2019, Clitheroe v Runcorn Linnets FC : 4-4
Sometimes a match reporter's job can be made very difficult when having to describe the product on display. To pad out a soulless 0-0 draw into a worthwhile match report can lead to sleepless nights.
However, a 4-4 draw with a straight red card, coach sent from the bench, seven minutes injury time, two penalties and four goals in the final 10 minutes of the game leave no such difficulties.
The game itself was very low on high quality football from either side, and as is often the case, this made for an enthralling game.
With several key players still missing, including captain Kyle Hamid, Michael Ellison will have been grateful to have had Paul Shanley back in the staring eleven.
Despite clearly struggling with a knock as the game wore on, Shanley would battle though to turn in an inspiring display, refusing to believe that all was lost when Runcorn trailed 3-1 with time running out.
Clitheroe started well and would have taken the lead on four minutes, had it not been for Bayleigh Passant producing a superb save, palming a thumping header over the crossbar from a corner.
Shanley almost opened the scoring after 10 minutes from a well-worked corner routine, his near post effort being deflected just wide.
But shortly after, the Linnets did take the lead with a very well-worked move.
Warren Bellew picked out the right-wing run of Kurt Sherlock, and Kurt played a clever ball into Ryan Wade as he charged into the penalty area.
Wade cut inside and picked out the far post run of Paul Shanley, who made no mistake from close range.
Despite limited threat up to this point, Clitheroe equalised on the half-hour mark, Charile Russell curling a shot past Passant.
Five minutes later, the home side took the lead, a long and straight ball over the top had Nick Ryan back pedalling and he was unable to stop Owen Watkinson getting in behind and beating Passant.
Runcorn's job was made all the more difficult in the 36th minute when Connor McCarthy was withdrawn through injury, Jamie Rainford replacing Connor at the spearhead of the attack.
And in the 40th minute things went from bad to worse as Clitheore took a 3-1 lead. The Linnets defence, bereft of confidence, were chasing their tails as Clitheroe wandered into our penalty area with the ball and Watkinson drilled it into the net from 12 yards out, giving Passant no chance.
In his post-match interview, Ello commented that the defending in the first half was as bad as gets, which undoubtedly led to him making the bold move of replacing both of his central defenders at half time.
Nick Ryan and Louis Coyne made way for Harry Cannon-Noren and Dec McGivern as a back four became a back three with numbers pushed further forward in pursuit of goals.
The plan worked and we started to create much more going forward while looking less fragile at the back.
Jamie Rainford should have reduced the deficit on the hour mark when McGivern found him with a header across the six-yard box, but Rainford's effort lacked conviction and the 'keeper saved comfortably.
And in the 69th minute, a huge chance went begging for the Linnets, a cleared free kick found Paul Shanley on the left side of the penalty area and his pinpoint cross picked out Peter Wylie with a free header a few yards from goal. Wylie connected well with the ball but headed wide.
With 15 minutes remaining, Clitheroe almost put the game to bed when a header from a corner was cleared off the Linnets goal line, and they will curse the fact that the ball strayed out because what was about to unfold is hard to comprehend!
In the 80th minute, with the game close to being won, a moment of "madness" from goalscorer Owen Watkinson changed everything.
Watkinson caught Pete Wylie in the face with an elbow and was shown a straight red card by the match official.
Tempers flared from both sides and amid a mass pushing and shoving contest near the dugouts and Linnets coach Chris Lawton was sent to the stands.
Within a minute, Runcorn halved the deficit. Ryan Wade got a bit of luck when a sliced first touch fell in his favour and with a yard of space, he clipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper - a lovely finish to put the scoreline at 3-2, in favour of Clitheroe.
Zac Aley set Jamie Rainford up with a chance to equalise but Jamie tried to shift the ball on to his right foot instead of slamming his left foot through it, and this momentary hesitation allowed time for a tackle.
With a minute to go, Clitheroe's Connor Gaul ran through the Linnets defence and drew a great save from Passant, the young goalkeeepr also being called into action with another save just seconds later, from a corner.
With the Linnets trailing 3-2, the game entered its 90th minute, and fortunes changed from despair to jubilation in a matter of seconds.
A cross to the far post picked out Rainford with the goal begging, but his volley was a tame effort that allowed the goalkeeper to palm the ball away and back into play.
With both sides expecting a goal, players from both sides were slow to react to the unexpected loose ball, all except Kurt Sherlock who was brought down by a clumsy tackle for a clear penalty.
Sherlock dusted himself down to send the goalkeeper the wrong way, level the scores and send the travelling Linnets fans wild.
Knowing that there was to be a whopping seven minutes of injury time, it felt like another goal was almost inevitable.
Perhaps distracted by the hype of getting back on level terms, the Linnets defence was once again beaten with shocking ease by a direct run from Gaul, the wide man picking out Terry Cummings who fired the ball past Passant to restore Clitheroe's lead.
As the clock ticked towards the 97th minute, there would be one final twist in this almost fairytale game of football.
Linnets pressed forward and with the Clitheroe area packed full of bodies, Kurt Sherlock's lofted ball in struck the arm of a defender and the referee pointed to the spot immediately despite furious protests from the home side.
Kurt Sherlock showed nerves of steel to outwit the goalkeeper and score with an identical penalty to the one he had taken just 7 minutes earlier.
The referee brought proceedings to an immediate close after the penalty and all inside Clitheroe's Shawbridge ground tried to take stock of what they had just witnessed.
We are back at the Millbank Stadium on Saturday as we host Kendal Town, kick off 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: 1 B Passant, 2 Z Aley, 3 L Coyne, 4 N Ryan, 5 P Wylie, 6 W Bellew, 7 J Wynne, 8 K Sherlock, 9 C McCarthy, 10 R Wade, 11 P Shanley. Subs: 12 D McGivern, 15 J Rainford, 16 H Cannon-Noren. Not used: 17 L Corrigan, 14 Tom Owen.
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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