2nd November 2019, Marske United v Runcorn Linnets FC : 6-1
A tough test was expected against a Marske United team unbeaten at home and with only one league defeat from ten.
But nobody anticipated quite how tough it would be.
Conditions were never going to be easy, as the M62 on the way there had resembled one long carwash, and referee Mr Dial had declared the pitch playable, but had said that if there was much more rain during the game, it was unlikely to finish.
In hindsight, it was a tough call for the visitors to decide whether they would have preferred a postponement, or whether it was better to 'rip off the plaster' and move on.
The first two minutes of warm-up were cutting up the surface rapidly, and 'keeper Bayleigh Passant came off from his preparations covered from head to toe in what is known in these parts as 'clarts'.
It was surprising to see the Runcorn players in yellow and green, with Marske playing in yellow shirts. A friend of mine who is a former National Level 3 referee saw my photo and said there was indeed no colour clash.
In the event, during the last hour of the match it was easy to tell the teams apart. Marske were the ones with the ball, who scored every few minutes.
Linnets were first to make an attempt on goal, as Louis Corrigan's low shot from outside the box was parried by Jack Norton in the home goal, but it didn't set the tone.
Within a couple of minutes, Marske had two corners, and with Runcorn's tendency not to attack them in order to defend, it was a relief to see one result in a header forced wide, and the other cleared by the head of Josh Dobie.
Just afterwards, Kyle Hamid headed forwards to Kurt Sherlock, and when the ball was cleared, the Linnets skipper put it back into the box, where Paul Shanley's header forced a good save from Norton to concede a corner.
When that was cleared, Curtis Round ran free at the other end to fire over the bar. Early in the game, quick distribution in the air was the order of the day for both sides, as the soft and sodden surface didn't permit a passing game.
Ominously, it was Marske who were winning balls powerfully to create more chances to launch into space out wide, especially to number 11 Round up the right flank. It wouldn't be long before that bore fruit.
Runcorn were making some openings, though. On 17 minutes Hamid played it forward to Sherlock again on the edge of the box, and he turned sharply to shoot just wide of the left post.
Immediately, at the other end, Dobie headed clear from another corner, and Marske right-back Callum Martin crossed for Louis Johnson to head over the bar.
Midway through the first half, Bayleigh Passant came out to punch clear and was felled, requiring attention for several minutes.
A drop-ball revealed that Mr Dial saw no foul play.
The first writing was applied to the wall after 33 minutes. Curtis Round collected from a throw-in on the right and cut inside across Corrigan and Hinnigan, before unleashing an unstoppable shot from 18
yards into the top right corner.
The goal gave Marske the impetus that had been threatened for half an hour, and only four minutes later Leon Scott played a through ball that centre-forward Johnson flicked on deftly for an unmarked Round to slam home his second.
When Marske had the ball, which they did far more than the visitors, the Runcorn defence was backing off, and the hosts were ready to take advantage.
A third goal might have followed with an unchallenged header from another corner, but Louis Corrigan rose inside the right post to head clear.
Linnets had one more chance before the break, when a Shanley cross reached Sherlock in the middle, but his powerful shot was blocked point-blank by centre-back Kevin Burgess.
The travelling fans sensed a siege, and agreed that early possession and an early second-half goal would be required to prevent a very uncomfortable second period. Those fears were well founded.
A pattern had been emerging from regular recent trips across the Pennines since the latest geographical reorganisation of the Northern Premier League. The east appeared to feature big, strong teams who are tough in the tackle and fast getting forward.
No criticism is implied. This is not (in most cases) aerial hoof-it football, but a game where big defenders defend, and rapidly turn possession into attack.
The Runcorn way is a heavily populated midfield, with players who can dominate with a fast passing game. It won the North West Counties League in 2018, and should have won it sooner.
But it doesn't work when you don't have the ball. Out of possession, too many players are by-passed, leaving the defence back-peddling, and they were by-passed repeatedly in the second half at Marske.
Runcorn forged the first chance of the half, as Sherlock passed back from just outside the box for Dobie to blaze high over the bar.
You have to hope the households behind that goal are Manchester United fans, as they have a lot of footballs with 'MUFC' written on them.
Seconds later, Marske left-back O'Sullivan was allowed a free shot which cleared the far post, and a minute after that a cross from the left gave Louis Johnson a free header to make it 3-0.
The last Runcorn chance for a while saw Kyle Hamid gift another football to the neighbours after Sherlock had looped the ball high from the by-line, back across a crowded penalty area.
At the other end, another flurry of chances for the hosts saw Passant foil a Round hat-trick with his feet.
On the counter, Corrigan was fouled on the halfway line, earning Lewis Maloney a yellow card.
The referee didn't see fit to book May for kicking the ball away before the free-kick, despite the fact that he kicked it several times further than Paul Shanley had done to receive a yellow card in the first half, after a disputed throw-in.
Moments later, Passant made a great point-blank save from an open chance for Johnson, but Louis nevertheless headed his side's fourth goal into the far bottom corner.
The Linnets fans were looking at watches and wondering about the traffic on the motorway. But there was half an hour to go, for which Connor McCarthy and Jamie Rainford were introduced for Wade and Dobie.
Some Runcorn chances did materialise. Shanley ran through from halfway, amid unjustified shouts for handball, but he added to the football mountain in the back garden behind the goal. And a Corrigan
shot from 25 yards flashed just wide of the post.
On 72 minutes, Gott and Plant replaced Stephenson and Maloney for Marske. Neither was involved in Johnson completing his hat-trick with the greatest of ease two minutes later. He did it alone, winning the ball just inside the Runcorn half, advancing through the yellow and green and stroking the ball across the mud at the 'wet end' and into the net.
It had come from another dogged attempt by Sherlock to keep putting the ball back into the mixer, but when Marske won the ball, as they did almost every time, another attack resulted.
Connor McCarthy was using some muscle to win balls in and around the right side of the penalty area, but the only real chance resulting came from the 'keeper's clearance straight to him as he shot wide.
Home substitute Brad Plant looked dangerous from his introduction and five minutes from time he made it 6-0, a diagonal ball reaching him in the box, from where he stroked it through the legs of a mercifully unidentifiable defender and over the line.
Define the word 'consolation'. Perhaps it's a powerful shot by Louis Corrigan missing the face of a defender by being blocked by both hands, just outside the box. Louis' trademark left peg left the 'keeper stationary as his free-kick slammed against the right post, rebounding to the penalty spot where Zac Aley was unchallenged to stroke the ball into the centre of the goal.
It was the only thing unchallenged by Marske all afternoon. It was no surprise that they had been beaten only once.
Someone asked me afterwards if Marske goalkeeper Jack Norton was any good. I had to admit I didn't know. I hadn't seen him do enough to judge. He did win a 50/50 loose ball late on with a 'Cruyff turn', perhaps inspired by his orange kit, but on a pitch turned to marshland by stupid amounts of recent rain, that kit barely needed washing.
Linnets return to FA Trophy action next, on 9th November, at home to Pickering Town or Prescot Cables, followed by a trip to Ramsbottom in the league. The latter will again be played on mud, if November allows it to be played at all. With two wins from 12 games, and awaiting a first away win in the league, there is work to be done.
Runcorn Linnets: Bailey Passant, Louis Corrigan, Jack Hinnigan, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Josh Dobie (Connor McCarthy 60), Kurt Sherlock, Kyle Hamid, Paul Shanley, Ryan Wade (Jamie Rainford 60), Zac Aley. Subs not used: Declan McGivern, Ryan Gibson, Harry Cannon-Noren.
Report - David 'Bill' Davies.
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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