20th October 2020, Runcorn Linnets FC v Tadcaster Albion : 4-2 Sponsored by The Fore Golfers
Linnets shaped up for only their second home league game of The Pitching In Northern Premier League North West Division season, aiming to bolster a four-game unbeaten start with a second win, and a first three-point haul at The Millbank.
Runcorn were represented by exactly the same line-up that snatched a thrilling added time Buildbase FA Trophy win at Sheffield FC three days earlier.
It looked like it could be a scene-setter when in the first minute Iwan Murray was clattered inside the Tadcaster half, especially as referee Barry Lamb saw no foul play.
Thankfully, it wasn't, the Brewers taking a 'firm but fair' approach to their task in an absorbing game.
The first shot was by visiting centre-forward Ify Ofoegbu, curled wide from the penalty arc, and that did set a precedent for a first half in which Albion had more possession and the lion's share of attempts on goal.
Tadcaster looked sharper and faster than their hosts early on, particularly in the shape of Erico Sousa, whose rapid incursions in from the left were a repeated handful. The away side were quicker to the ball and allowed their opponents no time or space in possession, possibly benefitting from not having played for ten days.
When the men in all white had the ball, they were stringing together more passes and advancing more effectively, but early attempts were either blocked by a hard-working if slightly-flustered Linnets rearguard or missed the target.
Runcorn ripostes were fewer and further between. Their first corner, after a Stuart Crilly shot from Ally Brown's cross was deflected, flew too long.
Brown then outstripped James Ngoe on the right to forge a one-two with Murray that set up Ryan Brooke to cross low through the six-yard box, but it just evaded Craig Lindfield's toe near the far post.
Both sides looked confident on the ball and were passing on the deck, and both defences were covering well to limit chances, but Tadcaster continued to look more dangerous.
So it was disappointing when too much time and space on the ball enabled Sousa to turn inside from the left again and deposit a powerful drive into the top right corner. Resistance appeared limited, but it was a great goal.
A quarter of an hour had been played, and there was scant consolation for your reporter in holding a Golden Goal ticket with '15' on it.
A half chance for Runcorn petered out when a Murray/Lindfield one-two into the area skidded beyond the former.
The pint-sized playmaker Murray would not be deterred, however, and he was a bundle of energy and enterprise all night - instrumental in a second Linnets performance in three days that was to grow in stature for him and his team in the second half.
Midway through the half, Albion's Jack Vann had his shirt number memorised by Mr Lamb for a lunge on Tom McCready that left him needing physio.
Two attempts to threaten the Tadcaster goal came from Short/Lindfield and then Brooke but there was nobody to get on the end of either.
Then, at the other end, three free passes were allowed to set up Ofoegbu again, but he snatched his shot wide.
On 28 minutes, Brooke passed wide right to Brown whose ball across the six-yard box was just too slick for the advancing Murray.
It started Linnets' longest spell of possession, but breaching Albion's defensive attentions proved onerous, and 'keeper Bulmer completed more passes than anyone else.
The only resulting chance was Brooke meeting a Short cross as he beat right-back Daniel Hartley to the byline, but under close pressure he could only poke it out for a goal kick.
After the half-hour, Scott Lycett went down from an apparent arm or elbow. The linesman on the side was consulted, but a free-kick was the only punishment applied.
Then after a foul was called against McCready on the halfway, a very late follow-through on the Linnets No8 earned Vann the only yellow card of the game.
Jack Crook was fortunate to avoid another at least, behind the occupied referee as he got physically argumentative with Murray and Hayes among the 'afters'.
The hosts were fortunate that Ofoegbu couldn't make more of the space he was allowed in the area after the eventual Albion free-kick.
Just afterwards McCready left the fray after further medical attention, replaced by Jacques Welsh.
A flurry of Runcorn pressure preceded the half-time whistle. An exchange with Brooke in the middle ended with Murray's shot from 20 yards flying well high, and Short and Brown delivered crosses from both wings for Brooke and Lindfield in the middle. But the Albion defence prevented their 'keeper Appleyard from being tested.
Linnets couldn't complain at going in behind, and their fans were hoping for a second-half change of gear to reflect the one that had turned around Saturday's cup-tie. They would not be disappointed.
Calum McIntyre appeared to have spent half time asking his men to take more positive charge of proceedings. Whether or not it was aided by a degree of burn-out among the Brewers' ranks, after the breakneck speed of their first-half efforts, the Yellow and Greens started to oblige.
From an immediate spell of possession from left flank to right and back again, a Iwan Murray incursion into the area took three defensive attempts to disarm him.
Before five minutes had elapsed, Ngoe won the ball from Murray inside the left edge of the penalty area, but paused long enough for Iwan to wrestle it back. As Murray turned inside he could only be stopped by a trip inside the area.
Responsibility fell to Craig Lindfield to level proceedings from the spot. Appleyard dived the right way, but had no chance of stopping Linny's piledriver from crashing into the top left corner. Game on.
It was the first Runcorn shot on target, but they were determined it wouldn't be the last.There might have been another spot-kick two minutes later when Murray chased a ball into the right side of the area.
Appleyard's challenge on the tireless No10 was admittedly a shoulder charge, but with the ball nowhere near, vocal queries were raised about Mr Lamb's decision that it was fair.
Tadcaster were getting forward, but now it was more against the run of play.
It was still Sousa who looked the biggest threat, cutting across the home third at pace, but less time and space was being allowed to create anything from it.
Back towards the clubhouse, a great Lindfield pass was just too quick for Ally Brown to control it, then Brooke was narrowly offside as he received a Linny flick-on.
On the hour mark, Albion introduced Bailey Thompson for Ify Ofoegbu, their second sub, having replaced Kevin Santos with Junayd Pandor at half time. Some kind of change was clearly needed for the visitors. Far more than in the first half, they were being forced into errors as they tried to combat Linnets' quick passing game - waves of attacks being set up by Louis Hayes from central midfield.
A Lindfield ball across the front of the six-yard box was left by both Crilly and Welsh, but almost immediately Hayes started another assault, overlapping behind Crilly to set him off towards goal.
He saw the opportunity to chip both Albion centre backs to access Lindfield's unmarked advance, and Linny found the bottom left corner easily from close range.
The game had turned on its head in 20 minutes. But credit to Tadcaster, who continued to make inroads with a progressive passing game of their own.
A corner on the right found an Albion head, but the ball looped high into the air and over, and then five minutes after they had gone behind, the Yorkshiremen worked a move that put sub Thompson in possession right of centre, 25 yards out.
With a triangle of defenders in front of him, there seemed little immediate danger when he turned and shot hard and low inside the right post, taking Bulmer by surprise.
Against the turned tide, we were all-square again. Twenty minutes remained, but it seemed that a fourth draw from Linnets' first five league games might paint them as 'one point specialists'.
But Calum's men have yet to look like a team that would ever play for a draw, and it is hard to imagine their open and offensive style coming up with a 0-0 result anytime soon.
Hayes continued to spark attacks from the middle to the wings, and Lycett and O'Mahony were both getting involved on the ball in the Albion half, the latter dropped by a horizontal arm as he tracked back.
The free-kick had Linnets on the attack again, and Brown did brilliantly to keep the speeding ball in play when he beat his man to the byline on the right.
He hooked a cross back through the penalty area where, with his back to goal, Stuart Crilly left Andrew Milne flat-footed behind him when he half turned and looped a shot over the unsuspecting Appleyard into the net.
A great goal to cap a superb performance from the Runcorn No11.
Both he and Iwan Murray had been vying for man-of-the-match status with Louis Hayes, and Iwan was yet to further muddy the waters on that decision as the game neared its conclusion.
Straight after he had assisted the lead, Ally Brown won a corner which reached the head of Ryan Brooke, but shadowed by Ioan Evans, his attempt dropped short into Appleyard's grasp.
Brooke then made way for Ben Wharton, who set up camp wide right to present further challenges for the visiting defence.
Albion continued their efforts to bring the scores level once again. Two threatening corners were cleared, either side of the substitution of Tom Ruffer for scorer Crilly.
As the clock approached 90, Murray won a 50-50 challenge as he had done many times on the night, and fed Brown on the right.
His cross went long and was picked up by Lindfield, who beat and outran his marker to the goal line, to cross towards the penalty arc.
Iwan controlled, took a step forward and snapped a shot beyond Appleyard's dive and into the bottom left corner.
Seldom has a Runcorn Linnets player deserved a goal more, not just for a tireless performance in this game, but throughout the season so far.
He is repeatedly the most fouled man on the pitch, which is an albeit irritating compliment to his quality.
Great credit to Tadcaster that they concentrated their efforts on challenging him with fair means rather than foul.
The 4-2 margin enabled Linnets fans to breathe more easily, if that isn't an offensive choice of words in the current climate.
The Yorkshiremen continued to head goalward against the odds, but Murray's goal was the last shot on target before the final whistle concluded another tremendously-entertaining game.
Sean O'Mahony didn't score his usual wonder-header, but let's not be too greedy. After a busy night for the division, Linnets stood seventh in the table, with either one or two games in hand on all of the top five, and remained one of three unbeaten sides.
Manager Calum plans the campaign on the basis of six-game targets. He would have to be pleased with the first five, not just for the nine points gained and unbeaten status, but with the skill, team spirit and determination to win evident throughout the squad.
The last installment in his 'set of six' will be at Kendal on Saturday.
Runcorn Linnets: Nik Bulmer, Ally Brown, James Short, Louis Hayes, Sean O'Mahony, Scott Lycett, Craig Lindfield, Tom McCready (Jacques Welsh 40), Ryan Brooke (Ben Wharton 81), Iwan Murray, Stuart Crilly (Tom Ruffer 87). Subs not used: Alex Turner, Adam Barthram.
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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