24th September 2019, Tadcaster Albion v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-0
Both sides had finished sixth in their respective divisions in 2018/19, and after a rousing 4-0 sun-drenched home win over Kendal Town three days earlier, the visitors expected a stern test (this time just drenched).
Tadcaster had won all three home league games so far to sit third in the new North West Division.
Changes from the Kendal win saw Zac Aley start at left-back ahead of Louis Corrigan, and Josh Dobie and Kyle Hamid replacing Tom Owens and Jordan Wynne.
After a day of persistent and often torrential rain, an afternoon pitch inspection reported no standing water, and under the circumstances it played as well as it looked, even if a slippery surface didn't always make silky ball control or staying vertical too easy.
The stats promised a very evenly-matched game, and it started, continued and finished in exactly that way.
No quarter was asked or given by either side, and ultimately Linnets both on and off the pitch departed feeling they had somehow taken nothing from an excellent 0-0 draw.
The opening exchanges saw both sides putting together four and five man passing sequences in midfield to create a few opportunities, but solid chances were at a premium as the skiddy surface under continuing drizzle made it difficult to get a secure footing for any powerful attempts on goal.
A couple of early forays on the left by Connor McCarthy failed to find any team mates in usable space, and five minutes in, Albion's Alfie Beestin got loose at the edge of the penalty area, but his shot was easily covered by Bayleigh Passant in the Runcorn goal.
In the tenth minute, a Zac Aley free-kick from 25 yards, after a foul on Paul Shanley, was headed back across the box by McCarthy to Ryan Wade, but with two defenders on him he couldn't get in a meaningful shot.
Not for the first time this season, Runcorn skipper Kyle Hamid was winning the ball and creating trouble for the opposition via quick passing moves with Ally Brown on the right of midfield.
When Tadcaster were in possession, the visitors were kept busy by similar enterprise from Alex Wiles and Kevin Dos Santos, while the speed on the ball of Donald Chimalilo on the right was a repeated handful.
But both defences looked assured and on form, and in the first half precious few genuine chances were forged.
The clearest fell to Albion centre-forward Jake Day before the quarter-hour mark. He was allowed rare space for a powerful header from inside the penalty area. But we never have to wait too long for a 'worldy' from Bayleigh Passant, and he obliged with a magnificent full-length leap to guide the ball over the bar.
Both 11s in the shape of Dos Santos and Paul Shanley made some penetrating runs deep into enemy territory on the left, but it was a night when defenders on both sides were equal to almost everything.
When a defender could be turned or passed, another was there in an instant to tackle or clear.
On 40 minutes, four attempts to dispossess Dos Santos, coming into the area from the left failed, but his shot was still deflected away confidently by Peter Wylie.
Two minutes later, a deft turn and shot from 22 yards by Connor McCarthy was similarly deflected for a corner by home right-back John Lufudu.
While never boring, the game approached half-time with stalemate written all over it. But then on the stroke of half-time, Tadcaster broke quickly from defence once more, and with all but the referee feeling that the ripping sound of an orange away shirt might warrant a booking, not to mention a free-kick, Alfie Beestin flicked the ball out left to Chimalilo.
The Albion No.7, who was a thorn in Runcorn sides all night, controlled the ball on a thigh, turned and cut into the middle before curling a low shot beyond the fingertips of Passant and inside the far post.
Moments later, Runcorn left the field at half-time with expressions which said "What just happened?", but in reality it was more a case of "What didn't?"
The second half started at breakneck speed and end-to-end, possibly aided by the fact that the rain had finally relented for the day, with fewer of the multiple midfield passing moves of the first 45 being seen.
Snap attacks from either flank alternated at both ends of the pitch, without either defence being found wanting. After 53 minutes, a sharp three- man move involving McCarthy, Sherlock and Wade resulted in a cross-shot across the six-yard box that only Albion's Lufudu could connect with, before Connor's second bite of the cherry narrowly cleared the top left corner.
Five minutes later, a Zac Aley free-kick again found the head of Shanley, but with the keeper nowhere, the ball cleared the bar at the same spot.
In between, a cross by Tadcaster left-back Jack Walters had been blocked by Declan McGivern, the resulting corner being headed into the night sky above the penalty spot by Hamid before being punched clear by Passant.
Before the hour mark, Kurt Sherlock left the fray for Ryan Gibson to give the Tadcaster defence still more to think about. But they continued to cope, and ten minutes later Jamie Rainford was introduced to do the same, as Paul Shanley pulled up in pain after chasing a loose ball down the left.
Between the two substitutions, Kyle Hamid attracted a yellow card for a trip on Alex Wiles, and yet more confusion was added to this summer's adjustments to the handball law.
Bayleigh Passant raced out of his area to get to a long ball out left before Jake Day, and smashed it clear only for Day to make the kind of two-handed point-blank save for which Bayleigh himself is famous.
Apparently, the outcome is a throw-in.
Runcorn's best chance of the last 20 minutes came when a turn and cross from McCarthy was headed across the six-yard box by Hamid, only for Ally Brown's low shot to be blocked by captain Michael Ingham in the Albion goal.
Half chances came at both ends for the rest of the game, but assured defensive work limited them to halves, and most of Tadcaster's remaining efforts came on the break from more concerted Runcorn assaults.
Louis Corrigan replaced Zac Aley after 83 minutes, and he joined in the siege, with repeated balls up to both flanks and the Albion box, where Declan McGivern camped out to add his height to the effort to salvage what would have been a thoroughly warranted point.
But it wasn't to be.
Both clubs could take pride from the fact that such an evenly and fiercely-contested game in difficult conditions was conducted with a determination to win by playing football.
There will always be a few fouls, though. You just have to hope that the officials are paying attention. It was a disappointment that no points were taken back to Runcorn, especially as it was another two-and-a-half-hour journey into the early hours of Wednesday (the M62 being closed while our backs were turned) on a night when the rest of the league were playing local derbies.
It must make sense to someone, as Linnets are required to do much the same again next week.
"Alexa, what's the best way to get to Ossett on a Tuesday night, leaving at rush-hour?"
Runcorn Linnets: Bailey Passant, Zac Aley (Louis Corrigan 83), Peter Wylie, Declan McGivern, Ally Brown, Josh Dobie, Kurt Sherlock (Ryan Gibson 57), Kyle Hamid, Connor McCarthy, Ryan Wade, Paul Shanley (Jamie Rainford 66). Subs not used: Jordan Wynne, Jimmy Moore.
Attendance: 221 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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