The Northern Premier League

16th October 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Ramsbottom United : 4-0 Sponsored by Tony Jones in memory of Thomas Jones

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

In-form Linnets welcomed historical NWCFL rivals Ramsbottom United to the APEC for only the second time since Runcorn's promotion to the Northern Premier League in 2018, the Covid pandemic having prevented more visits.

That solitary Murdishaw meeting ended in a 2-1 victory for the Rams in March 2019.

The last encounter between the sides saw a 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium eight months later.

The day's statistics this time would suggest that a fifth Runcorn victory from six home games had been achieved with ease, but while they were undoubtedly in charge for most of the afternoon's proceedings, with five minutes remaining the result remained in doubt.

Then a late three-goal blitz sent the Rams home soundly beaten.

Lloyd Marsh-Hughes made his first start for Linnets, and he was the first attacking player to make his presence felt, winning a corner on the right despite the fact that the ball appeared to glance off him last from Tom Kennedy's tackle.

The corner was cleared at the near post, but it came back in for Ryan Brook to hook across the area for the head of Evan Gumbs. 'Keeper Tom Stewart got to it just in time.

Ramsbottom mounted their first attack after five minutes, Jake Thompson's cross headed clear by Gumbs, then Kennedy's long ball up the left wing ran too long for Dale Jennings.

A cagey five minutes followed, with neither side able to carve an opening from unusually slow passing sequences.

Then a run of five Runcorn passes from right flank to left put James Short in the area for a shot that was well blocked by centre-half Will Hall.

The resulting cornee was headed out by Steve Hoy for another, Iwan Murray's outswinger curling out of play and back in.

Marsh-Hughes cut in from the right wing and, when a left-footed shot seemed on, passed inside. It came back to Rhain Hellawell on the right, and his cross was headed away by Hall.

Without his confidence in the air, the points might have been out of the Rams' reach much earlier than they were.

In the 15th minute, Jake Thompson was on the break from a loose ball into the Runcorn area. 'Keeper Joe Young committed himself and was beaten to the ball, but he tracked back quickly and tackled brilliantly to concede a corner which was headed over at the far post.

Almost the whole Runcorn team was involved in a passing sequence involving both wings, until an eventual Jacques Welsh ball was headed away, inevitably by Hall.

Two more one-on-one sprints followed between Thompson and Young, and the Linnets 'keeper came out on top again.

Another cagey five minutes saw both sides in mostly lateral passing triangles, until a Ramsbottom corner on the left resulted from a loose back-pass.

It was cleared by O'Mahony at the second attempt, as was Cooper's ball back into the area.

Back to the clubhouse end, and Ryan Brooke won a double aerial challenge with Hall. Three more passes put Marsh-Hughes away on the right, his cross flying long to the left wing, from where Crilly advanced into the area.

Only Stuart could tell us whether it was a shot or a cross that was headed firmly on to the crossbar by Rams centre-half Hall.

His reprieve was short lived, though, as from the rebound, who else but Ryan Brooke headed Linnets into the lead from three yards.

The 1-0 advantage was just about right on the balance of the first half-hour, but it added real impetus to the home side's performance.

They would appear the more confident outfit for the rest of the game, and the last 15 minutes of the first half saw Runcorn carve out a string of chances in threatening to extend the lead.

Iwan Murray took possession after Rother slipped, took three steps forward to the edge of the area, but hooked his shot wide.

A loose ball set Marsh-Hughes free, but he fired his shot straight at the advancing 'keeper as Hoy chased him down.

Brooke's shot from the rebound was blocked by Collinge, then another Brooke effort was palmed past the post by Stewart.

A Murray cross from the right flew long to Crilly, who beat two men into the penalty area before going down from an alleged trip.

Referee Seth Galia was not convinced, and the Linnets fans behind the goal felt that Crilly might have been 'too honest' in resisting five yards of arm and shirt pulling beforehand as he crossed the area.

Hellawell passed inside from the right for Murray, who couldn't stretch to make sufficient contact to knock on for Brooke, who had run into space unchallenged.

Rams right-back Collinge was finding it difficult to control Crilly, but it was his foul on Short that led to a free-kick headed away from nearest defender Cooper.

On the stroke of half-time, a Brooke-Crilly exchange into the area won a corner on the left. Murray's ball through the six-yard box glanced off a Rams head and reached O'Mahony at the far post, but he shot high from close range.

After a fairly even first 20 minutes, the visitors would possibly have felt fortunate to be only one behind at the break, but in the other dressing room Linnets boss Calum McIntyre would have been under no illusions that the game was anywhere near won.

Two minutes of the second half had been played when Jamie Rother received the game's first yellow card for a foul on the breaking Marsh-Hughes.

Increasing frustration among the men in blue would earn another two, but if not for a great deal of leniency on the part of referee Mr Galia, there would have been several more.

Brooke passed inside to Crilly from the right, with shouts for handball greeting the blocking of his shot. Murray picked up the loose ball in the penalty arc, where he was fouled, and his free-kick was pushed around the post by Stewart.

A first Rams attempt of the half, on the break, was hit straight at Young by Thompson, and Linnets were on the move again.

A corner on the right was flicked on by Brooke and then Gumbs, Crilly shooting over from distance, and then Brooke outran the defence into the right side of the penalty area and pulled back for Murray, only for a double deflection to send the ball fortuitously to safety.

Ten minutes into the half a long ball into the Runcorn area was headed out for a corner by O'Mahony, which he also headed away from the far post.

Yet again, the Runcorn defence was rock solid, with O'Mahony and Gumbs commanding the air, Welsh and Short picking up balls on the ground, and Louis Hayes showing his versatility with a strong performance at right-back.

Rams' efforts to get back into the game were limited to four shots from distance within five minutes, all of them gathered confidently by Joe Young.

Linnets' forward moves were executed with far more confidence, and as it grew, fouls were increasingly the preferred Ramsbottom remedy.

Calum McIntyre sought to aggravate their discomfort by introducing Dapo Olarewaju and Joe Lynch to test them on fresh legs, Hellawell and Marsh-Hughes making way.

Dale Jennings was shown a yellow card for sending Ryan Brooke airborne in the centre circle, before Olarewaju's first venture up the right won a corner from Kennedy's block.

An impressive multiple passing move from right to left, starting on the halfway line, reached Short, who outstripped Collinge and Merrill to the goal line.

His cross deflected off two defenders to safety more by luck than design once again.

The high foot of Hoy brought down Brooke in the penalty arc, and another Murray free-kick curled wide of the left post.

Merrill was replaced by Omar Ibrahim, and the Rams sub was to emulate Jennings and Rouse in risking removal from proceedings with a string of fouls to prevent Murray, Brooke, Lynch and Crilly causing trouble by advancing into the penalty area.

With 23 minutes remaining, Brooke passed wide right to Olarewaju, whose return into the box was intercepted well by Stewart's dive.

If he had missed it, Brooke would have had an easy finish from eight yards.

Murray advanced 30 yards past three Rams up the right touchline until a throw-in was conceded by Kennedy.

Lynch weaved into the area from the left, his cross deflected by a defensive toe, then a corner on the right was headed away by Cooper, the first Ramsbottom defender again.

Once more, Joe Lynch got the better of his markers coming in from the left, a chip to the far post creating a one-on-one between Brooke and Stewart. It was always going to be deemed a foul on the 'keeper, but by the time it was, he had already made a great blocking save from Olarewaju's follow-up shot.

On 73 minutes, Jennings wiped out Dapo 25 yards from goal.It was blatantly a worse challenge than the one on Brooke that had earned the Rams' No11 his earlier caution but he escaped dismissal via a second yellow.

His manager Lee Donafee certainly knew the score, as he immediately replaced Jennings with James N'Goe, in a bid to keep eleven men on the pitch.

The ensuing free-kick found Jacques Welsh outside the left post, but the speed of the ball meant he could only head wide.

Rouse was then involved in one of his side's few real threats of the second half.

His switch with Ibrahim into the Runcorn area was met by a perfectly- timed tackle by Louis Hayes.

Linnets were still bossing possession, but space was opening up as the passes became longer.

Among another superb gate of 595, there were many home fans who were nervous that this might be one of those days where a commanding performance might not remain safe at 1-0.

With ten minutes remaining there was a moment that preyed on their pessimism.

Joe Lynch stumbled on the ball for Thompson to break away, but fans' fears were calmed as James Short tackled back, with O'Mahony covering.

Mr Galia apparently played advantage when a two-handed push in the back failed to prevent Murray's pass up the left to Short, but none was gained, when a crossfield ball ran too fast for Olarewaju.

Brooke broke through on the left, his flick across the area being headed for a corner, but Ryan kept the ball in play with a header back into the area. Hall cleared before Welsh could get in a shot.

The fouls kept coming, and as Rams shared them out, Rouse was next to see yellow for upending Lynch inside the visitors' half.

He wasn't the first exponent of a tactical foul at the APEC this season to receive a double punishment, however, as moments later the ball was in the Ramsbottom net.

The free-kick from deep found Lynch, who cut in past two defenders yet again to cross low through the six-yard box.

It was a three-way duel between Dapo, Kennedy and Stewart, and all got a touch in a frantic scramble three yards out. This time the defence didn't get the luck of the bounce, and the ball trickled over the line off Dapo's boot before the 'keeper could retrieve it.

There were five minutes remaining, and surely the Linnets faithful could relax at the prospect of a deserved win.

There was time for another two goals, though, and they were both chalked up to Runcorn.

Dapo's goal took the remaining wind out of Ramsbottom sails, and the late introduction of Craig Lindfield played a part in the additional scoring.

His long recovery from pre-season surgery was concluded with a three-minute cameo in place of Stuart Crilly, greeted by an ovation from the Runcorn fans.

He had been on the pitch for a minute when he and Murray charged through the jaded Rams defence. A one-two gave Murray the ball on the edge of penalty area, and it seemed that a return pass to the left would set up a poetic Lindfield goal.

But the last defender and 'keeper anticipated this, so Murray dropped his shoulder and dummied right, before sliding the ball home for 3-0.

It was almost over, but not quite. The Ramsbottom defence would doubtless admit to a bit of an off-day, and they were wearing lead boots a minute later when Dapo selflessly sacrificed his own chance of a second goal to pass to Murray at the far post, for the simplest of finishes from a couple of yards out.

The Welsh wizard was enjoying himself, and he was probably gutted that Mr Galia didn't add enough minutes for him to complete a hat-trick.

Five minutes had changed the afternoon's events from a thoroughly earned narrow victory into a rout.

Either way, it cemented Linnets' reputation as a side to be respected, especially on home soil. Two points dropped at the APEC in six games, and a goal tally of 16-3. Not bad.

A serious test of Linnets' NPL West prospects will come in seven days with the longest away trip

of the league season, to leaders Workington.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Louis Hayes, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Evan Gumbs, Sean O'Mahony, Rhain Hellawell (Dapo Olarewaju 60), Stuart Crilly (Craig Lindfield 87), Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes (Joe Lynch 60). Subs (not used): Peter Wylie, Carl Spellman.

Attendance: 595.

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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