The Northern Premier League

26th October 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Mossley AFC : 0-4 Sponsored by The Hedley Edwards Family

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

The midweek visit of Mossley AFC presented Runcorn Linnets with the opportunity to dislodge league leaders for the second time in four days, having helped the Lilywhites to the top spot with a magnificent 4-2 victory at Workington.

A sixth win from seven homes games might put Linnets on the top perch for the first time, but it was going to be far from easy, with Mossley having won all five of their away games so far.

From the first whistle Mossley came out of the traps at lightning speed, and inside a minute, Andy Keogh fed Harry Pratt for a shot that flashed narrowly wide.

The earliest Linnets attempts to make ground, with a fierce wind behind them, were soaked up by rapid and robust defending, and five minutes had elapsed when they penetrated the penalty area. Ryan Brooke's cross from the left was bound for Craig Lindfield, until Declan Evans intervened to concede a corner.

An awkward bounce foiled Joe Lynch from the kick, and shouts for handball as Matthews cleared were waved away.

Both teams pressed forward fast in possession, Mossley looking a little more controlled as they attacked the sheltered clubhouse end, but the Runcorn back four kept their shape and held firm.

Hickman collected a pass from Pratt outside the area and shot firmly for the top corner, but Joe Young saved well.

Neither side could settle in possession, quick passes being employed to evade swift and strong tackles.

Linnets fans felt it didn't bode well when Iwan Murray was leaned on and brought down in a 50-50 challenge on the halfway line, but referee Mr Corrigan saw no infringement.

He couldn't fail to see one five minutes later ,when a dangerously high tackle on Iwan by Kane Hickman prompted a mass scuffle.

The lengthy delay in producing a card suggested it wouldn't be red, and Hickman did escape with a yellow.

In truth, Murray was to be fouled less than usual overall, but he was to have one of his quieter games.

Mossley are a big, strong side who are also very quick to the ball, and Iwan rarely enjoyed the extra fraction of a second he usually achieves to find space and spark attacks.

The middle of the half saw a flurry of Runcorn attacks, but they came from crosses and high through balls. The wind was playing havoc with the ball in the air, and it skidded away from the pursuing Dapo Olarewaju and Lindfield up either wing.

The conditions made it hard for Brooke and the frequently advancing Evan Gumbs to connect with headers, and it began to look as though a wind-affected error might be instrumental in an opening goal.

As Linnets strove to cause trouble, even on the ground the wind was causing unpredictable bounces and swerves. Tackling was tricky, but demanded less precision than passes or attempts on goal, and the Mossley rearguard was protecting 'keeper Jordan Hadlow effectively.

When Dapo did gain possession on the right he was causing headaches for defenders Dean and Matthews, but when they failed to block his crosses, the wind made them unpredictable for their targets in the middle.

One of his crosses appeared to have been blocked by an arm, but Mr Corrigan either didn't see it, or possibly believed that the effects of the wind made it harder to call handball as deliberate.

Just beyond the half-hour, he played advantage when Runcorn kept possession following a foul on Murray outside the area, but it was hard to see much advantage on offer, with massed ranks of Mossley black and white in front of Brooke, Crilly and Olarewaju.

Dapo put Linnets back on the offensive again, supported by Iwan Murray, but confronted by four defenders, he couldn't quite thread a ball through all of them.

A resulting corner from the left was destined for Gumbs' head, but Evans connected fractionally first.

Mossley attacks were a little fewer as the first half headed to a close, but at the sheltered clubhouse end they were more controlled, and based more on possession of the ball.

The Linnets defence coped well, though, preventing much in the way of shots on goal, and clearing up from a couple of resulting corners.

Mason Fawns won one of them, as Sean O'Mahony, Jacques Welsh and James Short crowded him.

From the kick, Evans contested a header and went to ground. From a distance, it was hard to see what offence had been called, and a tense moment followed - Linnets fans fearing the award of a penalty.

The pause ended with a yellow card for Evans. We could only assume Mr Corrigan had identified simulation, as there had been no evidence of him fouling anyone.

Dapo Olarewaju again battled three opponents near the right corner flag, eventually losing out to Dean.

After the ball was cleared, Craig Lindfield let rip from 25 yards, but the wind carried it high.

The last effort of the half looked like a Mossley goal all the way, when a long throw from the right was headed away at the second attempt, and Fawns unleashed a powerful volley. Young maintained the deadlock with a great diving save.

An even half had reflected expectations from two sides contending league leadership.

The ultimate outcome would possibly hinge on how the Mossley attack and Linnets defence would perform after changing ends, given the different climates prevailing at either end of the pitch. It most certainly did.

After a first start since his return from long-term injury, Craig Lindfield gave way to Stuart Crilly at half-time.

As they had at 7.45, Mossleyadvanced fast with the ball, and they would quickly prove that that was the best way to exploit having the wind at their backs.

A through ball by Murray to Olarewaju, who had switched to the left flank with Crilly on the right, was cut out by Grundy.

Otherwise, the first five minutes belonged to Mossley. They were to turn that into a highly-profitable quarter of an hour.

Fawns' corner on the left was met by Matthews, but after a block on the line it was Grundy who converted from close range after 49 minutes.

A voice next to me said "It's uphill now". No names, no pack drill.

In response, Dapo twice made it to the Mossley area from halfway. He weaved through four defenders and cut left to the goal line before delivering a cross that was a fraction too quick for Crilly.

Then he engaged in the first of many tricky exchanges with James Short on the left, whose cross reached Brooke and Crilly in the middle. It was Crilly who managed a shot, but it lacked the power to beat Hadlow.

Fawns responded for Mossley on the left wing, cut inside past Hayes and Welsh, and with Gumbs and O'Mahony guarding the middle of the goal, he fired over Young at the near post into the roof of the net.

Less than ten minutes of high-speed attacking had unlocked a recently- stoic Linnets defence and taken firm control of the evening's proceedings. And they were far from finished.

Olarewaju and Short were back in tandem up the left, attempting to half the deficit, and the latter's cross was destined for Brooke at the far post, but he couldn't quite connect.

Their next double act was cut out at the corner of the penalty area, and Mossley were away downwind again, halted by a foul 30 yards out.

Fawns' free-kick was flicked goalwards by Keogh, prompting a fine reflex save by Young, but Evans was in front of him at the near post, inside the six-yard box. He lashed the ball in off the underside of the bar, just before the clock registered 60 minutes.

Shell-shocked Linnets fans might have concluded that their defence had folded like a house of cards, and Runcorn boss Calum McIntyre was audibly apoplectic at the events of the previous quarter of an hour.

But it had to be acknowledged that his opposite number David Fish and his team had formulated the perfect way to master the conditions with the weather at their backs, and their finishing was lethal.

Ryan Brooke tried to strike back quickly with a 50-50 chase on the 'keeper, but Hadlow got there first and hammered the ball downfield.

Fawns controlled it and passed forward to Butterworth, whose shot cleared the bar.

A Mossley free-kick from deep on the left was knocked on towards goal, but Young parried it past the post.

A free header from the corner was headed off the line by O'Mahony. The final scoreline rather than the result remained in doubt, but Linnets didn't give up.

A Short cross found Murray in the area. His attempted backheel was blocked, as was Brooke's shot from the loose ball. Then Olarewaju miscued from 18 yards, and the ball was cleared.

With a little over 20 minutes remaining, Jacques Welsh and Louis Hayes were both injured in quick succession. They were replaced by Ally Brown, returning from lengthy injury, and Rhain Hellawell.

After a lull in Mossley's control of the second half, Keogh won the ball wide right, cut inside and fired over the bar.

Linnets came back upfield, and again the threat came from Dapo Olarewaju. He overlapped Dean and cut inside into the area, where he went down from an apparent trip. But contact was minimal.

Two minutes later, Dapo was in the area from the left again, marshalled by three defenders once more.

He was down again, this time by stepping on the ball. Another minute later he was back again, and he shaped a cross to the far post, where Brooke's close-range effort was blocked on the floor by Hadlow.

There was an ominous nature to Mossley's advance from the clearance, Phillips pulling back to Butterworth, who passed in front of Marsden.

He appeared unchallenged as he raced in to fire home across Young into the bottom left corner. A 4-0 deficit seemed surreal.

This Runcorn team never say die, and Olarewaju and Short continued to carve out chances on the left, three more crosses from the goal line either being cleared or failing to find a Linnets man in the area.

Six second-half substitutions alone dictated a minimum of three minutes of added time, but Mr Corrigan mercifully added next to nothing, and his whistle signalled a 4-0 win that put Mossley three points ahead at the top of the Pitching In NPL West table.

It also prompted jubilation for those in black and white, and contemplation for the yellow and green.

The lesson for the Runcorn fraternity had to be the need to manage expectations. Linnets fans had been spoiled by a fantastic run of performances and results, not least from inflicting Workington's first competitive defeat in 28 home games, four days previously.

A cue should be taken from Mossley boss David Fish's post-match comments. He had set his team a target of seven points from three games, considering a draw in the third of them at the APEC a good result.

At half-time they were on course to meet his expectations, but their second-half showing was undeniably magnificent. There was no Runcorn collapse in his analysis. Only justified delight at a superb display by his players.

I certainly hadn't seen a better team performance this season, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to tell him so.

Perspective is required in the Runcorn camp. After each one of a string of stupendous performances, it had remained a shock to the system when they had come into the bar afterwards and reminded us just how young most of them are.

Maybe I've just lost sight of how old I am.

After so many great team performances, it has also felt wrong to single out a man of the match.

On a disappointing night, it would be far more wrong if we failed to acknowledge Dapo Olarewaju. We have seen him change games in Linnets' favour coming off the bench, but his 90-minute performance in this game was worthy of a 4-0 win, rather than any kind of defeat.

We also know he would rather play badly but see his team win.

Given another tremendous attendance of 684, my greatest personal disappointment on the night was seeing how many Linnets fans left during the last 20 minutes.

Even on a bad day at the office, the players never give up. Nor should the fans.

Let's hope attendance records will be broken when FC United of Manchester visit in the Buildbase FA Trophy on Saturday.

And let's hope the Linnets will be roared on from first whistle to last, whatever the final outcome.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Louis Hayes (Rhain Hellawell 69), James Short, Jacques Welsh (Ally Brown 68), Evan Gumbs, Sean O'Mahony, Dapo Olarewaju, Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray, Craig Lindfield (Stuart Crilly 45). Subs not used: Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, Peter Wylie.

Attendance: 684.

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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