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Match Report - Hednesford Town 1 Runcorn Linnets 1


Report by Dave Bettley; Picture by Neil Thornton

 

Many onlookers might have expected the first goal in this closest of Pitching In Northern Premier League West Division contests to also prove the winner. But sadly for Linnets, this wasn't the case.

 

Having fallen behind inside the final quarter, Hednesford needed only four minutes to restore parity in the inaugural meeting of the clubs at the highly-impressive Keys Park.


Both sides could still have snatched late victory but the only inequality was the Staffordshire men finishing with 10 to Runcorn's 11.


Michael Williams, the last player to take the field as the third substitute for the Pitmen in the 83rd minute, was also the first to leave - after being sent off with five added minutes almost up.


He was involved in an off-the-ball altercation with Ryan Brooke as Runcorn prepared to take a last-gasp free kick from a promising position.


It was later confirmed that Williams had slapped  the Linnets striker as they tangled, Brooke for his part receiving a yellow card.


Referee Mark Billingham had engaged in lengthy conversation with an assistant before meting out the punishments.


The Hednesford player, having departed, didn't have to wait long to be joined by his team-mates in the dressing room as the set-piece came to nothing and the referee soon blew up.


Linnets had travelled down the M6 with more selection problems in defence. With left back and skipper James Short again only fit enough to take a place on the bench, he was joined on the absentee list by his second in command.


VIce-captain Sean O'Mahony was still nursing a facial injury, sustained seven days earlier in home victory over Stalybridge.


The team's most experienced member, former EFL veteran Antony Kay was also unavailable.


It left Harry Hagan and Peter Wylie to take on central defensive duties with Eden Gumbs' versatility again being put to good use at left back.


Hagan and Wylie performed commendably, considering they were at a height disadvantage against a big, strong centre forward in Star Mayemba. Both Runcorn backs were justifiable contenders for Bucket Hat Radio's man-of-the-match award which ultimately went to Wylie, the more seasoned of the two.


Runcorn's scrambling defence had been effective in ensuring that they kept a close watch on Mayemba with men invariably on hand to contest second balls.


A key component in this was Jacques Welsh, who continued his excellent early-season form as the deepest lying of the three-man Linnets midfield, after being handed the captain's armband.


Both sides showed attacking intent from the start with Runcorn building their attacks with deliberate passing moves while Hednesford tended to go more direct.


Neither strategy was particularly successful, just tne one excellent save apiece being demanded from the respective 'keepers in the first half.


Runcorn best opportunity stemmed from a set-piece, taker Brooke's attempt from just left of centre five yards outside the penalty area being turned away by Ryan Brown.


Will Saxon's rebound effort from a tight angle on the right was snuffed out by a home defender, covering the near post.


Bayleigh Passant had done well to deal with crosses under pressure and rescued Linnets by advancing to thwart Max Dixon after Hednesford had made rare progress behind Runcorn defensive line.


Both sides continued to strive for the breakthrough after the interval but by now the question was if, rather than when, it would come.


Ryan Brooke had a great chance from a right wing cross to the fear post but couldn't direct his header on target.


Linnets must have been glad to see for back of Mayemba, who was substituted in the 56th minute by Demetri Brown, on for his debut.


But Brown offered the same powerful presence and if anything, presented even more of problem for the Runcorn rearguard because of his controlled running with the ball.


The replacement striker thought he'd put the home side in front after getting to a left-wing cross on the hour mark. Passant was beaten to his right by a well-directed header but Brown was dismayed to see an offside flag raised against him.



Runcorn almost immediately introduced Ryan Gibson for the first appearance of his second spell with the club, Joe Lynch making way in the 62nd minute.


On his Linnets return, after a three-year absence, Gibson showed that none of his customary speed or industry has been lost.


Gibson operated wide right, enabling Will Saxon to make his marauding runs through the middle.


Runcorn struck first in the 72nd minute when Lewis Doyle took aim from 20 yards.


His right-foot attempt was wickedly deflected and although 'keeper Brown did well to adjust and parry, the ball sat up invitingly for Adam Moseley to smash it home at close quarters.


Unfortunately, the opener prompted the lighting of a yellow and green flare among a group of Linnets fans.


Runcorn were left to fear further reputational damage, following similar recent incidents, while Hednesford would have been worried about their pitch as the pyrotechnic was senselessly thrown beyond the perimeter fence, although short of the playing area itself.


Hednesford's on-the-field response was swift and to the point. Player-manager Danny Glover, who like Linnets counterpart Billy Paynter, forged a professional playing career via Port Vale's Academy, had orchestrated the home side's best attacks with his ability to spot and thread eye-of-the-needle passes through Runcorn’s defence from just off the front.


This time he benefitted from the subtlety of sub striker Brown's backheeled ball, which sent his boss through to finish emphatically.


Both sides maintained their pursuit of three points, rather than one. Brooke fired wastefully over the crossbar after Saxon's effort had been temptingly diverted into the path of the Runcorn striker.


The fingertips of the diving Passant were then the difference between Demetri Brown finding the bottom right corner and, as it transpired, his shot ending up the other side of the left post.


But a winner for either team would have been harsh on the other and the full-time consensus was that neither had done enough to merit a victory, although it wasn't for lack of trying.


Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barrett, Eden Gumbs,, Jacques Welsh, Harry Hagan, Peter Wylie, Will Saxon, Joe Lynch (Ryan Gibson, 62 mins), Ryan Brooke, Lewis Doyle, Adam Moseley. Subs (not used): James Short, Josh Roberts, Alex Perry. Attendance: 703.

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