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Match report - Runcorn Linnets 0 Hanley Town 1


By Dave Bettley


Runcorn Linnets had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat after dominating their visitors from Stoke-on-Trent but without finding any success in front of goal.


Having been caught by a Hanley sucker punch midway through the second half, Linnets thought they had equalised deep into stoppage time. 


Antony Kay got on the end of a Joe Lynch corner but cheers were silenced as the referee ruled out what would have been the veteran central defender's first Runcorn goal, apparently for pushing. 


It was typical of Runcorn fortunes on an afternoon when they could justifiably claim to have done everything but score, while key decisions went against them.


Hanley made the most of one of comparatively few opportunities, taking their goal well when the game opened up for a spell after half-time. 


They then reverted to type, getting bodies behind the ball to frustrate Linnets in an obdurate defensive performance. 


Runcorn could have had two penalties in the first half and had a shot cleared from the line either side of the break - although, admittedly, only a last-gasp intervention by Runcorn right back Sam Barratt prevented one of his former clubs from sealing it with a second. 


Runcorn had shown just one starting change from the 7-0 victory against Runcorn Town in midweek, Jacques Welsh coming in for Mwiya Malumo. 


It had been enjoyable at the time but they must now be wishing that they had held back a couple of scores for the return to Pitching In Northern Premier West action. 


Confidence gained from recent wins shone through as Runcorn worked the ball well from the outset.


The only, vital thing missing was finishing -  along with two likely penalties, which they were denied by referee Francis Sibley in the first half. 


Lewis Doyle went over under tne weight of an attempted Hanley tackle. By awarding a goal kick, the referee had clearly decided that while the ball hadn't been taken nor had he the man. 


There were also appeals for handball against Hanley's Reece Jones as he intercepted a cross at the left edge of the six-yard box.


On another afternoon, both penalties could have been awarded. But that wasn't the end of the controversy.


There was no card at all for Hanley's Joel Stair when sub Olly Molloy was poleaxed by a high boot and only a yellow for Alex Morris for bringing down Will Saxon outside the box in a 'last man' challenge. 


If Linnets were guilty of anything in the first 45 minutes, it was a failure to test the Hanley goalkeeper Adam Whitehouse - a point underlined by two high and wide 20-yard free-kicks, from James Hooper with his left foot and Joe Lynch with his right. 


The hosts had been without their top scorer Ryan Brooke from the 30th minute, an awkward landing in the Hanley area prompting his substitution by Molloy.


The third quarter was much more even than the first two with Hanley growing as an attacking force. 


There was a warning shot as Jacob Twyford burst into the clear but Kay put himself in the line of fire to deflect the ball away.


The Linnets defender had earlier been cautioned, "taking one for the team" in stopping another threatening raid by the Potteries visitors.


He would be joined in the book by Saxon, presumably for voicing displeasure at a refereeing decision.


Hanley's increased adventure was rewarded in the 66th minute from another counter attack, with the game becoming stretched. 


Tyrone Ofori's raking shot was steered into the corner to Bayleigh Passant's left.


Runcorn resumed the pressure they had exerted for long periods.


Molloy's header was tipped over spectacularly by the underworked Whitehouse and Barratt's goalbound shot kept out by a defender on the line - a fate suffered by Hooper with an effort before the break. 


Apart from backtracking Barratt's last-ditch clearance at the foot of a post to keep Linnets afloat,  the final stages were all about Hanley survival as they retreated into well-rehearsed defensive positions to again frustrate the hosts. 


Luke Walsh, having caught the eye with his skill, showed his streetwise side in picking up a late booking for a cynical challenge, kicking out from behind, to prevent Runcorn breaking from their own half. But Kay's chalked-off 'goal' had by then  summed up Runcorn's misfortune.


Although they will feel short-changed for their efforts over 90-plus minutes, it was hard to begrudge Hanley their victory. 


In a classic backs-to-the-wall away performance, they had stuck rigidly to a defensive game plan and executed a smash and grab to perfection when the opportunity arose. 


Defeats for three of the five clubs above them before kick-off were scant consolation for Runcorn, who dropped two places to eighth in the table.


Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barratt, James Short (Eden Gumbs, 69 mins), Jacques Welsh, Peter Wylie, Antony Kay, Will Saxon, Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke (Olly Molloy, 30 mins), Lewis Doyle (Adam Moseley, 70 mins), James Hooper. Subs (not used): Josh Roberts (GK), Sean O'Mahony. 


Attendance: 502.


Photo:


Jacques Welsh and Antony Kay (No.6) are up for the challenge in the Hanley penalty area but Kay's opposite number James Askey heads clear. (Picture by Neil Thornton).


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