By Dave Bettley
In a wide-open division, with all teams appearing capable of beating each other, Runcorn have so far been unable to find the consistency required for a definitive title challenge.
It has invariably been one step forward and the next back.
This was once again the case at APEC Taxis Stadium, where a long-time lead ultimately counted for nothing as Billy Paynter's men tried in vain to build on their dramatic victory at Avro a week earlier.
Two late strikes saw City of Liverpool clinch the spoils and while it was difficult to argue with the result on the overall balance of play, Linnets can point to big decisions going against them.
If the hosts had been somewhat fortunate to lead at the break, luck turned its back on them in the second half.
In his efforts to keep the play flowing, referee Graeme Kearney had been so reluctant to use his whistle in the opening 45 minutes that he let go a succession of fouls by both sides.
It was, therefore, exasperating for Runcorn when, soon after the restart, he decided to award them a free-kick - one they didn't want.
Although Jacques Welsh had been impeded in centrefield, the ref blew up with Lewis Doyle runnimg clean through on goal.
Doyle would have had every chance of extending a lead, which he'd opened seven minutes before half-time.
Linnets had further cause to be unhappy in the 62nd minute as their centre foward Olly Molloy was taken out in a tackle by Purps' centre half Adam Rooney.
Both men needed lengthy treatment as a result.
Mr Kearney, having had plenty of time to deliberate, showed a yellow card to Rooney for his lunge. This outcome wasn't exactly popular with the Linnets faithful, who felt it should have been red.
While almost any form of physical contact had been allowed early in the match, six players were eventually cautioned with one of them being sent off in stoppage time for a second bookable offence.
Former Linnets favourite Michael Simpson (the first of five visiting players to be carded) received a second yellow for speaking out of turn to Mr Kearney.
By then, it was too late for Runcorn. Two goals in the last nine minutes of regular time had handed the Purps the victory their endeavours had deserved.
Their attacks had been the more cohesive and concerted with Linnets 'keeper Bayleigh Passant's goal under the greater threat.
However, it took the visitors until the 81st minute to unlock Runcorn's defence.
A cross-field pass found substitute Xenon Bahula with all the time he needed to run goalwards before drilling a shot into the far corner.
Four minutes later, the Purps' recovery was complete, a third key ruling from the referee having gone against Runcorn.
With Mr Kearney disregardimg a foul in midfield on Will Saxon, CoL capitalised from the resulting attack, which culminated in a cross from the left.
The final touch was officially credited to skipper Danny Mitchley, a successful appeal against dismissal in an Isuzu FA Trophy tie the previous Saturday having enabled him to lead the Liverpudlians' front line.
Mitchley's work with back to goal had prompted many of his side's best attacking moves.
But Linnets' centre back Alex Jones was more likely to have applied the decisive touch inside the six-yard box in his efforts to intercept the ball.
Responsibility for an own goal would, however, have been harsh indeed on Jones, who had done very little, if anything, wrong on his full debut.
Hopes of victory had unravelled on Runcorn, who had long seemed set for three points - courtesy of Doyle's tidy finish from the edge of the area, after a typically marauding run by Saxon.
The surprise was that Doyle had been on the field to convert after fears that he could be out for a few weeks.
He had, however, been declared fit to play after a reassessment of the injury aggravated at Avro.
The latest prognosis is back, rather than hamstring, trouble, Linnets having been able to work on the problem in the build-up to Saturday's game.
Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barratt, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Peter Wylie, Alex Jones, Will Saxon, Joe Lynch, Olly Molloy, Lewis Doyle (Cameron Rooney, 56 mins), James Hooper (Eden Gumbs, 55 mins). Subs not used: Adam Mosrley, Mwiya Malumo.
Lewis Doyle scored the opener for Linnets against City of Liverpool. (Picture courtesy of Neil Thornton).