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Match Report - Runcorn Linnets 1 Newcastle Town 1

By David 'Bill' Davies Linnets hosted Newcastle Town in pursuit of a third straight victory in eight days, having added an Emirates FA Cup win over Stalybridge Celtic to their 3-2 triumph at City of Liverpool in Pitching In Northern Premier League West. The visitors had journeyed north from Staffordshire in search of a first positive result of the season, after two opening league defeats and a 1-5 reverse at Rugby Town in the FA Cup. Billy Paynter’s selection options remained restricted. Ryan Brooke, Sam Barrett and Levi Chiduku were all still sidelined by early-season injuries, and Joe Lynch was on the bench and never likely to be risked with a hamstring niggle picked up in the FA Cup win. That made way for a first start in midfield by Alex Perry. Harry Hagan was unavailable, so Peter Wylie returned to the starting line-up at right-back. Newcastle made a positive start, winning the game’s first corner when Sean O’Mahony and Bayleigh Passant failed to communicate on the edge of the area, and almost let in Jack Van Der Laan. The resulting corner was headed clear by captain James Short, who was making his 102nd appearance for Linnets, and received a ‘century’ presentation before kick-off. Shorty also prevented Van Der Laan from shooting soon afterwards, when he made it into the area after Peter Wylie had lost his footing. Sean O’Mahony was also called upon to work hard as Town No.9 Maxwell Chimenes provided a strong physical presence through the middle. A needless handball by Lewis Holdham gave Linnets their first attacking opportunity, but the free-kick ran into touch before Eden Gumbs could catch it. Eden did deliver the first Runcorn cross of the night in the 13th minute, from a great Antony Kay diagonal ball ahead of him, but the Newcastle defence swept up, as they were to do with a frequency that would annoy Linnets fans all evening. Sean O’Mahony perhaps sensed that it was going to be a frustrating night for his team in the opposition half, and decided to by-pass it. All of the Linnets back four took part in a string of square passes, ten yards inside their own half, and when Sean spotted that Town ’keeper James McClenaghan was 15 yards off his line, he channelled his inner Xabi Alonso, and launched a goal-seeking missile from 60 yards. From my elevated position above the halfway line, there was never any doubt that he had set the coordinates perfectly, and the next touch of the ball was McClenaghan’s, as he picked it out of the net. The spectacular opener would surely provide a platform for Linnets to build upon, and seize control of the game. But despite dominating possession and mounting numerous attacks for the remaining half-hour up to the break, they were never to seriously threaten the Forest End net again. They did look confident in possession after going ahead, and swift passing moves repeatedly took Runcorn as far as the Newcastle third, and into the area, but didn’t result in many worries for McClenaghan. Will Saxon’s abilities are well known in Staffordshire, and Town knew they would have to work hard to limit time and space for the Runcorn wide man to create and exploit chances. He managed three attempts at goal over the next 15 minutes, but all were off-target, not due to poor aim, but because the Newcastle defence kept their lines well covered, and denied Will the luxury of a sizable target. Jacques Welsh, Kenny Brown, Eden Gumbs and Lewis Doyle also found positions to seek out a path to goal, based on passing moves among themselves, and Saxon. But they were also denied easy access to the target, by very well- organised and industrious defending. Joseph Hurst, Joshua Jordan, Oliver Ritchie and Jack Van Der Laan’s brother Tommy, all combined to keep their No.1 McClenaghan far less busy than he might have been in the face of such consistent Runcorn pressure. The visitors’ efforts to get forward were fewer, and were concentrated far more on long aerial balls out to either wing. Any efforts to progress on the ground were failing to get the better of Doyle, and Runcorn’s own brothers-in-arms, Welsh and Perry. At the same time, the central defensive partnership of Antony Kay and Sean O’Mahony was beginning to gel nicely, in its fourth competitive outing. They combined to limit the attacking threat of Chimenes, Holdham and Jack Van Der Laan, and Newcastle balls into the Runcorn area were of a distance that enabled Bayleigh Passant to catch or punch clear without the need for acrobatics. Newcastle’s best chance so far came just before the half-hour mark. A 35-yard free-kick by Kyle Stubbs deflected off the Runcorn defensive wall for a corner, and when that was headed away by O’Mahony, an on-target volley from outside the area was inadvertently blocked by Lewis Holdham, luckily for the home defence. Newcastle enjoyed their own moment of good fortune a couple of minutes later, when Kenny Brown won a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the opposition half, and played a great ball ahead of Peter Wylie’s run up the right. His cross found the six-yard box, where Lewis Doyle attempted a backheel into the net. McClenaghan and Jordan conspired more through luck than management to get in the way. Linnets fans were busy discussing the fact that their team should have been ahead by more than a single goal at the break, when they were denied even that advantage. Into first-half added time, a cleared Linnets free-kick set Holdham away up the left, where Peter Wylie intervened to concede a corner. James Short leapt to meet the ball into the box, but connected with a raised hand rather than his head. Referee Kevan Hurn’s point to the spot was simultaneous with Newcastle appeals for handball, and while Bayleigh Passant’s dive almost reached Jack Van Der Laan’s penalty, the kick was placed precisely into the bottom right corner. Newcastle manager Paul Moore must have been as convinced as the Linnets fans that the home side might have turned first-half domination into a comfortable lead, and from the restart, there was a visible increase in urgency and steel to the Town performance, which ultimately left the hosts having to be satisfied with a single point. For his part, Billy Paynter decided that a greater measure of punch up front was required, and he withdrew the midfield presence of Alex Perry in favour of attacking target man Harvey Sample. Newcastle rang a contrasting change, replacing centre-forward Chimenes with Patryk Mazurkiewicz. Linnets mounted the first attack of the second half, with McClenaghan getting behind Sean O’Mahony’s header from a 35-yard James Short free-kick. Lewis Doyle saw the night’s first yellow card, for impeding the ’keeper as he tried to clear quickly. A more frantic pace from both sides made it scrappier than it had been earlier, and Runcorn advances were reaching the Town area less frequently. Kenny Brown shot from well beyond 18 yards, and cleared the bar by inches. Newcastle were getting forward more frequently, but chiefly via long balls from the back, and composure was required from the home defence. The back four provided it, with Antony Kay applying his wealth of EFL experience in delivering his most commanding performance so far in a Linnets shirt. Hard work up the left between Short, Gumbs, Saxon and Doyle was met by equal determination from the opposition, and Kenny Brown was martialled closely on the other flank, to limit his opportunities to cut inside on to his preferred left foot. The second half unfolded as a battle of attrition, with neither side able to construct anything that would trouble the highlights editors on Match of the Day. It was of credit to both sides, though, that the referee wasn’t called upon to apply many disciplinary measures. The Murdishaw Massive were moved to celebration as Brown hit the net from Wylie’s pass, but it had been rippled from the outside of the right post. McClenaghan was called upon to make a great point-blank save when Eden Gumbs looked sure to score from inside the six-yard box. Jack Van Der Laan gave way to Daniel Edwards with 20 minutes remaining. In the 73rd minute, Linnets appeared to have a strong claim for a penalty. A one-two between Saxon and Gumbs covered 40 yards, and as Will crossed the 18-yard line he was brought down from behind. The contact made with the ball by Jordan satisfied Mr Hurn that a corner was the appropriate call. Lewis Doyle aimed for the top right corner with a 25-yard free-kick, but lofted the shot six feet higher. Eden Gumbs made way for Adam Moseley with 13 minutes to go, just after he had carved out another opportunity from within six yards, but McClenaghan made another great blocking save. Louis Lake took over from Lewis Holdham for Newcastle. Linnets won a flurry of throw-ins on the right from the efforts of Wylie and Brown, and corners from both sides, but Town continued to keep the doors bolted. Lewis Doyle did find the net on 82 minutes, off the underside of the bar, but the ball had been handled before he struck. Adam Moseley made a great solo run over 25 yards to reach the area, but the fourth defender he encountered proved one too many. The closest call for a while at the other end was something of a let off for Runcorn, when Callum Speed fired high and wide, rushing his shot when he could have taken more time to test Passant. Five minutes were added, and while neither side was prepared to sit back and settle for a point, there were few further chances created. Lewis Doyle went flying from a challenge inside the area, but again a corner was the outcome.That was cleared, as a prelude to the final whistle. Honours shared was about right for the second half, but Linnets will have felt they really should have been ahead at half-time. Runcorn’s league record so far is the epitome of ‘middling’, with a win, a draw and a defeat from their first three games, and a zero goal difference. They face an exacting challenge to improve it, on Saturday 26th August, with a trip to Kidsgrove to face early league leaders Athletic, who have a maximum nine points from their first three outings. Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Peter Wylie, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Sean O’Mahony, Antony Kay, Will Saxon, Alex Perry (Harvey Sample 45), Eden Gumbs (Adam Moseley 77), Lewis Doyle, Kenny Brown. Substitutes not used: Joe Lynch, Josh Roberts (GK), Che Trapasso. Attendance: 569

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