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Match report - Runcorn Linnets 2 Avro 1

By Dave Bettley

Runcorn Linnets were the big winners as the only top-five team - apart from champions elect Leek Town - to bag three points in what could yet be a pivotal Saturday in the Pitching In Northern Premier League West promotion chase.

Victory was badly needed after two straight defeats for the Yellow & Greens and it carried the bonus of a return to second place in the table.

Opponents Avro were every bit as difficult to shrug off as Linnets had expected.

But Sean O'Mahony's successful penalty kick midway through the second half propelled Billy Paynter's side to their second victory of the season over the Oldham-based outfit. Both have been by the odd goal in three.

This win came at something of a cost, however, as Graeme Kearney recorded the names of six Runcorn players to Avro's one in a perplexing refereeing performance.

Ryan Brooke and Olly Molloy were both booked for no apparent reason.

The latter had committed an innocuous foul, worthy of nothing more than a free-kick, late in the game when he found himself being kicked by Avro's Bebeto Gomes while on the floor.

The only action taken by the referee was to show a yellow card to the Runcorn man for "adopting an aggressive attitude".

In the first half, Antony Kay looked to have been caught by a stray elbow from Karl Hawley.

But the visiting centre foward escaped without even a warning, after the shortest of consultations between the referee and one of his assistants.

The officials left the field at the final whistle to a chorus of boos, Linnets fans at the Clubhouse End having already applauded off the away team.

There would be a bigger ovation for the Runcorn players, who had fought hard for three precious points.

Home manager Paynter made two changes to his XI after defeat last time out at home to Bootle. However, these were accompanied by positional switches.

Eden Gumbs and Brooke were the incoming players and both played significant parts in the win.

It was a first league start since November 4th for Brooke, who had been restricted by injuries and the form of top-scoring Molloy to bench duty and starts in two County Cup ties.

Brooke repaid his manager handsomely with a morale-boosting opening goal yet got little change from Mr Kearney.

The referee in the first half cautioned Brooke after he had been bundled over from behind - being penalised for handball when landing - and then ignored him completely as the striker was left in another heap by a challenge.

Fortunately, Avro players alerted the man in the middle that the striker was injured and treatment was required as a matter of urgency.

Brooke's earlier deadlock-breaking strike had come from a dangerous low, right-wing cross from Kieran Knapper, which Avro had failed to clear.

The ball broke free for the seasoned striker to pounce left-footed at the near post for his eighth of the campaign in the 19th minute.

Runcorn would on the balance of play been value for an interval lead but with virtually the last kick of the half, their good work was undone by an Avro leveller.

The visitors' first serious assault on the Runcorn goal two minutes into stoppage time ended with Ethan Kershaw slotting home.

After a surging run into the box, Beneto Gomes had cut the ball back from close to the deadball line for Kershaw to round off the move.

Paynter at half-time withdrew Will Saxon, another Runcorn player to have been left aggrieved by refereeing decisions.

He had also been taken out by a robust challenge, only for Mr Kearney to play on, and was cautioned for showing displeasure at similar lack of action from the referee when Brooke was down injured and requiring attention.

A subsequent warning for Saxon, after a foul which had Avro players requesting his dismissal, left the player walking a tightrope.

Molloy was introduced to form a two-pronged attack with Brooke. But the equalising goal had given Avro greater attacking impetus and it took a further substitution to turn the contest back in favour of the hosts.

Adam Moseley, replacing Brooke,  redoubled Runcorn's efforts on the right and with Knapper switching to the left, the busy Eden Gumbs moved inside to influence the game from the No.10 position.

Moseley's introduction bore fruit within four minutes.

In the 66th, he was tripped by Kane Wallwork, after dribbling into penalty area from the right.

The referee gave himself thinking time before pointing to the spot.

Unusually, centre back O'Mahony stepped up to take the penalty, dispatching it confidently to Grant Shenton's left with the goalkeeper  going the opposite way.

It was still no cakewalk for Linnets. An incisive through ball by Avro substitute Max Harrop sent Hawley the wrong side of O'Mahony but the resulting shot was blocked superbly by 'keeper Passant as he advanced to narrow the angle.

Knapper, still searching for his first Runcorn goal, fired into the side netting from the left, after being released by Gumbs.

Jacques Welsh, who had gone close from 30 yards with the game still goalless, made a brilliant tackle inside his own penalty area to thwart another Avro raid.

At the other end, only an interception by Cheikh Thiam prevented Moseley from setting up a possible Runcorn third for Molloy.

It was nearly at the expense of an own goal as his clearance whistled narrowly wide for a corner.

But Runcorn had done enough to merit the win, although in the words of boss Paynter "it wasn't pretty."

Next up for Linnets is a testing trip on Saturday to Clitheroe, who maintained their play-off push with an impressive win at fellow challengers Bootle.

Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Peter Wylie, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Sean O'Mahony, Antony Kay, Kieran Knapper, Lewis Doyle, Ryan Brooke (Adam Moseley, 62 mins), Will Saxon (Olly Molloy, 46 mins), Eden Gumbs (Eric Byrne, 79 mins). Subs (not used): Sam Barratt, Mackenzie O'Neill.

Attendance: 609.

Match photos by Neil Thornton and Charlie Buckley.

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