The Northern Premier League

7th January 2023, Runcorn Linnets FC v Mossley AFC : 1-2 Sponsored by Webbs Builders Merchant

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

Following a return of just one point from three festive season fixtures against opposition from the bottom half of the Pitching In NPL West table, Linnets were looking to resume their impressive track record against the league's higher- placed sides.

For their part, fifth-placed Mossley came to APEC Taxis Stadium aiming to complete a double over the side immediately above them, having secured the points from Runcorn in their first home game of the season, the only goal coming from the penalty spot, nine minutes from time.

There wasn't a great deal between the teams in this second meeting, but Mossley took all three points again, with a goal in each half, either side of Ryan Brooke's equaliser.

Based on the number of chances created, the visitors were worth their victory.

Linnets started the game quick into the challenge and in pursuit of loose balls, which had been a feature of their play a little lacking in recent games.

A third new signing in just over a week was Matty Birchall, a prolific striker with Northwich Victoria this season, and he came straight into the team to supplement the attacking threat of Ryan Brooke and Jamie Rainford.

They both chased a Birchall ball into the area in pursuit of the game's first chance, but were denied by an offside flag.

Mossley's first chance came in the seventh minute, from a soft free-kick awarded five yards inside the Runcorn half. Josh Dickin's header demanded a smart tip over the bar from Danny Taberner.

Attempts to open up either defence from wide were met by stout resistance, and no telling crosses resulted. Brooke and Sanogo waited for one from Rainford after he won the ball on the left in the 15th minute, but Jamie opted to shoot low across goal, drawing a good save from Thomas Watson. Sean O'Mahony headed the resulting corner just wide of the right post.

Rainford, Brooke and Sanogo all tried to find space for a shot from another Birchall ball into the area, but it was cleared as far as Ally Brown. His shot was met by optimistic shouts for a penalty for handball, but to no avail.

Linnets were maintaining attacking pressure, without a telling breakthrough, and for a while, Mossley clearances were purely defensive rather than creative. But on 25 minutes, Jack Bannister broke away into the Runcorn area and went down from Tom Moore's tackle. The referee waved away penalty appeals, but as pundits like to say, we've seen them given.

Another Matty Birchall chip into the area bounced awkwardly for Brooky at the left edge of the six-yard box, preventing him from connecting with either head or foot.

On 30 minutes, out of next to nothing, a flick forward from the halfway line was headed on by Andy Keogh to the edge of the Linnets area. Mason Fawns wasn't spoiled for space, but he hit a first-time shot that sailed beyond the grasp of Taberner and into the left corner of the net.

Linnets set out to reply quickly, and when Sidi Sanogo surged into the Mossley half, with options taking shape on either side, he was tripped from behind, and not for the first time in similar circumstances. It earned Josh Dickin the day's first yellow card.

The free-kick found the head of Ryan Brooke, but Watson held on to it before Tom Moore could follow up.

Mossley were given an excellent chance from a ridiculous free-kick. Tom Moore won a header from Watson's clearance into the Linnets half, but he was penalised for supposedly fouling Kane Hickman, who had made no attempt to challenge for the ball.

The free-kick reached Bailey Marsden, who turned and broke into the area, demanding a brave Taberner save at his feet.

Neither side was stringing many passes together, and attacks both ways were based on long balls forward. There was frustration for the home fans because neither Brown nor Short were having much opportunity to attack up the wings, and early promise in passing moves between Birchall, Rainford and Brooke was not being maintained.

Another 35-yard Runcorn free-kick, from yet another trip on a Sidi run into the Mossley half, failed to find a telling connection in the area.

In the dying moments of the first half, Mossley adavanced up the left from the clearance.

Eden Gumbs won a 50/50 challenge with an on-the-ball shoulder charge, but referee Daniel Bruce appeared to have missed the memo that football is still a contact sport, and awarded Mossley another free-kick.

Fawns curled it through the area, and Mr Bruce was spared the vocal ire of the home fans at the imminent half-time whistle, when the effort narrowly cleared the far post.

There was little or nothing in it, save for that 30th minute Fawns goal. But half-time conversation among the lion's share of the 626 attending, bemoaned the fact that Linnets were stringing together far too few passing moves, or territorial gains in possession.

Runcorn attacking intent shaped the first few minutes of the second half, but it was delayed at some length by an injury to Mossley No.9 Marsden, and he was replaced by Oumar Camara.

When play resumed in the 52nd minute, Ryan Brooke did well to win the ball back from a lost tackle, and passed back for Matty Birchall. He shrugged off three challenges before laying the ball back for Lewis Doyle, whose powerful shot from 20 yards was held at the second attempt by Watson.

When James Short's tackle on Oumar Camara won a Runcorn throw in their own half, Camara earned a yellow card for booting the ball out of the ground.

Linnets hadn't succeeded in breaking down the Mossley rearguard, despite the efforts of Short and Gumbs up the left, Brown and Birchall on the right, and Sanogo and Doyle through the middle. But in the 58th minute, they drew level.

The goal closely resembled Mossley's opener, again coming from next to nothing. Ryan Brooke pounced on a loose ball in the middle of the opposition half, ran a diagonal path past two men to reach the 18-yard line, and from a very similar position to that of Fawns' first-half strike, powered a shot into the far corner. Watson got a hand to it, but had no chance of keeping it out.

Straight after the equaliser, Eden Gumbs gave way to Dapo Olarewaju.

The pacy substitute, who had been repeatedly playing through a lingering ankle injury sustained against Belper Town in October, provided a consistent threat to the Mossley defence for the rest of the afternoon.

But pace was the key at the other end too, as Jack Bannister and Freddie Sass proved hard to catch as they broke away up the left flank.

Sam Heathcote replaced Sidi Sanogo after 64 minutes.

Dickin was illegally all over Brooke as they competed to meet James Short's long clearance. Sean O'Mahony met the free-kick with a bicycle kick from inside the area, but Watson held on to it.

Mossley applied concerted pressure in return, and Sass got away up the left to launch a shot across goal that ran wide, then he and Bannister combined to set up a Fawns shot that forced a great save by Tabs.

Hickman found Bannister with a pass that laid on another shot just wide.

Two corners were cleared under pressure, by O'Mahony and Heathcote, but Mossley kept up the assault.

Keogh reached the left edge of the penalty area in possession, and with defenders reluctant to launch a risky tackle, the Mossley captain twisted and turned, and found room for a cross. There was a crowd of bodies in the six-yard area, but the only contact came from Camara, who rose above the rest and headed into the roof of the net. For five minutes or more, it had been coming.

Vaughn Green came off the bench to replace fellow debutant Birchall, with 15 minutes to make his mark by saving the Runcorn day.

Tom Moore collected the last of the game's three yellow cards for a shirt-pull on Bannister, a dangerous 25 yards from goal. Fawns' kick beat the wall, but flew straight into the arms of Taberner.

Throughout the second half, Linnets had been gaining their fair share of possession, but had struggled to turn it into scoring chances, as they lost it again too quickly.

When they did lose it, it put Mossley back on the front foot, and it meant that the bulk of second-half opportunities fell to the visitors.

Dapo Olarewaju was too lonely a figure going forward. With six minutes remaining, he beat four men, one of them twice, to gain ground to the edge of the Mossley area, but he had outpaced his teammates as well as the opposition, and the threat was averted.

Six minutes were added at the end of the game, the bulk of that resulting from a nasty clash of heads in an aerial challenge between Ryan Brooke and Shane Killock. Both appeared to be out cold, but after lengthy physio attention, Killock was able to continue.

Brooky wasn't, and with all three permitted substitutes on the pitch, Linnets saw out the afternoon with ten men.

There was to be just one more chance for Linnets to grab a point. Vaughn Green beat two men to reach the area, before losing out to a third, and he was fouled after tracking back and regaining the ball 25 yards out. Lewis Doyle ballooned the free-kick over the roof above the Murdishaw Massive.

Mossley ended the game on the attack, which placed them handily at the Forest End to celebrate with the travelling fans behind the goal.

Their manager David Fish was magnanimous afterwards, remarking that his side's third straight victory had been secured in an entertaining and even game, in which a draw might have been a fair result.

He also had praise for the Runcorn fans, who swallowed their disappointment to applaud his team from the pitch. But if either side had deserved all three points, it was his.

Linnets had started December at the top of the NPL West form table, and the quality demonstrated in the first four months of the season was highlighted by the fact that they remain in fourth place, despite three consecutive deteats and just one point from the last 12 available.

Mossley remain fifth, on goal difference, with sixth-placed Clitheroe still seven points behind.

Runcorn had competed with a talented Mossley side more convincingly than in their previous three games, but not with the aplomb that had characterised the preceding four consecutive victories, including those over high flyers Macclesfield and Leek Town.

After a home Cheshire Senior Cup date with Winsford United this Tuesday, it is to be hoped that Hanley Town's Potteries Park will be the scene of a revival in Runcorn league form, on Saturday January 14th.

Runcorn Linnets:Danny Taberner, Ally Brown, James Short, Sidi Sanogo Fofana (Sam Heathcote 64), Sean O'Mahony, Tom Moore, Matty Birchall (Vaughn Green 75), Lewis Doyle, Ryan Brooke, Jamie Rainford, Eden Gumbs (Dapo Olarewaju 58). Subs not used: Josh Roberts, Vaughn Green, Malick Diakite.


NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.

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