The Northern Premier League

14th January 2023, Hanley Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-2

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

As Linnets travelled to Potteries Park to improve on a run of poor recent league form, the question was 'can they do it on a cold Saturday afternoon in Stoke?'

In the event, they had to be satisfied to share the points with Hanley Town, as they had at the APEC Taxis Stadium back in August, in their only goalless draw of the season so far.

But despite dominating possession for most of the game, the result felt like a point gained rather than two dropped, after a Runcorn fightback from going 2-0 down just after half-time.

The matchday squad was shrunk to just 14, with only two outfield players on the bench.

Malick Diakite and Eden Gumbs were both missing through illness.

They had been Linnets' best two performers in the midweek Cheshire Senior Cup victory over Winsford, with Malick's two goals edging the man of the match award from Eden.

After yet more torrential rain, the Potteries Park pitch looked bumpy and muddy, but it held up well under a fast-moving and hard-fought game.

Linnets took the game to Hanley early on, but passing exchanges were falling down due to shaky final balls. A first Linnets attempt on goal, on five minutes, was fired high by Jamie Rainford, as he back-pedalled to meet Ryan Brooke's forward pass, in an effort to remain onside.

After eight minutes, Linnets were caught on the break, as they have been too often of late. Kieran Brown picked up a stray pass by Tom Moore, and found right-back Reece Jones on the right.

His ball into the area was met by Theo Stair, who was allowed ample space to bypass Danny Taberner and put the hosts ahead.

Linnets tried to hit back with attacks up both wings by James Short and Ally Brown, but the only return was a corner that was cleared away from the near post.

Hanley returned in kind, and Danny Taberner had to punch a 25-yard free-kick over the bar. Tom Moore headed off the line from the corner.

Sidi Sanogo was fouled just inside the Hanley half, and the free-kick was headed on target by Sam Heathcote, but blocked. Sam's shot from the rebound was held by 'keeper Kieran Harrison.

Runcorn were gaining growing amounts of possession, but without much threat to the Hanley goal.

Ally Brown's shot from Matty Birchall's through ball was deflected, and Lewis Doyle's follow-up shot deflected again, for a corner. That was headed away by Kieran Brown.

Birchall was positioning himself to run on to balls ahead of him in the area, but several of them ran too long.

Hanley were seeing less of the ball and creating fewer attacks than Runcorn, but they looked dangerous on the break, and Linnets continued to allow them too much space when they did reach the away third of the pitch.

Ten minutes before half time, Stair had the ball in the net again, but he was judged to have been offside as he ran away from O'Mahony and Heathcote to finish past Tabs.

A couple of minutes later, Linnets had their best chance of the half. The travelling fans thought that either Brooke or Rainford must score, as Short's cross reached them at the near post, but Harrison and Chale did enough to put them off their stride.

They kept up the pressure, and Jamie Rainford juggled the ball in the area to keep it from two defenders, and pulled it back to Ally Brown. He might have attempted a shot, but instead knocked a through ball for Ryan Brooke to backheel into the net when Brooky was clearly in an offside position.

Sidi Sanogo received a pass from Tom Moore and forced Alex Morris to concede a corner. That was met by the head of Sam Heathcote, and when the ball fell to Rainford inside the left corner of the six-yard box, he hit a fierce shot which Harrison did very well to save.

Linnets went in at half-time 1-0 down, but they had been largely in the ascendancy since going behind. The Runcorn share of a modest crowd of 226 felt that their team would turn the game around if they kept up their work rate in possession, and improved on the final ball, to create more chances.

They did go on to look more assured on the ball throughout the second half, but less than two minutes after it began, they were 2-0 down.

Caught out from a loose pass in the centre circle, they allowed Eden Bailey to sprint away into the Runcorn area.

Tabs did his best to shepherd the run away from goal, but Bailey made enough space to slip the ball past him, to score his first goal in Hanley Town blue.

Massed groans from the Linnets faithful behind the other goal anticipated another disappointing result from a game where they really should have been on top. But they were ready to offer loud encouragement as their team showed resolve and determination to turn things around.

It took them just four minutes to halve the deficit.

Kyle Blake received a yellow card for a chop on Sidi Sanogo after he had won the ball in a 50/50 challenge. The free-kick bisected the Hanley area, but Tom Moore's header into the six-yard box was not destined for anyone in an orange Linnets away shirt, when Kieran Brown slammed the ball into his own net, in a way that was worthy of a man with the number 9 on his back.

Just after the resart, All Brown was cautioned for a heavy challenge on Charlie Walford. Another free-kick, for another foul on Sidi, was headed away by Chale before Rainford could connect.

A flurry of substitutions followed. Dapo Olarewaju replaced Sean O'Mahony, with Tom Moore dropping back from midfield into the centre of defence, and Hanley withdrew Stair and Walford in favour of Tim Sanders and Jake Avery.

The remaining half-hour was taken up mostly by Runcorn attacking efforts, with their fans urging passing to feet, as possession rather than longer balls forward had caused more problems for the Hanley defence.

But Town responses on the break continued to cause concern.

Lewis Doyle found Dapo Olarewaju wide on the right. His cross was cleared, but blocked at close quarters by Ally Brown, his raised elbow giving Hanley a free-kick for handball.

Linnets possession continued, and a prolonged passing move from the right flank to the left involved almost everyone in orange.

It ended when Harrison rose to grab James Short's cross into the area.

With 20 minutes remaining, another string of eight or nine uninterrupted Linnets touches led to the equaliser.

Dapo kept a loose ball in at the right touchline, and a string of passesd across the width of the pitch reached Shorty, who found Birchall ahead of him.

The ball rebounded from Matty's heel, back to Short, whose cross was controlled in the area by Jamie Rainford.

He passed to Ryan Brooke, who shot across goal. Dapo tried a return shot from an impossible angle beyond the right post, which stayed in play, but Linnets fans' groans turned to cheers, when Brooky was first to the ball again at the left post, and calmly placed it past Harrison into the net.

All in the Hanley camp must have been disappointed that the ball had spent so long traversing their area without a man in blue threatening any contact with it.

Runcorn tails were up, and a winning turnaround was in the air.

A throw-in on the left led to a corner, which was cleared, and Sidi Sanogo was cautioned for a tackle which regained possession.

Ryan Brooke headed on a clearance from the Runcorn area, for Jamie Rainford to find Dapo on the right.

His burst into the area was interrupted by Morris' sliding interception, which somehow earned a goal-kick rather than a corner.

A Ryan Brooke run into the left side of the area won a corner. It was headed away, then back in by Tom Moore, but that was held by Harrison.

The first Hanley attack in a while, after a free-kick for a trip outside the area, was foiled by a great close-range save by Taberner. The resulting corner was cleared by Heathcote.

A swift Runcorn attack up the right saw Dapo cut inside again, and he crossed to the edge of the area. Jamie Rainford's powerful shot was well away from Harrison, but Reece Jones did well to intercept it six yards from goal.

Rainford and Brooke combined to keep the ball just inside the area, and from a defensive boot it ran loose to Olarewaju. He cut inside from the goal line and pulled it back through the penalty area, where Lewis Doyle shot a yard wide of the left post.

The referee added five minutes, and it seemed that that should be enough for Linnets to grab the points, based on the pressure they had exerted in the latter stages.

Matty Birchall twisted and turned inside the left side of the area, probing for an avenue to goal. Massed defence prevented him from finding a teammate in the middle, and he hooked a shot wide of the near post.

A Hanley break won a corner, which was scrambled away, and the final chance of the game fell to Dapo Olarewaju, who had contributed greatly to the Runcorn revival.

He ran thirty yards in possession up the right wing, and evaded three challenges as he turned infield before shooting from the penalty arc. The ball dipped a foot over the bar, and seconds later the final whistle signalled a point apiece.

Linnets' second-half possession and attacking enterprise was worthy of a victory. The elephant in the room was that the consistently assured defending of the first four months of the season, if applied here, would surely have ensured all three points.

The quest for a first league victory in six attempts will move on to Bootle's Berry Street Garage Stadium on Saturday 21st January.

Runcorn Linnets:Danny Taberner, Ally Brown, James Short, Tom Moore, Sean O'Mahony (Dapo Olarewaju 61), Sam Heathcote, Lewis Doyle, Sidi Sanogo Fofana, Jamie Rainford, Matty Birchall, Ryan Brooke. Subs not used: Adam Moseley, Josh Roberts (GK).

Attendance: 226.

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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