Runcorn Linnets 5-2 AFC Liverpool

AFC Liverpool came away from the Millbank Stadium with nothing to show for their efforts after a second half resurgence from a talented Runcorn Linnets side.

From kick off, the home side looked to claim an early goal and there was a goalmouth scramble as early as the 3rd minute that was claimed by Dominic Garner, and the AFC keeper made his first save of the evening 2 minutes later.

As the Linnets looked to push forward, AFC Liverpool were having some success on the counter attack, as captain Michael Boyle slotted through to Calum Woods, who laid the ball off to Joe Whittington who drew a foul. Kevin Edgar stepped up to take the kick and tested Terrence Smith in the Runcorn goal.

In the eighth minute, the home side had a free kick of their own via Kyle Hamid that was swung into a dangerous area, but the flag went up for a foul on Chris Anderson and the Reds were able to clear.

At the 15 minute mark, the hosts conceded a corner under pressure from Edgar. Adam Weston crossed the ball which was initially cleared, but was picked up by a red shirt. The yellows continually attempted to clear, but Woods and Boyle were always there to claim any clearance. Eventually a lofted ball went through to George Lomax who got in front of his marker and wrong-footed Smith with a flicked header that nestled in the bottom corner, and AFC had the lead.

The Yellows immediately pushed for an equaliser but a tame shot was easily claimed by Garner, and AFC went down the other end seeking to extend their lead. Lomax nearly created another shooting opportunity but a last ditch tackle took the ball from his feet. When the clearance was handled by a Linnets player. Adam Weston stepped up to take the free kick which stung the palms of Smith and triggered a goalmouth scramble, which ended with Boyle firing just over the bar.

Lomax continued to cause problems for the Runcorn defence, and in the 21st minute he got goalside of both defender and keeper, and was brought down by Smith. A yellow card for the keeper and a penalty to the Reds. Adam Weston stepped up and calmly fired the ball into the back of the net to give AFC a two goal advantage.

Again, the home side regrouped and began to make use of the wide areas, retaining possession. In the 27th minute Mark Houghton was felled in the area, and the referee pointed to the spot. Stuart Wellstead took the penalty but Dom Garner went the right way and made an excellent save.

Only 4 minutes later however, the referee awarded another penalty somewhat harshly as Allen Weston was deemed to have committed a foul in what seemed to be a 50/50 chase for the ball at the edge of the area, travelling away from goal. Wellstead stepped up once again, and this time he put the ball beyond Garner to make it 1-2.

The yellows had their tails up, and earned a series of corners and free kicks as they pushed for the equaliser, with Garner making a good save from a curling Hamid shot from distance, then saving a snap shot as AFC lost possession in front of goal.

On 40 minutes, a cynical foul on Lomax who was through on goal, led to another Edgar free kick which rattled the bar, but the rebound struck Allen Weston on the thigh and the ball went out of play.  The Reds were still pushing forward with Edgar putting Boyle through, but the shot didn’t quite have the power to beat Smith.

With 46 minutes on the clock, AFC were sucker punched as Paul Shanley retrieved a ball at the corner flag that many had assumed was heading out of play. He whipped in a superb cross to the near post where Mark Houghton had made the run behind the AFC defence and he slotted home a superb goal to equalise on the stroke of half-time.

The home side began the second half with similar determination, with Paul Shanley finding success down the left flank. On 52 minutes, he combined with Matthew Atherton on the overlap, who then dispossessed Deklan Hill and squared the ball. Rory Fallon was in the right place and opened up his body to pass the ball across the advancing Garner, placing the ball into the bottom right corner, and Linnets had the lead for the first time. 3-2.

A dogged display by both teams in the centre of the park was only marred by a disparity in some of the refereeing decisions. In the first half, tough challenges from both teams had been let go, but now every tackle seemed to be accompanied by a whistle, breaking up the flow of the game. There could be no argument in the 59th minute however, as Allen Weston brought down a rampant Shanley. Wellstead stepped up once again for the penalty and beat Garner to make it 4-2.

Michael Boyle was replaced by Danny Boden following the goal and although the Reds didn’t let their heads go down, the home side now had confidence in abundance roared on by the crowd. Shanley hit the post and forced Garner to save with his feet, while at the other end Edgar sent in a curling long-range strike that brought a fingertip save from Smith to push it around the post.

With 20 minutes left, the Reds began to get more midfield possession, looking to release Boden, but their frustration was clear when a cynical challenge on the Reds forward went unpunished and inexplicably led to a Yellows throw-in.

With 13 minutes left, Chris Stammers made a double substitution, Kevin Edgar and Joe Whittington departing to be replaced by Oscar Billington and Jamie Heron.

In the 80th minute Heron was fouled, but no whistle came, and when Runcorn took the ball over the halfway line, the first challenge led to a free kick. A crossfield ball found Shanley on the left edge of the area and he let loose a superb strike that looped perfectly over Garner into the opposite top corner, which might be a goal of the season contender if you discount the player’s later twitter admission that he mis-hit an intended cross! Either way it looked spectacular. 5-2 to the hosts.

The final ten minutes saw chances at both ends, with AFC somehow failing to score into an open net in a goalmouth scramble, hitting one of their own players and then the post, and a couple of late attempts from Lomax were also dealt with by Smith.. Former Linnets man Jack Fleming then turned a Shanley shot on to the post at the other end.

The 5-2 scoreline may have flattered the hosts somewhat, getting the rub of the green on some decisions, but likewise the Reds did not help themselves in conceding three penalties in one game bringing their undefeated run of league games to an end. Runcorn were certainly very strong in the second half with Shanley putting in a man-of-the match performance, but it never felt as if AFC Liverpool were not competitive during the game – they were just worn down by attrition with each goal as the second half progressed.

Teams to follow

Attendance 312

Photo by James Eastup

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