Suffering three home defeats on the trot is hardly a welcome way of bringing in the New Year for the Rams. The reality on this occasion though was that the team kept trying their hardest until sunk by two goals in the last four minutes.
Much as the home team set out to take the game to opponents who are currently flying high in the league table, it was the visitors who imposed themselves on the game after snatching an eighth-minute lead with a clinical finish from striker Ryan Brooke. Not allowing themselves to be dispirited, the Rams fought back quickly. From an in-swinging corner delivered by Tom Kennedy, the Runcorn keeper could only parry the ball out in the direction of John Murphy who made no mistake from close-in to equalise after 18 minutes.
From this point on until half-time, Runcorn pressed forward in an effort to restore their lead. The home defence largely held firm. A crisis though came when central defender Michael Fitzgerald was adjudged to have fouled an opponent in the box. From the resultant spot-kick, Tom Stewart saved although it meant palming the ball back into play. Somehow, Stewart made it a miraculous double-save, smothering the follow-up. Although there were many Runcorn players arguing the ball had crossed the line along the way, the referee wasn’t convinced and waved play on. This was the nearest the visitors would come to restoring their lead before the half-time whistle was blown, leaving the score level at the break at 1-1.
If anything, the tempo of the game raised itself in the second half. Certainly, there was no feeling that, as in so many matches this season, the Rams dropped down a gear or two.
As the play swung entertainingly from end to end, a defining moment came when the Rams were awarded a penalty themselves midway through the half after Collinge had been tripped on the edge of the area. Unfortunately though, Domaine Rouse’s spot-kick went wide of a post and Runcorn were let off the hook.
To the Rams’ credit, they kept going and still remained very much in the game at this point, even if Tom Stewart had always to be on his best form, pulling off a string of fine saves. Despite his penalty miss, Domaine Rouse committed himself whole-heartedly in midfield, running box-to-box.
One factor which worked in the visitors’ favour, the longer the game went on, was the injection of pace into their game from bringing on substitutes Olarewaju and Murray after 61 minutes. Operating down the left and right wings respectively, the penetrating runs from Olarewaju in particular put increasing pressure on the Rams’ defence. The two home team substitutions, made ten minutes later, were not to have the same effect.
With the match remaining on a knife-edge though until the final five minutes, it was Runcorn who were to tip the balance decisively their way when influential midfielder Joe Lynch broke forward and made it 2-1 after 86 minutes. Despite the Rams seeking to make a come-back, a third Runcorn goal after 90 minutes from sub Iwan Murray ultimately clinched the game the visitors’ way.
Yet another defeat was a poor reward for the overall effort put into the game by the players. Even if a certain lack of tactical awareness continues to let the team down at critical points in matches, the spirit is still there to plug on in the hope of returning to winning ways.
RAMSBOTTOM: Stewart, Collinge, Kennedy (c), Fitzgerald, Wyatt (Barlow 89), Grimshaw, Flemming (Cooper 71), Rother, Murphy, Rouse, Hartley (May 71).
Subs not used: Abadaki, Graham.