CHESHIRE Women's League title holders Linnets Ladies were pegged back at the death by champions elect, Crewe Alexandra Ladies in a pulsating clash.

This was a result the home side will come to rue, after leading 2-0 at the break and missing several more first-half chances.

A win would have lifted Runcorn to third place in the table, above this coming Sunday's League Challenge Cup semi-final opponents, Witton Albion with a game still in hand.

The home side started brightly, a good move involving Beth Coppin and Chelsea Gillies showed the Linnets' intent as early as the second minute but Gillies' shot went narrowly wide.

The combination of Coppin and Kim Roberts, down the left, was particularly effective as the Linnets made in-roads on the Crewe defensive line.

Runcorn took the lead on 18 minutes when their player of the game, Becky Barker tenaciously won the ball in midfield and fed in Tempany Carlson for the wide player's eighth goal of the season.

Jo Finnegan and Mandy Kennedy, equally determined in the tackle, broke up the opposition play before the persistent Coppin nearly forced a Crewe defender to put past her own 'keeper in 27th minute.

The hosts extended their lead in the 30th minute. Roberts combined well with Becky Barker, the latter shooting high over the 'keeper and into the back of the net - a superlative strike from distance.

Nat Pinnington, a virtual spectator for most of the opening half, was called into action for the first time just before the break but Crewe's first serious strike of the afternoon came to nothing.

This was by far the best 45 minutes of football that Runcorn had played all season. Had tthey also tucked away a couple of gilt-edged chances, they would have been surely out of sight.

Before the game, Linnets manager, John Pickering promised he would try to introduce all his substitutes, offering as many players as possible a chance.

Whether this disturbed or disrupted the Linnets in the second period is open to conjecture.

Apart from a couple of decisive Sadie Bond interceptions, there still hadn't been any real danger to the Runcorn goal.

On 60 minutes, the Linnets made a triple substitution with Megan Pickering, Frankie Valdez and Lucy Wieland replacing Coppin, Carlson and Roberts, respectively.

Crewe began to take a hold, and just as earlier in the season at The Millbank, they started playing with more tempo. The longer ball tactics exposed the Linnets rearguard and the Alex pulled a goal back in the 69th minute.

Beth Graham was introduced for Barker on 73 minutes followed by Lile Ashley in place of Gillies on 80 minutes.

There was a sense in the final 10 minutes, especially among the Linnets support, that the equaliser was coming. Runcorn were indebted to heroic double defending from Nicola Hyland and Pinnington, who three minutes later tipped a shot onto her own bar.

Runcorn then lost influential defender Finnegan to knee and hip injuries after a coming together with a Crewe player.

The pack had to be reshuffled, striker Pickering joining Bond in central defence and Beth Coppin returning in her forward's role.

The visitors had the ascendancy and deep into time added time, the heartbreak came when Crewe equalised.

Their delight was only to be expected with Runcorn being the reigning champions or maybe it was just relief on the part of the team tipped to take their crown.

Runcorn Linnets Ladies: Nat Pinnington, Ana Duran Anca, Jo Finnegan (Beth Coppin 90) Sadie Bond, Nichola Hyland, Chelsea Gillies (Lile Ashley 80) Mandy Kennedy, Rebecca Barker (Beth Graham 73) Kim Roberts (Frankie Valdez 60) Beth Coppin (Megan Pickering 60) Tempany Carlson (Lucy Wieland 60). Sub (not used): Mary Rossiter Gurrell,