RUNCORN Linnets made the short journey to Hope Street for the second of four meetings with Prescot Cables this season, after a last-gasp draw at The Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday.

The 452 people who attended the replay were left with the abiding impression that their next encounter, back in Runcorn on Boxing Day, will be as tasty as the leftover pigs in blankets.

Linnets followers were under no illusion that the approach to this game would have to be very different from the first attempt.

If Cables expected normal service to be resumed, against the same line-up, it probably would have been.

There were only three changes to the Linnets' starting personnel, with Zac Aley, Warren Bellew and Jamie Rainford in for Louis Corrigan, Kurt Sherlock and Connor McCarthy, but the set-up and tactics were markedly different.

The replay started with the ball out wide far more, on a remarkably firm and flat pitch after yet more heavy rain since the weekend.

The big difference in Linnets’ early performance was made by Bellew and Gibson operating deep and, combining with Aley and Brown, effectively playing with two pairs of overlapping full-backs.

It limited Prescot’s wide attacks far more, providing a double line of defence, and when the ball was won, it enabled the ‘spare’ defender to get forward in possession.

It gave Runcorn far more of the ball than they had enjoyed three days before, and visibly drew a more hurried if not panicky response from the opposition.

Paul Shanley sent Linnets ahead after 19 minutes.

From a quick break into the Cables half, he slipped past one man and prodded the ball past another, outpacing him and launching a face-to-face race with ’keeper Ollie Taylor.

Shanley got there a split second earlier, and poked it goalwards. For the Linnets fans behind the goal it seemed to take an age to get there, but it did, faster than McCulloch could manage. 1-0.

With the early stalemate over, newfound urgency steadily built the remaining 70 minutes into a bad-tempered affair.

Eight yellow cards and one red didn’t reward referee Mr McQuillan’s efforts to retain control.

After the goal, every tackle attracted anguished howls for free-kicks and cards, and Cables were particularly vehement in their demands for a penalty for handball on 23 minutes, after the ball was smashed point-blank into Peter Wylie.

For the remainder of the first half, the ball reached the Runcorn penalty area more than the hosts’, but industrious defensive covering blunted most efforts, and those that reached the six-yard box were calmly plucked out of the air or punched away with typical authority by ’keeper Matty Holmes.

On 35 minutes, Holmes pulled off a save inside the foot of the post. It was one that he had no reasonable expectation of making, confounding two unchallenged opponents.

Five minutes later, Jamie Rainford had the chance to put Linnets firmly in the driving seat. Set free by Shanley into the penalty area, he drew the 'keeper and with most of the goal at his mercy, managed to poke it wide of the post.

Just before the break, a heavily-populated duel outside the Runcorn box resulted in a member of the home side rolling on the floor. This resulted in Tom Owens was shown a red card and Linnets were left to play the remaining first-half seconds and the entire second half with 10.

The visiting fans hoped but doubted that the slender lead could be preserved.

Their nerves were calmed when Shanley controlled a clearance in the centre circle, and not being fouled, turned and set Ryan Gibson free on a 20-yard run that no defender could catch.

He coolly slotted it past the reach of Ollie Taylor and into the bottom right corner.

The 10 men had a two-goal lead after 62 minutes.

A minute later, Runcorn breath was held as Shanley tackled Fernandes and got the man rather than the ball, but the card was yellow.

There were still 25 minutes to go when the latest of many heavily-defended forays into the Runcorn box saw a theatrical swallow-dive of the kind that is pilloried on SoccerAM every Saturday morning.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t tripped. Edgar sent Matty Holmes the wrong way from the spot to send the Prescot faithful into raptures.

As much as Cables applied themselves to firing high and wide from distance - all the tireless massed defence would allow - they still had to muster two or three players at a time to controlling Shanley’s work on the break, with an increasingly offensive Gibson.

he most bizarre event was saved for last, as deep into four minutes of added time, a foul by Cables centre-half Cooper on the halfway line led to an escalating brawl, culminating in Cooper connecting with a punch.

A full minute of deliberations with both assistants left us wondering how many red cards, apart from the obvious one for Cooper, would be shown.

In the event, Cooper was summoned the 30 yards from whence he had quietly retreated, to receive the last yellow of the night.

It’s fairly safe to say that the FA Trophy won’t reside in Runcorn in May, but every round garners much-needed prize money, and for so many reasons it was one of those nights that fans will talk about for years.

It also secured a prize not to be underestimated: welcoming Linnets legend Aaron Morris back to The Millbank Stadium when they face FC United of Manchester in the next round a week on Saturday.

Runcorn Linnets: Matty Holmes, Zac Aley, Jack Hinnigan, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Tom Owens, Warren Bellew (Louis Corrigan 72), Kyle Hamid, Jamie Rainford (Harry

Cannon-Noren 45), Paul Shanley, Ryan Gibson. Subs not used: Josh Dobie, Ryan Wade, Kurt Sherlock, Declan McGivern, Connor McCarthy.

Attendance: 452.