RUNCORN Linnets exited the FA Trophy after going down 3-0 to FC United of Manchester in front of a big crowd.

The army of volunteers who helped prepare The Millbank Linnets Stadium, and provide additional catering and comfort facilities, were not left feeling their efforts were in vain.

An attendance of 962, almost two and-a-half times that for the last round against Prescot Cables,would have made it feel more like a home game for FC United.

That was doubly confusing for returning Linnets favourite Aaron Morris, who was cheered loudly by home fans as the teams were announced, and was seen off at the end as enthusiastically as when he was being instrumental in Runcorn’s NW Counties League triumph of 2018.

In this case, a 3-0 win plus a missed penalty for the visitors would suggest a passage into the next round without breaking much of a sweat.

While there can be no argument that FC United were the stronger and better side on the day, the scoreline exaggerated the difference, and insulted a committed and unflagging performance by the hosts.

The opening two minutes suggested that the outcome might be even more one-sided than the final score. FC went straight on the offensive from the opening whistle, and their first attack was perhaps inevitably sparked by Aaron Morris.

Winning the ball wide on the right, where the former yellow-and-green centre-back now plies his trade for the Reds, the move led to a low cross by Michael Donohue that was deflected for a corner.

It was played quickly into centre-forward Tunde Owalabi, who was in enough space to dispatch it past Richie Mottram into the far corner, with less than two minutes on the clock.

The home fans feared this almost immediate breakthrough might herald a hammering. It did anything but.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, Runcorn built probably more meaningful attacks than the visitors, although few serious worries resulted for United ’keeper Cameron Belford.

At half-time, it was still 1-0, and in all fairness you would have to say that was just about right.

Linnets debutant Louis Hayes was involved in the centre of midfield from early on, and his billing as a hard-tackling but skilful ball-winner looked accurate.

On 20 minutes, Paul Shanley was put through for a one-on-one with the advancing Belford, who just got his left hand there first. Soon facing the ‘keeper in a similar situation, Shanley sent his effort wide.

Chances at both ends were dealt with effectively by defences, although when Linnets attacked there was a little more space allowed for them.

The visitors didn’t defend in the same numbers as the hosts, but they were repeatedly equal to the task

In the last ten minutes before the break United had more of the ball, but were given very little space by the Runcorn rearguard to do much with it. A corner from a safety-first header by Hinnigan found the Reds’ Mike Potts in possession, but he was forced to retreat with it back towards his own half.

That followed a cross by Bellew finding Zac Aley, who headed wide when he appeared to have time to hit the target, or at least to test ’keeper Belford.

At the break, Linnets can’t have felt they should have been ahead, but with a bit more vigilance in the first two minutes they would have faced the second half level, giving the visitors more worries about exiting to an outfit from the division below.

The second half threatened to begin as the first had. A minute in, FC United had a penalty. I have to confess that from my vantage point I couldn’t see who fouled whom.

At this point, 2-0 would have presented a mountain to climb, but long-standing Linnets fans know that Richie Mottram always has a penalty save in him, and so it proved.

The kick by Dodd was no dud, but Richie read it and parried it to safety.

Linnets set out to make the most of the reprieve but two more promising breaks on the right, involving Shanley and Gibson, were intercepted, and a foul on Sherlock produced a free-kick, hit too long.

An equal number of chances emerged at the other end including a cross to Owalabi, headed wide.

Substitutions on both sides did not affect the defining moment but it soon followed.

Dodd ran on into the Runcorn third and slipped a pass to Owalabi on the edge of the area. He turned to shoot through a line of defenders with Mottram unsighted, and into the right corner. 2-0 to Tunde and FC United.

The Premier Division side were having more of the ball, led by Griffiths, Potts and Linney, but their opponents were not giving up, and were never going to do so.

Front man Connor McCarthy replacing midfield general Kyle Hamid was a necessary attacking gamble by Michael Ellison, but it would inevitably result in a little less resilience on the retreat.

That may have been conclusive, as a United clearance reached undoubted danger man Owalabi. He laid it off for Dodd, who was allowed a bit too much space in the area to stroke it into the corner.

Nobody could argue that Linnets were under siege during any part of the game, but far more of their attacking endeavours were speculative.

The home performance deserved much better than a 3-0 reverse, but anything other than an exit from the competition would have been a great escape.

Back to league duty for Linnets on Tuesday 26th, with the visit of Brighouse Town (4-0 home winners over Mossley on Saturday).

If a performance of similar resolve to this one ends in a 3-0 Runcorn defeat, it will speak volumes for the abilities of the Yorkshiremen.

Runcorn Linnets: Richie Mottram, Zac Aley, Jack Hinnigan, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Louis Hayes,

Ryan Gibson, Kyle Hamid (Connor McCarthy 62), Paul Shanley, Kurt Sherlock, Warren Bellew

(Lewis McKinney 53). Subs not used: Louis Corrigan, Declan McGivern, Harry Cannon-Noren, Alex O’Neill, Bayleigh Passant (GK)

Attendance: 962.