AFC Blackpool 2, Runcorn Linnets 3
BLACKPOOL’S first game at the higher level of the North West Counties League was certainly a memorable one as they let slip a two-goal half-time lead.
It could have been worse after their 45-year-old debutant keeper Mark Thornley suffered a penalty and a red card for bringing down a Linnets striker, but Paul Carroll took the gloves and saved the spot-kick.
Describing the display as “naive”, manager Stuart Parker said: “We looked like champions going forward but our defending was relegation standard.”
It had all started so well as the ball broke to the edge of the box, where Matt Muscroft drove a left-foot cross-shot into the bottom corner after 11 minutes.
Mark Beattie fired just wide, then collected Martin Baird’s crossfield ball before crossing for Niall Cummins to double the lead on 32 minutes.
Blackpool looked in control and Cummins was twice denied a second by the keeper in one-on-one situations.
Runcorn pulled one back 12 minutes into the second half, when James Walker failed the clear and the ball was pulled back for Kevin Towey to score his first.
Sean Pearson’s equaliser was a deflected shot from a corner 11 minutes later and Towey steered his second through Thornley’s legs for the winner on 75 minutes.
Thornley, a veteran of over 450 games for Lancaster City and deputising for Blackpool while No.1 Andy Speight is one holiday, was blameless for the goals on a solid debut, which went rapidly downhill with his sending-off.
But emergency keeper Carroll denied the Linnets a fourth and AFC were unlucky not to equalise when Beattie went close.
Former Seasiders youth player Kurt Bradley made an impact as a second-half debutant but couldn’t turn the game back AFC’s way and Parker didn’t have too much sympathy for his charges: “If you don’t concentrate you will pay because the teams are that bit cleverer and sharper in this division,” he said.
“But there was no real difference between the sides in my eyes. We opened them up a few teams, whereas they didn’t really earn their goals.”
Parker was impressed by the performance of local referee Natalie Walker in her first game at this level.
The manager added that his side will work on defending corners ahead of Wednesday’s visit to Padiham.
Blackpool: Thornley, Fawcett, Walker, Baker, Ford, Muscroft, Baird, Ashall, Cummins, Beattie, Stayte; subs: Bradley, Carroll, Brown, Dell