Ritchie Slaughters Runcorn with last minute winner in the Game of the season

Over the years, Sam Smith’s Park has witnessed some great football and some stirring games, but surely none have ever matched the spellbinding brilliance of this tumultuous contest. From the first kick to the very last, the game swung between the two sides as drama was heaped on drama in as enthralling manner as could ever be imagined. Runcorn Town will be bitterly upset to have lost in such scarcely believable circumstances, but they will surely privately admit that the best team won on the day. However, the visitors from Cheshire played a full and commendable part in a titanic struggle, settled by a glorious curling effort into the top corner from outside the area by Richie Slaughter. In truth, it was the only fitting way to conclude such a memorable game.

On a filthy day at the end of a waterlogged week, groundsman Stan Thompson deserves the utmost praise for producing a perfect playing surface that stood up to 90 minutes of bombardment by two sets of gallant players. Every single blade of grass on that pitch was covered by the tireless running of 41-year-old Paul Brayson, who ran his blood to water for the entire game. Brayson’s first run came in the second minute, when he accepted an astute ball from Dennis Knight and curled an effort just wide. Unfortunately, the first goal of the game went to the visitors; a momentary lapse by Rhys Evans allowed Dale Jennings to clip a delightful lob over the head of stranded Benfield keeper Andy Grainger in the 6 minute. The Lions weren’t behind for long, as Dennis Knight collected a loose ball on the right side of the area, evaded a couple of challenges and shot home with unstoppable power and admirable precision. Soon after James Martin was denied his first goal for the club, when a desperate block ended his run into the box, leaving the ball to run for Jake Orrell whose shot was on target, but deflected wide.

 

Brayson really ought to have put Benfield ahead on 28 minutes, but he poked a close-range effort at the back post into the side netting when it looked easier to score, following Knight’s decisive low cross. Indeed, this miss came to haunt the home side when Joseph Heath’s innocuous long-range trundler left a clearly unsighted Andy Grainger unable to keep it out after the ball came through a crowd of players. This goal rocked Benfield right back on their heels and Runcorn, having scored with their only two efforts on goal, began to exercise a measure of control. Grainger kept the Lions in the contest with a point blank save from Liam Turner on 43 minutes and the crucial nature of this save was reinforced when, with the last kick of the half, Dale Pearson turned in a loose ball in the box after Jake Orrell’s free kick had not been properly cleared.

It is a widely held football belief that a goal at the end of the first half is a precious thing, as it allows the opposition to brood on it during the break. Pearson’s equaliser also had the effect of empowering the hosts who relentlessly pushed Runcorn back for long periods in the second half. Brayson fired just over after collecting a pass from Pearson, before putting Benfield ahead on 52 minutes with a precise finish after Slaughter and Pearson had combined delightfully down the left. This was a tough game and it needed a determined attitude, which the Lions had in spades. Pearson’s contest marauding down the flank gave Orrell a chance after keeper Adam Reid had palmed out a cross, but defenders got in the way. Reid was in the right place to instinctively clutch a Knight header to his chest. Soon after Knight left the field, suffering dizziness after a clash of heads. His replacement Alex Nisbet headed an Orrell cross just wide as Benfield turned the screw. The home side were denied a clear penalty when Brayson’s goal bound shot was turned around the post by a deliberate use of the arm by a visiting defender. The referee claimed to have been unsighted. This did not seem to matter when Brayson’s intelligent pass set the rampaging Dale Pearson away, who then danced round Reid before slotting into an empty net to give Benfield a seemingly unassailable two goal lead on 81 minutes.

Runcorn, to their credit, would not lie down. A bout of pinball in the area on 83 minutes saw Craig Lindfield poke the ball home. Suddenly, there was renewed belief among the travelling contingent and sure enough, their faith was rewarded barely 60 seconds later when a desperate skirmish in the six-yard box ended with the ball in the net. The goal was eventually credited to Danny Byrnes and, just as the crowd had mentally prepared themselves for an extra 30 minutes, Ritchie Slaughter intervened, sending the home crowd into delirium. What a game!

 Over the years, Sam Smith’s Park has witnessed some great football and some stirring games, but surely none have ever matched the spellbinding brilliance of this tumultuous contest. From the first kick to the very last, the game swung between the two sides as drama was heaped on drama in as enthralling manner as could ever be imagined. Runcorn Town will be bitterly upset to have lost in such scarcely believable circumstances, but they will surely privately admit that the best team won on the day. However, the visitors from Cheshire played a full and commendable part in a titanic struggle, settled by a glorious curling effort into the top corner from outside the area by Richie Slaughter. In truth, it was the only fitting way to conclude such a memorable game.

Match Report Ian Cusack

Match Highlights to follow Luke Vinton

Website Steve Boyle

Benfield Bear Leo the Lion (UnKnown)

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