If it were possible to guarantee a league title on the back of early exits from the major cup competitions, most supporters would sacrifice knock-out glory for precious points.
Workington came ever so close to doing just that last season and, whether by accident or intention, their sole purpose, once again, is league football. They can now focus purely on NPL West fare and a campaign which will be defined, one way or the other, during a daunting October.
Before this entertaining FA Trophy First Qualifying Round tie got underway, there were sombre duties to perform in memory of the Queen. Runcorn chairman, Peter Cartledge, his Workington counterpart, Phil Norman, and Reds Ladies captain, Naomi Foster led the teams out and laid a wreath and flowers in the centre circle prior to an impeccably observed minute of silence.
And, as if to lift the gloom of a nation, both teams served up a decent ninety minutes of football suggesting both will be in the promotion mix come next April.
Danny Grainger again chose to rotate the squad with Sam Smith leading out a team showing five changes to their last outing. It took them a while to get going but, generally, were creating the better chances and, apart from squandered opportunities from Lewis Reilly’s header and a Matty Clarke shot, a Reuben Jerome effort was cleared off the line.
Then Danny Tabener made two wonderful reflex saves from unorthodox attempts at goal. First of all, he actually headed away a deflected clearance from his own skipper, James Short, then made an even better save to keep out a Reilly effort. The latter had instinctively deflected a wayward Clarke shot goal-wards only for Tabener to acrobatically tip the ball over the bar.
It was Reds first corner of the game in the forty-fifth minute but culminated in the opening goal. James Hooper floated the ball towards the penalty spot, Niall Moran’s powerful header hit the post and there was the alert Jerome poaching his fifth goal of the season from close range.
Linnets best two efforts saw a Jacques Welch shot comfortably saved by Jim Atkinson and a Dapo Olarewaju effort deflected for a corner.
Workington always need a second goal to win matches at the moment and they came close to scoring on three occasions. Steven Rigg and Reilly played a quick one, two on the edge of the box but the former’s shot was scuffed and comfortably saved by Taberner.
David Symington then went on a sixty-yard run towards the Town End goal, got lucky breaking through a challenge from two Linnets defenders, only to miscue his shot wide of the target.
And the best chance of all fell to Reilly who intercepted Ally Brown’s pass across the face of goal. The striker, looked a certain scorer but his well struck shot was, somehow, kept out by Taberner’s size ten boot.
From that point, the pendulum swung in Runcorn’s favour and it was they who finished the stronger. They had gone about their business effectively until then but hadn’t really looked dangerous until Zack Clarke equalised in the sixty-fourth minute, a well taken goal from fifteen yards.
And the same player was denied a second when Atkinson tipped over a fiercely hit drive soon after.
The prospect of a penalty shoot-out decider had fans discussing who would be lined up to take the spot-kicks but it was a penalty in normal time, the ninetieth minute in fact, that sent the Linnets soaring.
It was Rigg who conceded the spot-kick, ironic after probably his best performance of the season, following a trip on Tom Moore.
The referee had turned down appeals for a Workington penalty, when Jerome had been tripped in similar fashion in the first half, but immediately pointed to the spot on this occasion.
Jamie Rainford blasted home the winner emphatically to the delight of the Runcorn fans on the terraces, earning Dave Wild’s side a trip to North Shields in the next round.
Workington: Atkinson, Clarke, Birch, Moran, Smith, Casson (Allison, 83), Palmer, Rigg, Reilly, Jerome (Symington, 56), Hooper (Tinnion, 70). Substitutes – Leslie, Wordsworth, Lightfoot, Paden-Gale (not used).
Runcorn Linnets: Tabener, Brown, Short, Hayes, Moore, Heathcote, Olarewaju (Gumbs, 74), Welsh, Rainford (Turner, 90), Fofana (Doyle, 67), Clarke. Substitutes – O’Mahony, Corness (not used).
Referee: Graeme Hopper, Gateshead