HOCKEY: THERE was a miserable end to a successful season for Runcorn.
Defeat in this winner-takes-all decider for the North West Hockey League Division four title saw Runcorn not only lose the lead but drop out of the top two.
The hosts started brightly with early efforts from Pretorius, Nield andMatt Cooper being well saved. But luck was to desert them at a crucial time.
Runcorn had played carefully out of defence but were stung when a misplaced pass left Wakefield out of position.
Rhyl counter-attacked with numbers and a first-time cross was deflected towards Hampson's top-right corner. Hampson reacted for the deflection, only to see a Rhyl player deflect the ball, above head height, into the net.
Owen embarked on a typical run on the left and was dangerously tackled from behind.
When the whistle blew, Runcorn's defence moved up but the Rhyl umpire had given the decision the other way.
The hosts were totally out of position and Rhyl took the hit quickly to beat Hampson with a powerful low shot into a corner.
As Runcorn battled to get back into the game, the Rhyl umpire sinbinned Townley for a mistimed tackle which most would have viewed as worthy of a warning.
Runcorn fought on, helped by two impressive Hampson saves.
After an initial second-half wave of Rhyl attacks had been thwarted by the strong defence of Hill, Kenyon, Townley and Wakefield, Runcorn upped the pressure.
Player-boss Hampson switched from 3-5-2 to 3-4-3 and as Rhyl sat back,Pretorius was unlucky to hit a post. Slater, Ben Cooper and Shallcross all had efforts saved before a Townley short-corner shot revived hopes with eight minutes left.
A draw would have been enough for Runcorn but Rhyl put everyone behind the ball.
Hampson shrugged off his obvious disappointment to say a big thank you to his players for their efforts.
'This has been one of the closest leagues on record and despite only losing two games all year, we finish third.'