5th September 2016, Barnton v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-4By Dave Bettley
LINNETS erased the memory of heavy defeats at Barnton in two of the last three pre-seasons – coasting to their first away victory of the Hallmark Security League Premier Division campaign in this first competitive meeting of the clubs.
Now unbeaten in their last five games, the rapidly-developing visitors climbed another two places to eighth in the table as braces from Kyle Hamid and Paul Shanley fully rewarded a dominant display.
Two hundred Runcorn fans made the short journey and it was more than worthwhile as the Yellow and Greens were on top from the start.
However, it needed a penalty just before half-time – the first of two converted by skipper Hamid - to break the resistance of the home side, who also posed the odd threat on the counter attack.
Linnets 'keeper Tom Hunt continued to show the confidence he has exuded since joining the club with the season two games old.
He made an excellent blocking save in the first half and, with the Linnets' scoring done, kept out a spot-kick to preserve a second successive away clean sheet.
Michael Ellison made just the one change from the XI, which had come from behind to win Saturday's home game against Padiham.
Antony Hickey, who had twice been a substitute since returning from a three-game ban after his FA Cup dismissal at Hemsworth, got a recall on the right wing.
Bev Burey was given a breather on the bench, after setting a hot pace in the opening month.
On a surface of less than predictable bounce, the Linnets had penned in their hosts in the first half without delivering the final ball to round off their promising approach play.
It meant that the hosts' 'keeper Matt Conkie – well known to Linnets fans from his days with 1874 Northwich – wasn't really tested and his first tough task was to pick the ball from the net after Hamid's first penalty on 43 minutes.
Mark Houghton, whose running and set-up play as the central striker was once again impressive, got away on the Barnton left and Shanley met his cross at the back post to play in Hamid – only for the captain to be checked as he tried to get a shot away.
The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot although it looked a little doubtful. The question was who would be the taker with Shanley and Hamid having both missed their previous penalty kick against Cammell Laird and Irlam, respectively.
Hamid, who had twice scored from the spot in the same Lairds game, was the nominated player and he beat Conkie from 12 yards without any problem – leaving the veteran 'keeper to bemoan his luck after a run of early-season penalties against him, all of them being scored.
Prior to that, the clearest opening had fallen to Barnton, 10 minutes from the break, with Lee Vaughan going through on his own only for Hunt to rescue Runcorn by smothering the shot before it had travelled too far – great anticipation and positioning from the stopper.
The Linnets were arguably less in control territorially as the second half started to unfold but by coming into the game more, Barnton only left spaces for the Linnets to exploit. How clinically they did it.
Houghton, in the inside right channel, released Hickey and with the goal opening up to him, the wide man could have been forgiven for having a pop himself.
But instead, he unselfishly steered the ball across the six-yard box for Shanley to convert at the far post.
After seemingly being hampered by a knock to an ankle sustained in the first half, Shanley was by now back on full throttle. A two-goal lead after 72 minutes became three four minutes later.
Tony Donaldson did well to spot and even better to delivered a superb defence-splitting pass, just off centre, to send the left winger clear - Shanley again leaping in absolute delight again after slipping his shot convincingly past Conkie.
Barnton conceded their ninth penalty in as many games when Shanley was obviously impeded and Hamid beat Conkie again.
With three minutes left, the Villagers got a spot-kick of their own but their chance of a consolation goal was spurned as Hunt saved brilliantly, diving to his right, to keep out Steve Hughes' effort.
The award followed an attempted recovery challenge by new defensive signing from Southport, Vita Mbdokele soon after he had come off the bench for his debut. From the opposite end of the field, it didn't look as though Runcorn could have any complaints.
There was still time for Steve Foster, another of three subs introduced at the same time, in between the third and fourth goals, to go close with a shot which just cleared the crossbar.
After giving the players a rapturous reception on leaving the field, Linnets' travelling fans snaked back home in their cars along Northwich Road feeling very happy at the way things are progressing.
No fewer than eight players received Player of the Match votes on the Travel Club minibus and that tells the story of an excellent team performance.
The winner, incidentally, was young left back Danny McKenna who continues the excellent form which made him the club's first-team Player of the Month for August.
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Hunt, Danny McKenna, Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Ronnie McCarthy, Tony Donaldson, Kyle Hamid (capt), Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Steve Foster, Vita Mbdokele, Adam Wade. Not used: Bevan Burey, Sean Carlson.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.