30th December 2016, Irlam v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-4By Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets turned in an imperious performance on Friday night to overcome the always tough task of facing Irlam away, with four second-half goals closing out the victory and the year for Michael Ellison's men.
The short drive over the Thelwall Viaduct to Irlam is well worth any potential difficulties as their Silver Street ground really is an excellent place to watch non-league football, both the facilities and the welcome are up there with the best.
The starting eleven remained unchanged from the team that had started the Boxing Day derby as Ello looked to regain some consistency in his team selection, something that has been difficult to come by for the last six weeks.
Irlam actually started the stronger, asserting some pressure in the first 10 minutes. But once the visitors settled into the game and seized control of the ball, you felt that was only going to be one winner.
Linnets played well in the first half and created plenty of half chances, but couldn't quite find the killer pass or finish to open the scoring.
Kyle Hamid had the best of the chances before the break, firstly unable to shift his feet fast enough to divert Danny McKenna's low cross on target and seconds later, firing the loose ball just over the bar from the edge of the area.
It wasn't all one-way traffic though, and the Runcorn rearguard had plenty to do to keep a lively attack at bay. This was certainly the case at the start of the second half as Irlam came out the stronger and should have opened the scoring when a glorious opportunity was blazed over the bar from eight yards out.
That was as close as the hosts would come as Linnets again took control of the game, and broke the deadlock as the hour mark approached.
Both flanks had been looking like the most likely avenue for goals, and when Paul Shanley did well on the left to work an opening, it was his lobbed cross to the far post that right back Michael Simpson managed to control and finish despite a slightly scuffed strike.
Simmo was proving a real handful for Irlam's tiring defence, and he was influential in the Linnets second goal midway through the half.
His endeavours had the beating of two Irlam players near the right corner flag and as he cut into the penalty area, Kyle Hamid appeared from nowhere to sweep the ball across goal and into the far top corner - a strike of the highest quality from the skipper.
Hamid was withdrawn soon after following a knock to the ankle, Adam Wade slotting seamlessly into the centre of the Linnets midfield.
The third goal was also created by a full back, this time Danny McKenna, who had already sent in numerous dangerous crosses that had not been converted. But Mark Houghton made no mistake with a powerful header at the near post.
Ello's men rarely ease off in games whatever the scoreline, and it was down to this attitude that Antony Hickey chased a straight forward ball with enough menace to force the Irlam goalkeeper into a mistake that gifted the in-form attacker a late Christmas present, an open goal from 4 yards out.
It's fair to say that this was tough on Irlam's young stopper who had turned in an excellent performance up to that point.
This was a result and performance of the highest order and hugely appreciated by all who had made the journey in support of the Linnets.
Irlam are a solid and reliable side but caught Linnets close to their very best and had few answers on the night.
Next Saturday sees the arrival of a new set of visitors to the Millbank Linnets Stadium, as we lock horns with Hanley Town for the first time. Kick off is at 3pm.
Irlam:Lee White, Alex Barlow, Richard Peters, Karl Cassell, Conor Braithwaite, Ryan Ledson, Gareth Mooney, Liam Bickett, Christian Lawlor, Matthew Boland, Jake Parker. Subs: Sean Sherwood, Kyle Davies, Isaac Illidge. Not used: Steven Mills, Barry Lomas.
Runcorn Linnets:Tom Hunt, Danny McKenna, Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Danny O'Brien, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Brian Matthews, Adam Wade. Not used: Ronnie McCarthy, Zac Aley, Paul Jewell.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.