11th February 2017, West Didsbury & Chorlton v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-4A week of significant change off the field ended in the best possible way on the field as Runcorn comfortably dispatched their Manchester hosts today and in doing so erased any lingering memories of New Mills a week ago.
A brace of Mark Houghton headers in between goals from Paul Shanley and Stuart Wellstead was more than enough to secure the victory, with West Didsbury's consolation coming in the 90th minute. It could easily have been more, but given the tribulations of the aforementioned trip to the High Peak last week, management, players and fans alike will, I'm sure, be more than satisfied with the day's work.
Ello shuffled his pack, partly through necessity and perhaps partly through experimentation with an eye on next season. With an impending suspension, Chris Lawton dropped to the bench to provide the returning Tom Hardwick with valuable minutes. With Ronnie McCarthy again absent, along with the injured Adam Wade and Zac Aley, Kris Holt came back in to the midfield. Simmo, took Danny O'Brien's place at right back, with the latter dropping to the bench.
Kieran Nolan earned his first start, joining Hamid and Holt in midfield.
On a pitch that was perfectly playable, but a bit tricky to turn on, it always looked like there would be chances and goals. A slide rule Kris Holt pass picked out Shanley for the game's first chance inside five minutes, but Shanley's lofted shot was saved well by Williams.
It didn't take long for the Linnets to open the scoring though and it was Shanley, who made no mistake when tapping in from close range, after benefiting from a good flick on by Mark Houghton and hesitant defending at the back post by Scott Mason.
With the exception of a nervous moment when Simmo nearly sold Tom Hunt short on a back pass, Runcorn controlled the remainder of the half. A three-minute period towards the end of the half, effectively put the game to bed.
The typically-aware Houghton bagged the first of his goals when he reacted quickly to a poor clearance and nodded into the bottom corner. As Didsbury were still reeling from that goal, Houghto grabbed another. Williams did well to tip a Danny McKenna free-kick special on to the bar, but the Linnets leading goalscorer once again reacted first and did well to adjust his body position and put himself on a hat-trick of headers!
Whilst not a header, Houghto then missed a golden opportunity to close out a six-minute hat-trick from the spot. I'm sure if he's reading, Kev Towey would be quick to point out that it would still not have been the fastest in Linnets history – remember Stone Dominoes anyone?!
Shanley's feet were far too quick for the Didsbury defence and a penalty was an easy decision for referee Baines. Unfortunately, Houghto added to the Linnets woeful record from 12 yards this season and it stayed at 3-0.
Nic Evangelinos, the home side's foremost threat, wasted a good chance early in the second half when he didn't trust his left foot and by delaying and coming back inside,
allowed defenders back to block.
Only moments later, Runcorn had their fourth from a well- worked free-kick. Skipper Hamid's delicate chip, followed by a superbly-weighted cross from Shanley made Wellstead's job the easiest of all when he nodded in at the back post.
The goal brought a triple substitution for the home side on the hour, but it had little material impact. When the consolation arrived in the 90th minute, it did so through the imposing Saul Henderson. The big striker wriggled free of a couple of challenges before burying his left footed shot in the bottom corner.
It was a good finish, but a shame for the Linnets backline not to emerge with a clean sheet.
This was a good reaction to the disappointment of last week and whilst top spot now seems like a big ask, with games left against all those above them, Ello's men will still have a big say in proceedings.
It was a good performance all round today, but a special mention to Kieran Nolan, who turned in an authoritative display that defied his young years.
Final mention today though, goes to the three board members who this week announced that they would be stepping down from their duties. I'm sure I speak on behalf of all Runcorn fans when I offer heartfelt thanks for all your efforts and making days like today possible; something that we should never take for granted. Thanks to you all. By the fans, for the fans.
West Didsbury & Chorlton: Williams, Mason, Botchey, McGrath, Poole, Gleave (Poizer, 60), Black (Steer, 60), Shaw, Henderson, Kay (Whyment, 60), Evangelinos. Subs not used: Woods, Mendes Gomes.
Runcorn Linnets: Hunt, McKenna, Hardwick, Morris, Holt (Potter, 75), Nolan, Simpson, Hamid (C), Houghton, Shanley (Burey, 70), Wellstead. Subs not used: Lawton, O'Brien, Cross.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.