11th March 2017, 1874 Northwich v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-4By Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets turned in an excellent display on a very mild Saturday afternoon in Winsford to extend their unbeaten run against Cheshire rivals and fellow fan-owned club 1874 Northwich, the convincing victory against a fellow top-five side being an eye-catching result.
The day has since taken on greater significance for '74, as their first team manager, Ian Street resigned from his position at the club immediately after the game. He had been the club's only manager in their four-year history.
With Matthew Holmes unavailable, Linnets manager Michael Ellison had to make a late signing for cover between the sticks, the arrival of ex-AFC Blackpool goalkeeper Adam Caunce being announced on Saturday morning. He went straight into the starting eleven.
Danny O'Brien returned at right back with Paul Shanley also returning to the starting line-up in a 4-4-2 formation.
Linnets started well and took the game to their hosts, but fell behind against the run of play on 12 minutes when ex-Linnet and NWCL journeyman, Jason Carey picked up a loose ball and thrashed his second touch goalward, the height and pace beating Caunce
at his near post.
Undeterred, the visitors continued to look for openings and were aided significantly when '74's Lee Jones was rightly sent off for two bookable offences with less than a quarter of the game played.
1874 have now suffered five red cards in six outings against the Linnets!Midway through the first half, the Linnets drew level. Kieran Nolan swung in a wicked free-kick beyond the far post - Freddie Potter connecting with perfection to head across goal and neatly into the bottom corner.
Runcorn then changed both side's half-time team talks by taking the lead with the last kick of the first half and in superlative fashion.
Danny McKenna, a threat all day on the left flank, combined well with Paul Shanley before pulling the ball back from the by-line to Kris Holt, who was charging towards the 18-yard box from midfield.
Without taking a touch to set himself, Holt rifled an absolutely unstoppable shot into the top corner from over 20 yards out; a real gem of a goal!
Linnets had much of the ball in the second half but couldn't quite carve out the chances that they did in the first.
Mark Houghton, again captain for the day in Kyle Hamid's absence, forced Greg Hall to palm a shot around a post before Potter was a foot or so away from scoring a tremendous goal. His first-time volley from outside the box had Hall beaten but it fell the wrong side of the crossbar.
1874 stayed in the game but failed to register a shot on target in the second half, Aaron Morris in particular providing an almost impenetrable barrier at the heart of the Linnets defence.
Ellison introduced former '74 player Stuart Wellstead to the fray as the clock began to edge towards full-time, and it took the front man less than five minutes to get a goal against his former club.
Making a run across the edge of the '74 penalty area, he let fly a half volley that sailed over the outstretched arm of Greg Hall and dipped below the crossbar and into the far corner of the net to provide a serious challenge to Kris Holt's goal of the day contender! It was evident from Stu's celebration that he enjoyed the moment immensely.
Heads dropped in the home ranks and it was no surprise when Ello's men scored a fourth goal.
Zac Aley had been introduced earlier from the substitutes' bench and when the ball fell to him outside the box he took one look before curling it past the stranded Hall to pile on the misery for a visibly despondent home side, while only adding to the jubilation of the sizeable following from Runcorn.
The final note of the day, however, must go to 1874's eccentric goalkeeper Greg Hall. Always a favourite foe amongst the Linnets faithful, his efforts off the field in raising funds for a terminally-ill child, Gracie McCall, five, have earned him an enormous amount of respect in and around the league.
Today was a special event for "Gracie's Goal" as supporters from both clubs offered donations in return for a matching bandana to the one the shot stopper has been wearing for the last few months. Many fans were so moved by Gracie's plight that donations were piling in long after the 120 bandanas had sold out.
So a huge well done must go to the supporters of both sets of clubs for the part they played in this emotional fundraising initiative, and to Greg himself for his efforts in brave little Gracie's name.
1874 Northwich: Greg Hall, Paul Connor, Matthew Russell, Ryan Mitchel;l, Mark Jones, Jason Carey, Lee Jones, Dahrius Waldron, Tom Bailey, Harry Pratt, Sam Hare. Subs: Joe Woolley, Tyler Edwards. George Whiteoak. not used: Matthew Woolley, Sam Hind.
Runcorn Linnets: Adam Caunce, Danny McKenna, Tom Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Paul Shanley, Mark Houghton, Freddie Potter, Anthony Hickey. Subs: Zac Aley, Stuart Wellstead. not used: Chris Lawton, Adam Wade, Bevan Burey.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.