1st April 2017, Atherton Collieries v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-1By Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets completed a magnificent hat-trick of away wins against top-five sides on Saturday afternoon with the most eye catching victory of them all.
A solitary Mark Houghton goal, Linnets' 100th of the season in all competitions, secured full points against the league leaders, Atherton Collieries.
The result means that the Linnets swapped places with Colls and started the final month of the season sitting top of the pile in the Hallmark Security League Premier Division.
Earlier wins at 1874 Northwich and Bootle promptly saw the Linnets being confirmed as the division's Macron Club of the Month for March, having missed out on the February accolade to Colls by the narrowest margin.
The first half of the top-of-the-table clash was more of a battle of wills than a display of purest football, Colls having the security of knowing that a draw would do their title chances very little harm, but Linnets fully aware that only a win would do.
This led to a policy of containment from the home side with Linnets trying to break through the league's best defence at the risk of being caught out on the counter attack.
Former Colls stalwart Kris Holt twice almost opened the scoring in the first half when firstly his volley deflected agonisingly wide of the post with Reid in the Colls goal stranded, and then the attacking midfield man should have given the visitors the lead just before half-time.
The ball was teed up for him a few yards from goal, but he could only get his shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It took a flying, fingertip save from Matty Holmes in the Linnets goal to keep the home side at bay, a counter attack down the left resulting in a cross and point-blank header that yielded a superb stop.
The only goal of the game arrived three minutes after the restart. The ever-willing Mark Houghton, again captain for the day with Kyle Hamid still on the bench, chased down a long ball.
Having been in a similar situation twice previously, only to be thwarted by Reid, the striker time did get a sublime first touch on the ball and despite pressure from the goalkeeper and covering defenders, found a gap between the bodies to fire a half volley from the edge of the penalty area high into the roof of the net .
This opened the game up completely and with Colls now needing to find a way back, the chances started to come for the visitors.
Houghton had a much easier one-on-one chance but shot straight at Reid while Freddie Potter dropped a potential goal-of-the-season volley just wide with Reid beaten all ends up, before Houghton again had a chance that bounced back off the crossbar.
The Linnets were almost made to rue their missed chances as time ticked away when a speculative lobbed shot from outside the penalty area slammed into the foot of their left post and out to safety. This was the only real chance of note the home side could muster in the second half.
It's been a great few weeks of full-time celebrations in the Linnets ranks, with players, management, coaching staff and supporters taking immense joy in securing maximum points from a potentially torrid run of away fixtures.
This result certainly makes the final month of the season more interesting as the title- chasing group look to take full advantage of any slip-ups by those around them.
Linnets have 15 points left to play for, and in their current form Michael Ellison will be asking his players to go and secure all 15 of them.
Atherton Collieries: Adam Reid, Jake Kenny, Gareth Peet, Joshua Messer, Jamie Forbes, Daniel Lafferty, Ben Hardcastle, Bradley Cooke, Darrhyl Mason, Vincent Bailey, Rory Gorman. Subs: Jordan Cover, Mark Truffas, Liam Ward. Not used: Matthew Grimshaw, George West.
Runcorn Linnets: Matthew Holmes, Daniel McKenna, Thomas Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Zachery Aley, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Freddie Potter. Subs: Kyle Hamid, Stuart Wellstead, Antony Hickey. Not used: Michael Simpson, Christopher Lawton.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.