29th April 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v AFC Darwen : 8-0 Sponsored by Spenny's Crew & Warmy Crew
Club legend Adam Wade, signing off his non-league career for a new life in Singapore, wrote his name into Linnets folklore with a 90th-minute goal to complete a famous win.
It could hardly have been better scripted.
Not many would have predicted such a fantastic climax to the campaign, when it began in such inauspicious fashion.
As a hastily-assembled Linnets team, some of whom never to be seen again, lost an opening-day FA Cup tie at Hemsworth Miners Welfare, supporters could have been forgiven for thinking it would be a long, hard season.
But, thanks to impressive squad renovation by manager Michael Ellison and assistant, Matt Cross, it evolved into one which flew by while providing some magical moments.
With a 'Pay What You Want' initiative in operation for this game and appearances by Ladies and junior players for an end-of-term get together, there was a carnival atmosphere at the ground.
The typical home crowd of around 300 was not far off being doubled and there was a glimpse if things to come with footings now in place for the new Linnets clubhouse on which work will continue through the summer.
With the chance of a third-place finish still in the offing, after midweek results, the Linnets were keen to put on a show for the enhanced audience to end a very positive campaign on a high.
AFC Darwen arrived with their position in next season's Premier Division already safe and on the back of a useful home victory over Irlam.
However, having been outplayed 3-0 at hone by the Linnets earlier in the month, they were always likely to have their work cut out.
Runcorn, whose goals at the Anchor Ground had only come in the last half hour (for all their total domination) took up where they had left off. A more extensive demolition started a lot earlier this time.
Once Antony Hickey had fired Runcorn into a two-goal lead in the first eight minutes, it was a matter of damage limitation for the Lancastrians.
Even so, it was 5-0 for the Linnets at the break, three more goals havjng come in the last 13 minutes of the half.
Kyle Hamid was imperious in the centre of midfield, the back-to-his-best Linnets skipper converting after going clear of the Darwen defence.
Hamid's great pal, Paul Shanley followed suit to likewise score one on one, from the left, with an similarly exquisite, measured finish - across the 'keeper and inside the far post.
The club captain was not to be outdone, however, and his strike from the edge of the box completed the Linnets' first-half handful. The low drive also sent Hamid clear as the Linnets' all-time top scorer with 66 goals for the Yellow and Greens.
Mark Houghton, another player to have been chasing the same record in recent weeks, had an effort disallowed for offside upon the restart.
It must have been a marginal decision as the pass looked to have been played square.
AFC Darwen held out until the 79th minute when Stuart Wellstead ended second-half resistance with a glancing header.
The seventh goal was added three minutes later, Hickey completing a poacher's hat-trick. All three finishes had been from inside the six-yard box.
Into injury time came the climax everyone had wanted for Adam Wade.
In the final match of his seven seasons with the Linnets, his 149th appearance, the last two campaigns being injury-hampered, the classy midfield player scored an farewell goal.
Just his 11th strike for the Linnets, its rarity value was only heightened by it coming from a header.
Ellison, three substitutions having already been made, promptly withdrew his one-time team mate to enable an emotional exit to fitting applause.
The Linnets finished with 10 but the final whistle sounded almost immediately.
With the Linnets final goal effectively cancelling out Runcorn Town's hitherto superior goal difference, it looked as though Ellison's men would win the race for third spot.
However, Town dramatically scored twice in the dying seconds at champions Atherton Coĺls to snatch the 2-1 victory they needed to finish above their near neighbours.
However that doesn't detract from what has been a phenomenal season for the Linnets all things considered. How far they have come – recording doubles over both the title winners and runners-up while taking points off Town and 1874 Northwich, in fifth.
More than 100 league goals scored, the same number of Premier Division defeats as the champions and the second best defensive record.
With players already committing themselves to the club for next season, all bodes very well. The countdown to 2017-18 has begun!
Runcorn Linnets: Adam Caunce, Zac Aley, Thomas Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Daniel O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Adam Wade (capt), Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Christopher Lawton, Stuart Wellstead, Bevan Burey. Not used: Michael Simpson, Freddie Potter.
AFC Darwen: Ben Proctor, Keith Wedge, Kallum Banks, Jordan Scott, Adam Douglas, Reece Malone, Karl Turner, Jamie Edwards, Nicholas Hepple, Liam Cole, Declan Cunliffe. Subs: Daniel Russell, Conor Gaul, Matthew Allen.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.
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