5th August 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Hemsworth MW : 2-0 Sponsored by Brenda and John Jenkin in memory of Phil and Kath TylerBy Ste Bignall
Competitive football made a long-awaited return to the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday with a rare home FA Cup tie in the Extra Preliminary Round acting as the curtain raiser to a much-anticipated 2017-18 season.
Fate being what it is, the cup draw gods decided to pitch the Linnets against Hemsworth Miners Welfare of the Northern Counties East League for the third time in six seasons at this stage of the competition.
The Yorkshire outfit had come up trumps in both previous occasions, most recently in Michael Ellison's first game in charge of the club exactly a year ago to the day.
The anticipation and excitement was high amongst all in attendance as kick-off approached, but nobody felt this more than a very special visitor to the club on the day - blind ground hopper John Stancombe, who is now approaching 1,500 different football grounds on his travels.
Amazingly, despite around 185 FA Cup fixtures taking place on Saturday, the MLS was the only host venue that John had not previously visited.
Even more amazing was the fact that he had made the journey all the way from Lowestoft - leaving home at 6:00am on match day to return home at 1.15 am on Sunday, using 10 different trains!
We hope John enjoyed his visit to the club and look forward to reading his unique take on a match report, put together from a dictaphone and John's recollection of sounds from the day.
There were several regulars missing for Linnets through holidays, injuries and latent suspensions from last season.
Manager Ellison blooded two of his new signings, James Moore making his debut at centre back and Terry Smith, an imposing and former professional goalkeeper, coming in between the sticks having only signed for the club on Thursday night.
As is often the case, the match itself perhaps failed to reach the heights of the occasion. Neither side ever really managed to take control of the game how they would have liked.
It was Hemsworth who had the first chance of note, new signings Moore and Smith leaving the ball for each other and allowing Lloyd Henderson in to get in a shot past Smith, which drifted wide of a post.
The Linnets started to exert some sustained pressure on their opponents as the half wore on, and duly took the lead on 25 minutes with an excellent goal.
Danny McKenna's throw near the corner flag found Kris Holt on the left wing to turn back on to his stronger right foot and send a delicious curling cross into the penalty area. This was met perfectly by the on-rushing Linnets skipper Kyle Hamid to head the Linnets into the lead.
It took a stunning save from Jacob Collier in the Miners' goal to prevent the hosts doubling their lead soon after; a break away up the right wing ended with the ball at Stu Wellstead's feet eight yards from goal with the 'keeper stranded.
Unfortunately, Stu couldn't quite move those feet quickly enough to get a first-time shot away but he did still manage to toe bung an effort towards the top corner only to see Collier fly across his goal, out of nowhere, to tip the ball over the bar at full stretch. A real top drawer save.
Hemsworth were reduced to ten men not long before half-time when a thunderous, over-the-top tackle by David Briggs felled Holt right in front of the Linnets dugout.
This sparked a mass coming together of players and coaches from both teams. But the referee kept his composure and after the melee had settled, gave Briggs a straight red card.
His protestations were that he got the ball first, which was true, but he flew in high, hard and off the floor. So despite Briggs taking the ball, Holt could have been very seriously injured.
The Linnets did take more of a controlling presence in the second half but struggled to make the man advantage pay. Limiting Hemsworth to almost nothing going forward, the hosts set about securing the win but found it difficult to break down the Yorkshire border.
Freddie Potter dragged a shot wide with his weaker left foot and Holt, a standout figure in the game, headed an in-swinging corner against the cross bar as Ello's men started to feel frustrated that they couldn't see the visitors off.
It was looking as though one goal would have to be enough, especially when Paul Shanley curled an effort agonisingly wide of the top corner as the game entered it last ten minutes.
But the result was finally put beyond doubt when Shanley was allowed to bring the ball down at the far post and square a pass for Michael Simpson to slam the ball home from eight yards out and end the hex that Hemsworth had over the Linnets.
Nobody would pretend that this was a game high on quality with fast, free-flowing football. But who cares? The FA Cup is a luxury competition for clubs at our level; its only real purpose is to earn valuable funds into the coffers of the clubs and allow some to dream big for a few weeks.
You get no extra prizes for winning games in style.
The win sees us visit familiar surroundings in the Preliminary Round when we head to fellow Hallmark Security League Premier Division side, Ashton Athletic in two weeks time.
Runcorn Linnets' assault on the 2017-18 season is under way!
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Danny McKenna, Aaron Morris, James Moore, Danny O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead.
Subs: Callum Lucy (for Wellstead). Not used: Mark Houghton, Jack Fleming, Gary Grier, Tony Donaldson, Matty Jones, Matt Holmes (GK).
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.