12th August 2017, Abbey Hey v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-4By Ste Bignall
The Linnets kicked off their 2017-18 Hallmark Security League Premier Division season in emphatic style at Abbey Hey on Saturday, romping to a fine 0-4 opening day win.
Michael Ellison is still having to shuffle his pack with several players missing, but his shrewdness in the transfer market is certainly showing with the strength in depth of the squad making the unavailability of players more of an inconvenience than a disaster.
New signings Terry Smith and James Moore retained their places following last week's FA Cup win while fellow newcomer Callum Lucy, who had come on as a sub against Hemsworth MW, started this time.
Zac Aley and vice-captain Mark Houghton both returned to the team in a more familiar and much more effective 4-4-2 formation.
Linnets were in the ascendancy from the off, and but for a slightly nervy moment between Danny McKenna and 'keeper Smith, Abbey Hey offered very little from an attacking point of view.
A couple of chances had already gone unrewarded before the Linnets opened the scoring midway into the first half.
Abbey Hey had already defended a battery of corners from both McKenna and Danny O'Brien, but when McKenna opted for a low and zippy kick into the near post from the right, the defence was unable to clear and Freddie Potter half volleyed in the opener on the turn.
Houghton had earlier drawn a solid save from the home goalkeeper and headed a decent chance over the bar before doubling the visitors' lead.
A blistering counter attack straight up the spine of the pitch allowed Aley to find Potter in space and a first-time pass enabled strike partner Houghton to open up his body, give Hey's keeper the eyes and roll the ball into the opposite corner with defenders only able to stand and watch.
Shortly after, it was 0-3 after another excellent team goal – however, a team goal that owed a lot to the guile and determination of Callum Lucy.
Tackled three times while trying to enter the penalty areas, the industrious young midfielder refused to surrender the ball and got a pass away. Houghton returned his partner's earlier favour to set Potter up to rifle the ball across the 'keeper and into the far corner.
The summer break doesn't seem to have halted the fearsome partnership of Potter and Houghton.
The second half was a less clinical but more cynical affair, both sides guilty of some rash and rather unnecessary challenges. The referee did well to keep his cards in his pocket until late on and at a minimum; good management of the game.
Houghton had a good chance that was smothered well by the 'keeper, and O'Brien saw a rasping effort blocked by the busy Hey goalie.
Stuart Wellstead, Kris Holt and Adam Jones (signed in the summer from Abbey Hay having also been registered with Hyde United) were all introduced by Ello. Wellstead was unlucky to see a goal ruled out for offside when he headed in Paul Shanley's cross from a yard out.
In the closing stages, the Linnets did get the fourth goal that their dominance deserved, roles were reversed with Shanley this time getting on the end of Wellstead's ball into the penalty area, rounding the 'keeper and smartly opening his account for the new season.
There were bags of positives to be taken from this match. The slight rustiness in the FA Cup fixture against Hemsworth last week had vanished completely as Ello's men took total control of the game. Their attacking play waa particularly eye catching and devastating at the same time. And a clean sheet is always welcome - Smith's second in his first two games for the club.
The only negative of the afternoon was the late withdrawal of Danny McKenna, the full back pulling up and being taken off for treatment - leaving the Linnets to finish with 10. Hopefully, it's just a minor niggle.
We move now to our opening home league game of the new season when Irlam visit The Millbank Linnets Stadium on Tuesday night, kick off 7.45.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.