25th August 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Winsford United : 5-0 Sponsored by Tony JonesBy Ste Bignall
In the local press earlier in the week (as well as the match programme) Runcorn Linnets manager Michael Ellison told of how he had demanded a response from his players after last week's disappointing result in the FA Cup.
What he got was a response of epic proportions as his men turned in an attacking master class to send Winsford back down the M6 on the end of a 5-0 thumping.
The Millbank Linnets Stadium was hosting its first ever Friday night match and the bumper crowd of almost 400 was treated to an excellent evening's football in lovely August evening warmth.
There were changes yet again to the starting eleven, Ellison having been unable to name an unchanged side yet this season.
Mike Simpson replaced Danny O'Brien at right back, Callum Lucy and Paul Shanley both returned to the side and Mitch Bryant started his first competitive game for the Linnets in place of Freddie Potter, sidelined for the near future with a fractured collarbone.
The score line suggests a walk in the park for Linnets but that was far from the case with Winsford matching the hosts for much of the first half.
Neither team created much in the way of early clear-cut chances despite a glittering display of high-paced, slick, attacking football - the defences of both sides coming out on top.
Linnets came close to scoring a contender for own goal of the century when Kieran Nolan scooped a pass back to Terry Smith from 20 yards away. This looked as though it might drop under the crossbar but Smith did well to scramble it clear and to safety.
Winsford's stubborn rearguard was breached on 36 minutes when Paul Shanley sent Mike Simpson away down the right wing, and his perfect low cross took both goalkeeper and defence out of the game to allow Callum Lucy to volley in at the far post.
Linnets went about seizing control of the match and dealt the visitors a crushing blow in the second minute of first-half injury time - Callum Lucy bludgeoning his way into the penalty area through a seemingly impenetrable wall of Blue and unleashing a explosive left-footed drive that Winsford's goalkeeper got both hands on but couldn't even alter the flight of the ball.
Winsford would have been sat in the dressing room wondering how they were two goals behind, but it was to get much worse for them.
Much of the early second half was an attritional affair with neither side creating any chances of note, but this changed with 25 minutes to go when Paul Shanley found space on the right and his cross to the near post was slotted home by Stuart Wellstead, on as a second-half substitute.
With Winsford heads now dropped, the hosts went about closing the game out in style. Anthony Hickey, on as an early substitute for the injured Zac Aley, got his name on the scoresheet with 15 minutes remaining. Shanley found space again on the right of the penalty area and served up another perfect cross into the path of the on-rushing Hickey, who beat the goalkeeper to score the fourth goal of the night.
The fifth and final goal was both created and scored by second half substitutes.
Vice-captain Mark Houghton was the final substitute of the night and he helped to set up the goal from the right side of the penalty area. Houghton's cross was controlled by Wellstead whose touch and shoulder drop took two defenders out of the game. He then rifled past the goalkeeper to score a classy second for himself and bring a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining evening to a close.
There were simply no negatives to take from this performance. The defensive unit did all that was asked of it, which was more than the score line suggests, but in attack the Linnets were absolutely devastating. It's not often that you see chances converted so clinically at our level and indeed several levels above.
What was especially pleasing was the display of strength in squad depth, with all three substitutes adding significantly to the game and being directly involved in three of the goals.
With this game being played on the unconventional Friday evening slot, the squad now has an extra day to recover before another unusually-placed fixture - a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon visit to West Didsbury & Chorlton, kick off 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Danny McKenna, Tom Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Callum Lucy, Kyle Hamid, Mitch Bryant, Paul Shanley, Zac Aley. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton, Antony Hickey. Not used: Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.