24th February 2018, Barnoldswick Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-4
The recent defeat to Widnes has proved to be no more than a blip in Runcorn Linnets' outstanding run of form as Michael Ellison's men made it 42 points from the last 45 available in victory at Barnoldswick Town on Saturday.
Barnoldswick away is a fixture that everyone looks forward to, albeit it uncomfortably. The wonderful Lancashire surroundings, the warm welcome from the hosts and the excellent catering are to be balanced off against what is always a very difficult game on the pitch.
Anthony Hickey was restored to the starting line-up, in place of Adam Jones, in the only change to the team that had beaten 1874 Northwich in midweek.
The Linnets started brightly but actually fell behind to a well-taken goal on eight minutes. Ello will be disappointed that a couple of chances to clear the danger weren't taken, but Emmanuel Ogunrinde still did very well to turn on the edge of the 18-yard box and drill a low shot past Matt Holmes and into the bottom corner.
The period that followed wasn't the best for the Linnets, with passing going astray all over the pitch and Barlick holding firm in defence. It took a moment of real quality on the half-hour mark to get the visitors back into the game. Paul Shanley had come infield to collect a loose ball, and he slid an inch-perfect through ball into the run of Hickey, who took a touch before slamming the equaliser past Jordan Gidley in the Barlick goal.
From that moment on, the Linnets would dominate.
Shanley almost scored a goal of his own just before half-time when his looping volley was clawed out for a corner by Gidley.
The Linnets really cemented their dominance after the half-time break but, frustratingly, without taking advantage of good positions. When an opening was worked, it seemed that a touch too many or the wrong choice of pass was being made.
With 25 minutes remaining, Ello brought on Freddie Potter in place of Mark Houghton, and the effect could not have been more devastating.
Only three minutes after entering the play, The Wizard had put the Linnets into the lead. Kris Holt showed great determination to come through two strong tackles with the ball still at his feet, and his exquisite through ball from the centre circle found the run of Hickey, who squared for Potter to finish from six yards out.
There was a bit of a fright for the Linnets defence with 15 minutes to go. Having been largely untroubled since conceding in the eighth minute, Barlick almost forced a corner over the goal line. It took a brave block by Aaron Morris followed by a goal line, clearance from Louis Corrigan, to maintain the lead.
With 10 minutes remaining, the Linnets scored the killer third and it was another tremendous team goal. Holt again came successfully through a midfield battle and fed the ball wide to Corrigan. The left-back looked up and, spotting the run of Potter, played a perfect 40-yard ball over the top that found Potter one on one with Gidley.
Despite the angle narrowing, Potter guided the ball past Gidley and effectively secured maximum points for the travelling Linnets.
While that signaled the end of the match as a contest, it certainly didn't signal the end of the action!
There was still time for a Barlick player to receive his marching orders, the referee showing him a second yellow card for a very poor tackle on Danny O'Brien.
The Linnets then won a free-kick 25 yards from goal to score their fourth with virtually the final kick of the game. It was a bit of a surprise to see neither Corrigan nor O'Brien, our usual set-piece experts, interested in having a go themselves.
Instead it was Potter, who lined the ball up! The Wizard's record from dead ball situations isn't the best for a player of his immense talents, but he pulled off a certain goal of the season contender with this one!
Curling the ball high over the wall and dipping right into the very top corner of the net, Gidley had no chance whatsoever of preventing Potter from securing a 25-minute hat-trick in truly spectacular fashion!
All four the Linnets goals had been of the finest quality. The build-up play to goals one, two and three was as good as you will see at our level, and the final goal was a moment of individual brilliance from a player overdosing on confidence. Leaving Barnoldswick with three points is something that always has to be earned and should never be taken for granted.
A closing point. Once again Ello's use of substitutions totally transformed this game. The introduction of Potter, while the Linnets were on top, gave Barlick a whole new set of questions to answer, and they drew a blank. It's a theme that is repeating itself game after game, the manager's choice and timing of his changes is winning us matches. Having a strong squad is one thing, but managing that squad so each player has a desire to influence games, be it for 90 minutes, 30 minutes or two minutes, is something that all managers strive for but few achieve in the way that Michael Ellison does. If we are to achieve our ultimate goal this season, this will have played a major role.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Chris Holt, Michael Simpson, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Freddie Potter, Stuart Wellstead. Not used: Adam Jones, Kyle Hamid, Chris Lawton.
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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