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30th April 2018, Northwich Victoria v Runcorn Linnets FC : 3-0

By Ste Bignall

Northwich Victoria, a rival from a bygone era, reminded Runcorn Linnets that the title is not quite won yet when they recorded an impressive looking 3-0 victory against Ello's men on Monday night.

It was a bit of a dampener for the large following from Runcorn, 300+ making the journey to continue the promotion celebrations from Saturday and hoping to see the job reach completion.

Skipper Kyle Hamid was unavailable, caught out by the last- minute rescheduling of this game that coincided with his 30th birthday break away (happy 30th Mucker, congratulations!).

Paul Shanley missed the game through the injury he had sustained at Ashton Athletic last Thursday, an injury which could end Shanley's season prematurely.

The midfield trio consisted of Kieran Nolan, Mike Simpson and Kris Holt, with Adam Jones, Freddie Potter and Stuart Wellstead heading the attack.

It would be easy not to mention the condition of the pitch on the night, but I feel it's worth saying. It was dreadful. Thats not an excuse for the defeat as both teams had to play on it, with Vics adapting much better.

For whatever the reasons may be, the grass had not been cut for some considerable time and it made playing on the deck very difficult.

The first half was pretty uneventful, barring a few half-hearted penalty shouts for both sides and a couple of good chances for the Linnets.

It was also slightly frustrating to put up with the blatant time- wasting antics of the hosts, especially the goalkeeper. Fair enough if your winning, but not at 0-0 surely? The best Linnets chance of the game came midway through the first half when Kris Holt's ball into the channel picked out the run of Jones, and Adam's first-time ball across the penalty area was perfect for Freddie Potter, but he dragged his shot wide and tame from 12 yards.

As the half time whistle approached, the Linnets almost grabbed what would have been a deserved lead based on the balance of play, but Michael Donlan in the Vics goal pulled off one good save and one tremendous save within seconds of each other to keep the scores level.

Firstly, he covered his goal well to keep out Louis Corrigan's free kick, and when the loose ball was swung back into the area by Danny O'Brien, it was met on the full by the head of Potter. But Donlan got down quickly to get a strong hand to the ball and clear it from danger.

At half time, the Linnets actually had one hand on the title as Widnes were also drawing 0-0 in their game at Maine Road, but they would eventually go on to win.

Early in the second half and Vics threw in a warning shot of their danger from set pieces when Dylan Forth was called in to action to make a block from a close-range header.

However that warning was not fully heeded as, with 56 minutes on the clock, Kieran Kenny was left unmarked only a few yards from goal to convert a free kick that had been swung in from the left wing.

What followed was a frustrating half an hour for the Linnets fans, players and most certainly Ello, as a mixture of good defending and poor attacking play had the Linnets huffing and puffing, but never really able to threaten the Vics goal.

Mitch Bryant, Anthony Hickey and Mark Houghton were all brought on to try to make the difference, yet despite a change in formation the reshuffle did little to change the situation as Vics dug their heels in.

In fact, the only time Donlan's clean sheet was threatened in the second half was when he had to adjust his position to tip Houghton's cross-cum-shot on to the crossbar.

As we entered the 90th minute, Vics earned a penalty. With bodies committed forward looking for a goal, a long clearance from the back gave Stu McDonald something to chase; eventually, he was brought down in the penalty area by Danny O'Brien.

The new double jeopardy rule was enforced, meaning Danny received a yellow card for the incident, despite being the last man. Oscar Durnin made no mistake form 12 yards.

With the Linnets looking shell shocked and the defence all at sea, only minute later Vics scored a third goal. McDonald had plenty still to do when he picked up the ball outside the penalty area, but he managed to thread his shot through the gap between Matty Atherton and Jimmy Moore, with Dylan Forth merely a spectator as he found himself out of position and able to watch the ball roll into the empty net.

The third goal sparked scenes of wild jubilation among the Vics players, management and supporters. Vics manager, and former Linnet Steve Wilkes, along with his assistant and another ex-Linnet in Steve Pickup, both enjoyed the goal more than most, charging on to the pitch to celebrate their victory in front of the travelling Linnets masses.

It's difficult to say exactly what went wrong for the Linnets in this game. In truth, we just never got started. It was a flat, sloppy performance with a very rare display of poor defending. Michael Ellison demands perfection from his players. He will have been extremely disappointed with the overall night's work.

We now get our next chance to make it over the finish line on Thursday evening when we host Squires Gate at the MLS. This will be a tough fixture at the end of a long and arduous season for the Linnets.

Gate are not the side that we beat 0-5 way back in September, in fact they come to us having won 9 and drawn 1 of their last 10 games.

The situation remains that we need 3 points from the last 3 games to secure the title. Promotion is ours, in the bag, we will be playing Evo Stik Div 1 West football next season.

But everyone at the club, the players more than most, want that title so desperately! Here's hoping its just a matter of time....

Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Matt Atherton, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Michael Simpson, Freddie Potter, Stuart Wellstead, Adam Jones. Subs: Mitch Bryant, Mark Houghton, Antony Hickey. Not used: Aaron Morris, Chris Lawton.

Attendance: 418.

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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