3rd November 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Leek Town : 1-0 Sponsored by Stuart Houghton
Leek Town made their inaugural visit to the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday afternoon for an eagerly- anticipated EVO-STIK Division One West fixture, as two of the early pace setters went head to head.
And while the match itself won't live long in the memory for its level of entertainment, it did end in another impressive win for the Linnets by the narrowest of margins.
With suspensions and injuries to contend with, Michael Ellison was once again forced to use his squad to full potential.
Bobby Evans retained his place in midfield after his man-of-the-match performance against Vauxhall Motors in midweek.
Kurt Sherlock also kept his spot after a brace of goals in the midweek Cheshire Senior Cup tie.
The Linnets had the better of the first half and could have opened the scoring with less than a minute played. Almost straight from the kick off, Sherlock was played clean through on goal but Leek goalkeeper Danny Roberts was off his line quickly to make a smart block.
Leek had a couple of efforts from long range, one which flew over the crossbar and another that brought a comfortable save from Dylan Forth.
But Runcorn struck with the only goal on 11 minutes. It was a very well-worked team goal that began with Aaron Morris spreading the ball out wide left to Paul Shanley on the wing.
Shanners beat his man in typical fashion and squared a low cross into the feet of Connor McCarthy near the penalty spot - McCarthy using his core strength to hold off a couple of challenges and roll the ball into the run of Kris Holt, whose strike found the bottom corner.
The game then settled down with both sides finding it difficult to create any meaningful chances, two well-drilled defences each forming a stern blockade.
Leek had their best chance of the game just before half-time, when a superb last-ditch tackle from Aaron Morris sent the ball out to the left wing from where it was whipped across to the far post. But Aaron Bott volleyed over from a promising position.
The second half was a dogged affair, both sides working hard to find an angle or opening but getting no joy from determined opponents.
Linnets knew they had at least the comfort of the one-goal lead, which forced Leek to come out more and more as the game wore on.
The collective effort from the Linnets to protect the lead was impressive to watch. Holt and Shanley in particular both put in towering performances and seemed at times to be playing in every position on the pitch.
At one point in the second half, Holty hit a shot at goal that was saved and seconds later, he was making a crucial tackle in the Linnets penalty area.
Danny O'Brien was withdrawn shortly after the start of the second half and replaced at full back by youngster Josh Dobie.
Shanley twice went close to extending the hosts' lead. His flicked header from Louis Corrigan's free kick just cleared the crossbar on the hour mark, and as full time approached a trademark run and cut in from the left gave space for a snap shot at goal but the effort nestled in the side netting.
As the game wore on, Leek began to push hard for the equaliser and were seeing a lot of the ball. But with it, they offered little threat as the Linnets backline stood firm.
Despite being put under pressure, the home side managed to see the game out without Leek mustering a second- half shot on target.
The last action of the game was a deflected Kris Holt strike, which almost caught out goalkeeper Roberts.
But the big stopper, who Linnets will have recognised as Norton United's goalkeeper when they pipped us to the NWCL title in 2014, shifted his body and made a good save.
With 96 minutes on the clock, the referee brought the game to a close and this sealed a huge three points for the Linnets - three points that kept us at the summit of the EVO-STIK League Division One West table by a point ahead of Atherton Collieries.
There is no midweek game ahead for the Linnets so our next outing is a first ever away visit to Market Drayton Town on Saturday.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Danny O'Brien, Kristian Holt, Bobby Evans, Kyle Hamid (c), Connor McCarthy, Kurt Sherlock, Paul Shanley. Subs: Josh Dobie, Zac Aley, Niall Watson. Not used: Kieran Nolan, Ronnie McCarthy.
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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