26th December 2018, Widnes v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-1
The festive Runcorn derby might be missing from the local football calendar this season after Linnets' promotion but Michael Ellison's side made the most of the next best thing.
Victory over their now closest league rivals geographically - from the other side of the Mersey Gateway - saw the visitors avenge three recent defeats at Widnes' hands.
An already unusual Boxing Day, which saw an all-Halton affair being staged outside the borough in Barnton, took on extra eeriness due to the swirling mist around the Offside Trust Stadium.
While visibility was increasingly affected as the game wore on, the impairment was never enough for the referee to consider an abandonment.
Untimately, an extremely well-worked 62nd minute Kurt Sherlock goal lifted the gathering gloom of the yuletide weather and Runcorn spirits slightly dampened by a 4-0 home defeat to Droylsden the Saturday before Christmas.
Widnes had the two best chances before the break in a tight ĺand hard-fought game but even then, Linnets were the better side and in the second half, they dominated - fully deserving a first victory over Widnes at the fourth attempt.
The Black and Whites had won both Hallmark Security League encounters in 2017-18, although Runcorn ended up as champions and Widnes runners-up.
The omens didn't look good when Widnes also won the pre-season Champions Cup encounter at The Millbank Linnets Stadium.
But Linnets have since settled more easily into EVO-STIK League life although Widnes, not helped by their temporary move away from the Select Security Stadium due to the relaying of its pitch, have of late started to put together a better run of form.
As far as Linnets were concerned, however, this was most definitely payback time - the happenings of the previous weekend only emphasising the need for improved fortunes in this particular fixture.
Midfielder Kris Holt was a Runcorn non-starter for the third successive match, ruled out this time by a chest infection rather than injury.
The inclusion of Ronnie McCarthy gave Linnets extra insurance in front of their back four. The only other change to the weekend's starting line-up saw Paul Shanley return from a short-term injury. Josh Dobie and Ryan Gibson were the players to step aside.
Runcorn played the more attractive, constructive football from the start on a difficult surface but before the interval, they had found it tough going against a well-drilled home defence.
Freddie Potter fizzed one cross dangerously into the goalmouth while Zac Aley was a hair's breath from connecting with another.
Just before half-time, Widnes 'keeper Wheeler got himself into a lather attempting to clear another attack, but when the ball broke from just inside the area, it wouldn't run kindly for Potter or Sherlock. Neither was able to make up the ground before the defence cleared.
Widnes threatened only occasionally yet could easily have taken an interval lead.
George Lomax's lob eventually fell on to (and came back off) the right post after a single pass had opened up the Runcorn rearguard.
The hosts' co-player manager (and former Linnets favourite), Kev Towey then wastefully cleared the bar with a shot, despite having plenty of time and space after a deep cross from the left - much to Towey's obvious frustration as he kicked out at the goal post.
After the restart, Potter tested Widnes 'keeper Owen Wheeler with a stinging shot, which was well and spectacularly turned away, but strong Linnets pressure paid off.
The only goal of the game was a brilliant team move and a worthy winner. Starting on the left flank with Zac Aley, Runcorn kept possession well. The ball was shifted in to the middle for McCarthy to pick out a pass to Shanley just inside the 18-yard area. With a defender tight to him, Shanley showed fantastic awareness and technique to turn the ball round the corner with the outside of his foot, straight into the path of the overlapping Matty Russell. The newly-signed full back picked out Kurt Sherlock at the back post and he made no mistake from close range.
Runcorn had opportunities to extend their advantage with Wheeler intercepting efforts from Potter and Sherlock in turn. Despite Widnes making all three permitted substitutions in a bid to turn around the contest, the threat to Linnets was at that stage more from the slenderness of their lead creating a little late uncertainty, rather than the Widnes attack which was in the end kept at bay comfortably enough.
Having dropped to third in the table after losing to Droylsden, Runcorn regained top spot as a result of Radcliffe being beaten and Atherton Collieries drawing.
Victory at Runcorn Town on Boxing Day 2017 had led to Linnets taking a lead in last season's title race, which they were never to lose.
It would take some doing for that kind of feat to be repeated this time around, given the quality and competitiveness of the division, but there again at the start of the season, few would have expected Ellison's team to be be where they are now.
The Linnets are next in action this Saturday (December 29th) when Skelmersdale United visit the Millbank Linnets Stadium for a rearranged fixture, brought forward from New Year's Day. Kick off is at 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Matt Russell, Ronnie McCarthy, Kurt Sherlock, Kyle Hamid (capt), Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Zac Aley. Sub: Ryan Gibson. Not used: Josh Dobie, Michael Simpson, Bobby Evans, 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.
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