12th February 2019, Runcorn Linnets FC v Congleton Town : 4-1
Runcorn Linnets reached the semi-final of the Cheshire Senior Cup for only the second time - their previous appearance in the last four having been in 2009-10 - with a blistering 4-1 victory over Congleton Town at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Tuesday night.
The supporters of both clubs who took in the very mild and pleasant February evening were treated to a high-quality game of football, often with end to end attacks.
But as the game wore on, the Linnets hammered home the step up in quality and fitness that exists between our former and our current leagues.
Michael Ellison made several changes to his already threadbare squad, and handed debuts to two young players in Harrison Coady and Jan Palinkas, both arriving from FC United of Manchester.
Kurt Sherlock, Bobby Evans, Ronnie McCarthy and Mitch Bryant all returned to the starting eleven.
Congleton have been going great guns in the Hallmark Security League this season and still have both eyes firmly set on pushing City of Liverpool and Bootle all the way in a bid for the lone promotion spot.
Bryant had the first attempt on goal of the night, stinging the goalkeeper's fingers from outside the penalty area after 10 minutes.
But just two minutes later, the Linnets did take the lead. Congleton made a mess of clearing a corner from the right and Peter Wylie was well positioned to sweep home a good left-footed finish from just outside the six-yard box.
Midway through the first half, Runcorn doubled their lead with a very well-worked goal.
Wylie and Coady combined well on the right wing with Coady afforded time to swing a cross into the Congleton penalty area from deep.
Kurt Sherlock made a run across the defence but dummied a header which caught out the goalkeeper out all ends up, Mitch Bryant nipping in at the near post to score from close range.
It wasn't all one way traffic with Congleton providing a threat when going forward. Old adversary Mini Adegbenro in particular is always one to be aware of with his pace and direct style.
Aaron Morris was called into action in the 37th minute to slide across his own six-yard box and divert a low cross not only away from two waiting attackers but also up and over his own cross bar - an excellent piece of close-quarters defending where a lack of execution would have led to an own goal.
And as half-time approached, Congleton went very close when a rasping drive from 25-plus yards that was soaring towards the top corner of the net. But Matty Holmes pulled off a flying save high to his right to tip it round the post for a corner.
This was another great save from Matty in a great recent spell for him.
Bryant came close to putting the game beyond Congleton early in the second half but his charging run at goal was thwarted by Bears' goalkeeper Ellison.
With 20 minutes remaining, Congleton got themselves right back into the cup-tie. Having brought on the towering centre forward Saul Henderson, all 6ft 5in of him, the Bears looked a lot more threatening with a direct style of play.
When a ball to the far post was played back into the six-yard box, Henderson was on hand to tap into the empty net and reduce the deficit to 2-1.
The next 10 minutes were end to end in an almost basketball style, each side breaking forward and getting a shot away at goal, followed immediately by the opposition doing the same.
In this manic period, Wylie was unlucky not to score a second goal when his far post header was cleared off the line.
Liam O'Neill hit a looping shot from outside the penalty area that had Ellison back pedalling and then falling over backwards but he still made the save.
Congleton had a great chance of their own when a breakawy up the left wing created an opportunity for a shot, which sailed high over the crossbar, from near the penalty spot.
As time wore on, Ello brought on Ryan Gibson and Josh Dobie from the substitutes bench and these changes made a real difference in the last 15 minutes as Runcorn's superior fitness and extra quality started to show.
Gibson's driving runs at the heart of the Bears' defence was causing them all sorts of headaches.
The tie was finally put beyond our visitors in the 79th minute with a goal of relative ease. Good football created space in the penalty area for O'Neill and he had time to set himself, pick his spot and roll a ball across the six-yard box to Bryant who grabbed himself another poacher's goal for 3-1.
Matty Holmes was called on to make an unorthodox save in the 83rd minute. Henderson's low strike from outside the Linnets' penalty area sent the 'keeper the wrong way, but he threw a leg on it to volley the ball away from danger.
The goal of the game came in the last minute. Terrific movement and link-up play between Dobie, O'Neill and Gibson carved the Bears defence open, and Gibson went on a run into the penalty area, dodging a tackle before slamming the ball home for Runcorn's fourth goal of the night - adding a coat of gloss to what had been an excellent performance overall.
We are joined in the semi-finals by Cammell Laird 1907 and Nantwich Town, with the final spot to be decided this Wednesday evening when our neigbours Runcorn Town host Stockport County at Pavilions.
The draw for the semi-finals is yet to be made.
The Linnets are back in league action on Saturday as we make our first competitive trip to Clitheroe, kick off 3pm. See you all there!
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris (capt), Jan Palinkas, Peter Wylie, Ronnie McCarthy, Harrison Coady, Bobby Evans, Mitch Bryant, Liam O'Neill, Kurt Sherlock. Subs: Josh Dobie, Ryan Gibson. Not used: Zac Aley, Kris Holt, Paul Shanley.
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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