6th April 2019, Newcastle Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 1-2
Michael Ellison called on a couple of the "old guard" on Saturday, as Antony Hickey and Stuey Wellstead played pivotal roles in a vital win, which kept the Linnets firmly in the EVO-STIK League West Division play-off pack.
Both players have moved on to pastures new since winning The Hallmark Security League Premier Division title with Linnets last season.
But Hickey recently followed Wellstead's lead from earlier in the campaign by signing in again at The Millbank on dual registration.
With their respective North West Counties League clubs, Bootle and Rylands inactive at the weekend, Runcorn boss Ellison drafted the pair into his squad.
Newcastle's Lyme Valley Parkway Stadium, unusual because of its cycling velodrome-style layout, has brought minimal joy to Linnets supporters on previous visits.
In fact, it was hitherto probably the away ground on which we have fared poorest.
We hadn't been there for almost 10 years, but three prior ventures brought about three defeats with no goals scored and 11 conceded!
There were a couple of surprises in Ello's starting eleven, Tom Scott making a return in goal and fans favourite Hickey also making the team.
Tom Bailey started in attack and Ronnie McCarthy took up a place in the midfield. Wellstead was recalled to the bench.
Runcorn started well, attacking a young Newcastle side at pace and creating a glut of early chances. By the ninth minute, Kris Holt and Bailey had both tested the goalkeeper with headers.
Mitch Bryant cut inside from the left and had a low strike well saved while Louis Corrigan came within a whisker of opening the scoring early on. The left back's sublime free kick beat the wall and the goalkeeper but was kept out by the right post.
Runcorn had racked up more than 10 corner kicks in the opening 18 minutes, and Bailey should have converted from one of them. He got his head to Corrigan's in-swinging kick just a few yards from goal, but the connection wasn't clean and the ball glanced across goal before taking a deflection for another Linnets corner.
The vast expanse of the stadium, coupled with the distance of supporters from the play, made it difficult to create a rousing atmosphere and after those early Linnets chances, things plateaued on and off the pitch.
McCarthy was unlucky to pick up a knock, which meant he had to be withdrawn.
Youngster Declan Gallagher, another who had spent much of his season in NWC football (with Ashton Athletic) after joining Runcorn in the summer, was the replacement.
Gallagher partnered Aaron Morris in the heart of the defence, Peter Wylie moving forward into midfield.
The half-time scores from elsewhere in the league made for uncomfortable reading for Linnets with all of our play-off contending rivals being ahead in their games - a big second half was needed from Ello's men.
Runcorn started the second half in the same way we had begun the first with the foot firmly on the accelerator.
Ally Brown almost created an opening when his wicked cross was fumbled by the Newcastle goalkeeper but nobody was on hand to convert what would have been a tap in.
In the 55th minute, the deadlock was broken. Brown again found an excellent cross to the far post.
Gibbo attacked the cross to smack a header into the crossbar. The rebound fell kindly for Antony Hickey, who made a scoring return to the club from just a yard out.
Newcastle's players surrounded the linesman, feeling there had been an infringement but the officials remained unmoved and the goal stood.
Straight from the kick off, the lead was almost doubled.
Man of the Match Mitch Bryant, played in by Kris Holt, beat a man in the penalty area to drill in a low shot at goal with his left foot. The 'keeper did well to save.
Having relied on an excellent young goalkeeper to stay in the game, Newcastle found an equaliser with their first real foray into the Runcorn penalty area.
This came n the 59th minute, and it was a very untidy goal to concede. A long throw from the right wasn't cleared with the ball working its way to Chris Smith, who looped a header towards goal - beating Scott to his left.
Runcorn were almost back in the ascendancy very promptly. Louis Corrigan's cross from the left found Bryant, whose goalbound shot was blocked. The rebound fell to Hickey, but his effort was likewise blocked by a determined Newcastle defence.
Freddie Potter replaced Bailey on the hour mark and was quickly in the action, shooting over from outside the penalty area with his first touch.
A big chance came Runcorn's way in the 69th minute when Hickey found himself in space at the far post, but sliced a shot wide from a narrow angle. The better option would have been a pass to either Gibson or Holt, who were both unmarked in the six- yard box.
Disaster almost struck in the 71st minute when Newcastle hit the crossbar with a header from a rare break forward - Chris Smith the player finding the woodwork from a corner.
Stuey Wellstead replaced Antony Hickey as Ello tried desperately to get the winning goal that his side needed.
But as the game moved into its final 20 minutes, the home side suddenly started asking the bigger questions.
Scott was called on to make a big save in the 78th minute, Smith once again proving a handful when he held the ball up to shoot low on the turn from outside the penalty box.
With time running out, it looked as though the big chance for Runcorn had come and gone.
In the 85th minute, Louis Corrigan's free kick was powered goalwards by the head of Wellstead, the ball cannoning back off the crossbar before being scrambled clear.
Thankfully, the much sought- after goal finally came from the resulting throw-in on the right.
Having conceded a goal from a long throw, we scored from one of our own in the 86th minute.
Peter Wylie's throw was flicked on at the near post by Aaron Morris and Potter, with back to goal, instinctively overhead kicked the ball into net to bring ecstasy among the players and large travelling Runcorn support.
The goal knocked the last bit of wind out of what had been a highly-determined and committed effort by Newcastle to get something out of the game.
We managed to see out the final minutes without any incidents of note to earn what was ultimately a deserved and precious three points in the play-off race.
We really are in the final stages of the season now, just four games remaining. But the situation couldn't be tighter!
We currently sit in fourth place with a game in hand on Ramsbottom United, who are one place and two points above us.
That game in hand takes place this Saturday as Runcorn host Colwyn Bay at the Millbank Linnets Stadium in another huge game!
Kick off on Saturday is at 3pm. See you all there!
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Scott, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Ronnie McCarthy, Kris Holt, Antony Hickey, Tom Bailey, Ryan Gibson, Mitch Bryant. Subs: Declan Gallagher, Freddie Potter, Stuart Wellstead. Not used: 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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