22nd April 2019, Runcorn Linnets FC v Widnes : 0-2 Sponsored by Webbs Builders Merchants
A bumper crowd of 636, comfortably Runcorn's biggest home crowd of the season, packed into the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Easter Monday for the latest El Clasitoll derby.
Most of the crowd had hoped to see the hosts cement their place in the play-off spots going into the final game of the season at Glossop North End this Saturday.
But they would leave the ground disappointed and no doubt looking for left-over Easter Eggs to find some comfort.
There was a great irony that our Halton neighbours, jointly managed by Linnets Legend Kev Towey, had done us an enormous favour just 48 hours earlier.
They came back from 0-2 down to beat another play-off contender, Colne 3-2 with a pair of very late Ben Hodkinson goals.
That result had left Runcorn clinging on to fifth place (the final play-off spot) when leaving Trafford with only a point.
But Widnes were again clearly in a play-off spoiling mood, as they headed back over the Mersey Gateway with a crushing 0-2 victory - largely aided by another former Linnets favourite in goalkeeper Richie Mottram.
Unlike our game on Saturday, in which we had lots of the ball without creating that many decent chances, we this time carved out enough good opportunities to win two games yet came up against horrendous luck and a 'keeper in inspired form.
Widnes had, however, hit the crossbar in the eighth minute with a sliced cross which deceived Tom Scott. But the ball rebounded safely away from danger.
Ryan Gibson was the first to go close for the Linnets with a couple of volleyed efforts from outside the penalty area, the first dipping just the wrong side of the crossbar and the second drawing a comfortable save from Mottram.
The first bit of bad luck went against the Linnets in the 33rd minute. Freddie Potter was fouled on the halfway line but the referee played a good advantage as the ball broke to Paul Shanley, who was bearing down at full throttle on the Widnes goal.
Under pressure from a defender and being closed down by Mottram, Shanley managed to squeeze a shot towards goal. It looked to be going in but, instead, the ball struck the inside of the right post and rolled along the goal line where Gibson looked nailed on to covert the loose ball.
Out of nowhere came another ex-Linnet, Jay Roberts to slide in across Gibson to clear the ball away. Absoloutely agonising to watch!
Just three minutes later, Shanley almost opened the scoring again. His clever run into space was picked out by Zac Aley and Shanley did everything right with a fine show of control before volleying the ball goalwards. But Mottram was quick off his line to make a fantastic block with the ball heading for the far corner.
Moment of bad luck number two arrived on the stroke of half time. Louis Corrigan is about as consistent as they come and you'd struggle to remember any mistakes that he has made playing for us.
But he made of meal of trying to control Mike Burke's ball into the Linnets' penalty area, and suddenly a benign-looking situation hit code red. The ball fell perfectly for Finlay Sinclair-Smith to smash a volley into the far top corner.
The goal came completely out of the blue, but was a very well-taken effort.
Everyone knew that only a win would be good enough, and the Linnets came out in the second half absolutely determined to get it.
A great opportunity went begging in the 51st minute, when Peter Wylie headed over Corrigan's corner kick from inside the six-yard box. The pace on the ball would have given Mottram no chance had Wylie found the target.
With Runcorn pressing forward, Widnes kept their shape and looked to counter attack when possible.
When Sinclair-Smith broke away down the right, the visitors should have done better. But Conor Ready swept his shot over the crossbar with the Linnets outnumbered.
A determined Paul Shanley went close again just after the hour mark. His header from Corrigan's free kick was blocked at close range by Mottram.
That little bit of luck that you sometimes need just wouldn't present itself and the ball wouldn't fall for Runcorn as we began chasing the game in the final 15 minutes.
Potter tested Mottram with a dipping volley from the edge of the penalty area, followed by Corrigan drawing another fine save out of the the visiting goalkeeper - with a free kick that was tipped around the post at full stretch.
In the 90th minute, and with Runcorn piling men forward at every opportunity, Widnes doubled their lead.
The dangerous Sinclair-Smith was again the architect as his cross found Ready unmarked inside the six-yard box. Ready made no mistake with a free header to stun the Millbank Stadium crowd.
There was still time for three more glorious chances, two for Runcorn and one for Widnes.
Straight from the kick off, Runcorn attacked in numbers and Kurt Sherlock found himself one on one with Mottram but took a touch too many. Mottram was on hand yet again to make a big block and protect his clean sheet.
Niall Watson, another of a large contingent of ex-Linnets in the Widnes side, wasted a great position to set Widnes in on the counter attack.
Linnets' misery was well and truly compounded deep into stoppage time with Louis Corrigan's late, late penalty kick hitting the crossbar.
So, after a breathless, frustrating and agonising Easter Weekend, the situation is this:
We have fallen out of the league play-off places for the first time since August and now need snookers to end the season back in the top five.
First and foremost, we MUST WIN our game at Glossop - otherwise, we can't affect the outcome any further.
If we do win, then we will be looking for Leek Town or Ramsbottom to lose (or Colne to lose or draw).
Should that happen, then we will compete in the league play-offs next week.
One thing is certain, and it's that this league has shown us that not a single fixture is a 'given'.
None of the top five won on Saturday, and with tough games in prospect for each of the teams still in the play-off race, I reckon we are in for 90 minutes full of twists and turns!
Get yourselves to Glossop to give the lads all that you've got and let's do our bit to help the team do theirs. After that, who knows?!
One final point, results elsewhere on Saturday mean that our friends Atherton Collieries, who have been in the EVO-STIK League West Division only a season longer than ourselves, were crowned champions.
It's an extraordinary achievement for a club which was in the NWCL First Division only five years ago, so congratulations to everyone at Colls.
Runcorn Linnets: Tom Scott, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Ally Brown, Kris Holt, Ryan Gibson, Zac Aley, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Tom Bailey, Mitch Bryant, Kurt Sherlock. Not used: Frank Jones, 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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