The Northern Premier League

5th January 2022, Winsford United v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-5

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

The Cheshire Senior Cup second round took Linnets on the short and nostalgic journey to the Barton Stadium, to face old NWCFL adversaries Winsford United.

It was to be an enjoyable New Year interlude for the Runcorn men, after a highly successful festive league campaign had delivered nine points from three local derbies.

There were four changes from the side that beat 1874 Northwich on New Year's Day, with the return of Rhain Hellawell, Stuart Crilly and Jacques Welsh, and a debut in goal for new signing Jak Stewart, on short-term loan from Everton.

Linnets showed attacking intent from the kick-off, perhaps mindful of having made a relaxed start four days earlier, resulting in a one-goal deficit inside a minute.

And Iwan Murray immediately revealed his mission to control the midfield throughout.

Iwan executed the first shot of the game, after its first corner had been headed out of the area, but he scuffed it wide.

On three minutes, Stuart Crilly advanced up the left and sent in a promising cross for Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, but Winsford 'keeper Ryan Hamer intervened well.

Kain Dean was next to exploit the left wing to deliver a cross that won a corner, from which Lloyd-Marsh directed a header across the bodies in the six-yard area, but also wide of the far post.

A first-half pattern was set, in which the side from the higher division dominated possession, but achieved only limited attempts on target, thanks to well-drilled and determined opposition.

It was a very tight first half, albeit conducted mostly in the Winsford half. I hope no-one at Winsford will consider me disrespectful in putting names to very few of their players' efforts on the night.

It wasn't because they contributed little.

Under the lights, the smart blue and white geometric design of the United shirts made it near impossible to decipher the white numbers on their backs.

Seven minutes had elapsed when Winsford made it into the Runcorn half for the first time, from a free-kick following a foul on Ryan Jackson that earned Kain Dean a yellow card.

The kick gave Jak Stewart his first touch as a Linnet, untroubled as it ran long into his hands.

Linnets were back in attack, and Hellawell worked hard up the right-hand side in combination with Wylie to overlap the Winsford defence.

But left-back Perry Bircumshaw matched their industry, and made it difficult to open up avenues to Hamer's goal.

The home defence kept out Marsh-Hughes' attempts to get on the end of crosses from Hellawell, Lynch and Crilly from both sides, and smothered several follow-up efforts from outside the area.

Hamer was given surprisingly little to do, given the amount of Runcorn possession in the United third.

Winsford enterprise at the other end was limited to long balls that were dealt with in the air by O'Mahony and Downes, or cleared up easily by the hands and feet of Stewart.

Two long Hellawell throws from the left were headed away, the second allowing Murray to shoot from 18 yards, albeit wide.

Winsford advanced in numbers into the Runcorn half for the first time in a while, and it ironically led to the deadlock being broken in Linnets' favour.

Despite an excellent run of results, Jacques Welsh's long absence through injury had been felt through the lack of his stabilising influence in front of the defence.

It was no surprise, therefore, when he controlled the ball from a Downes headed clearance, and set Kain Dean away on a run towards the United area, with only Hamer to negotiate.

The Winsford 'keeper had to engage in a race for the ball that ended with him bringing down the Linnets left-back inside the area.

It had taken 28 minutes to crack Winsford resolve, which Joe Lynch did coolly from the spot, as Hamer guessed the wrong way.

Within three minutes of the opener, United managed their first touch of the ball inside the Linnets penalty area, David Short looking to meet a cross from McDonough on the right, but O'Mahony got there first, heading out for Welsh to clear up.

Two minutes later O'Mahony's head delivered again in meeting Edwards' free-kick from deep.

Another Hellawell long throw won a corner, which was headed on for Downes to collect on the right.

He passed into the centre for Murray, but Jenyons and Chalice combined to clear.

Two more balls into the United area, by Lynch and Murray, were repelled by the defence, and then a promising Hellawell solo run in from the right was halted by a perfectly-timed tackle by Bircumshaw.

Stuart Crilly outran two defenders before making the last shot of the half, but he leaned back, and it flew high.

At half-time, Rhain Hellawell made way for Dapo Olarewaju, introducing another Linnet who would wear out his boots striving for a goal.

Winsford started the second half with an interesting tactic, by attempting a shot on goal from the centre spot.

It remains to be seen whether Jak Stewart will go down as one one Linnets' best ever goalkeepers, but he is almost certainly the tallest, at closer to seven feet than six.

Trying to lob him from 50 yards had to be the very definition of optimism.

Dapo's first of many runs into the area from the right flank was blocked by one-man defence factory Bircumshaw.

McDonough won the ball from Dean at the second attempt, but his cross was cleared by O'Mahony.

On the break, Dean made amends with a great run up the left and a perfect through ball to the left corner of the six-yard box, where Lloyd Marsh-Hughes met it with an equally perfect first touch into the far corner, giving Hamer no chance.

Linnets had needed to work hard to achieve the comfort of a two-goal cushion, but doing so put them in control.

Within a minute, O'Mahony played a through ball for Marsh-Hughes to shoot again but Jenyons' challenge forced it wide of the target.

Crilly's run up the left won a throw-in, which set up a one-two between Marsh-Hughes and Lynch.

As a result, he ball was delivered into the six-yard box, where Murray was poised to tap in to make it 3-0.

Two goals in three minutes were a harsh return on Winsford's industry over 52 minutes, but anything other than a Runcorn victory now seemed highly unlikely.

Another Runcorn attack was cleared after Murray had been fouled from Olarewaju's head on. Hamer held the free-kick, and Winsford responded on the break.

Head-tennis ensued in the Runcorn area as Winsford fought back, O'Mahony losing his footing in pursuit of McDonough, but Wylie eventually launched a clearance.

Winsford continued their best attacking spell of the game; a through ball to Short into the centre of the area was blocked by a great tackle from Wylie - McDonough following up with a shot towards the top right corner that required Stewart's first actual save.

With 25 minutes remaining, Kain Dean gave way to Lewis Doyle.

His first contribution was a great diagonal ball across the pitch to Dapo, who cut inside and shot, deflected by Bircumshaw for a corner.

Another resulted, which Downes headed in from six yards out.

The goal was disallowed for pushing, and Sean O'Mahony was yellow carded for vehement disagreement with the decision.

Winsford attacked, McDonough was fouled on the right flank, and Downes headed the free-kick away from the far post.

Dapo advanced 50 yards up the right before being tackled, and having played advantage, the referee awarded a free-kick 20 yards back for an earlier foul.

Murray's ball into the area reached Marsh-Hughes, but three defensive headers kept him out.

Craig Davies replaced Jake Forshaw for United after 71 minutes, and two minutes later he was involved in one of their best opportunities.

Murray appeared to have been fouled in the middle of the Winsford half, but the referee thought otherwise, and on the break they were two against only Wylie and Stewart, but Davies miscontrolled.

Crilly, Murray and Lynch exchanged passes into the home penalty area, with Marsh-Hughes waiting in the middle. Murray opted to shoot from outside the left post, forcing a good save from Hamer on the ground.

Runcorn attacks kept coming, and with 12 minutes to go, a rare long-ball assault up towards Stuart Crilly was met by two defending heads, with Hamer coming out to meet it.

The twin headers looped over him, enabling Crilly to nip in behind the 'keeper and fire into the unguarded net.

Linnets tails were up, and more men in yellow and green were eager to add their names to the scoresheet.

Lynch, Doyle and Crilly held a close passing masterclass in the forward left quarter of the pitch, each looking for an opening for a shot.

Crilly finally crossed to Marsh-Hughes, who headed just wide.

Wylie won the ball in his own half and played it up to Olarewaju, who was fouled 25 yards from goal.

It was a surprise when Murray didn't go for goal from there, and his ball into the box was cleared after several upward headers.

O'Mahony joined the attack and was fouled outside the left edge of the penalty area. He was rewarded for his efforts when he met the free-kick at the near post and directed it past Hamer into the far corner to make it 5-0.

In the last minute, Joe Lynch attempted to seal a fine personal performance by netting his second goal.

He cut inside from the left and shot from 18 yards, but it flew narrowly wide of the left upright.

Lewis Doyle tried to become the sixth different scorer with the last attempt of the night.

He ran on to O'Mahony's long through ball and shot across goal, but his effort curled away from the far post and out.

The 5-0 result was testament to some great finishing, with at least half a dozen Linnets ravenous to join the goal stats in the final half hour.

But it was harsh on a commited Winsford performance, which demanded hard work from the opposition throughout.

With two goals coming so soon after half time, they were forced to chase the game, and this inevitably left more space for the visitors.

Ryan Hamer's performance in goal was also devalued by the final scoreline.

Runcorn domination was hardly greater than it had been four days earlier, when a 2-1 victory over 1874 was secured with only eight minutes remaining - despite Linnets being allowed far more time and space on the ball then they were here.

It's back to NPL league action on Saturday 8th January, with the visit of Kendal Town to APEC Taxis Stadium.

Runcorn Linnets: Jak Stewart, Peter Wylie, Kain Dean (Lewis Doyle 64), Jacques Welsh, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Rhain Hellawell (Dapo Olarewaju 45), Joe Lynch, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, Iwan Murray, Stuart Crilly. Subs not used: Ryan Brooke, James Steele.

Attendance: 276.

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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