8th March 2022, Stalybridge Celtic v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-1
The goal, which ultimately settled the issue, came in only the second minute as Runcorn quickly made their intentions clear against a strong Stalybridge side.
A corner by Iwan Murray was met by Alex Downes, who powered home his header to give Linnets the perfect start.
Bridge striker Raul Correia was injured in the process, left with concussion and unable to take any further part. But claims for a foul were dismissed by the referee, who obviously concurred with the view of the Runcorn fans that Downes had just been too strong and determined for the home defence.
The first 30 minutes saw Runcorn pose repeated problems, breaching the Celtic back line.
'Keeper Liam Hughes made excellent saves to turn away a Murray shot and block from Lloyd Marsh-Hughes.
Scott Reed, back between the sticks for Linnets with teenager Owen Mooney ill, thwarted Celtic's Justin Johnson but Linnets were very much in the ascendancy.
In the last third of the half, the NPL Premier Division hosts tried to get back into the game only to be repelled by Runcorn defending - Jacques Welsh starring as the midfield backed up the efforts of a very resolute and well-organised back four.
The second half was less productive for Runcorn in attack but early Stalybridge pressure was again soaked up with few major alarms.
The home side were unfortunate to lose a second player to injury, Connor O'Grady being stretchered off after an awkward landing in front of the dugouts.
Dapo Olwarewaju joined the action for Runcorn, the substitute adding venom to the attack while also using possession to give the away rearguard a breather. He was unlucky not to seal the win with another goal.
In the only blow of the night for Runcorn, Ryan Brooke was sent off for two yellow card offences neaor the end.
The Linnets top scorer will consequently miss the semi-final, away to NWCL Premier Division side Vauxhall Motors but is clear to continue in league matches.
The final action could easily have prolonged the contest but Johnson's curling shot from arguably Bridge's best opening of the night went wastefully wide.
This preserved Runcorn's third consecutive clean sheet after shutout wins at Market Drayton and Mossley in NPL West.
The semi-final is to be played at Rivacre Park, Ellesmere Port by Saturday, April 2nd, the date still to be arranged.
Runcorn now return to Northern Premier League matters and a home meeting this Saturday, against fellow play-off contenders Clitheroe.
Kick off is at 3pm.
Runcorn Linnets: Scott Reed, Ally Brown, Kain Dean, Jacques Welsh, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony, Joe Lynch (Dapo Olarewaju 67 mins), Lewis Doyle, Ryan Brooke, Iwan Murray (Louis Hayes 90 mins), Lloyd Marsh-Hughes. Subs (not used): James Short, Eden Gumbs, Peter Wylie.
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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