10th January 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Crewe Alexandra FC : 0-2
The Linnets' participation in 2017-18 season knockout competitions came to an end - albeit with a spirited performance in our first ever game against professional opposition.
Crewe Alexandra of SkyBet League 2 were visitors to the Millbank Linnets Stadium in the Cheshire Senior Cup first round, as holders of the trophy.
The Linnets made a few changes for the game but still opted for a strong side. Terry Smith made a return in goal; Adam Jones switched from left back to right (league player of the month Danny O'Brien being rested) and this allowed Matty Atherton back into the team.
The ever-present Aaron Morris was another regular not this time in the match day squad, Chris Lawton filling in at centre back.
Skipper Kyle Hamid, Kieran Nolan and Paul Shanley were restored to the line-up after all serving a suspension for Saturday's game at Winsford.
Crewe sent a strong side to the MLS. First team regulars George Ray and Ryan Wintle started the game, as part of their recoveries from horrific injuries (Ray fractured his back against Yeovil in April 2017 and Wintle suffered a stress fracture of the tibia playing against Carlisle United).
Wintle may actually be a familiar name to some reading this report as he was signed by Alex from familiar Linnets opponents, Alsager Town.
Goalkeeper David Richards has featured prominently in Crewe's first team this season, and several others with League 2 minutes under their belts were also included.
Despite Crewe taking the lead inside five minutes, the difference in quality between the two sides for the first 40 minutes was minimal. Linnets pushed Crewe hard, pressing and harrying them at every opportunity and forcing some wayward passes.
Linnets looked as dangerous as ever going forward, but up against a pacey back four, it was difficult for Shanley and Antony Hickey to carve out the clear openings to which they are accustomed.
Adam Jones almost grabbed a stunning equaliser mid way through the first half. Neat play between Mike Simpson and Hickey set Jones up to strike a left- footed effort from fully 30 yards - it had Richards rooted to the spot, only for the crossbar to come to his rescue.
Terry Smith was forced into an excellent save at his near post when the Linnets lost possession in trying to play out from the back, before another great Linnets move found Hamid on the penalty spot.
His curling effort beat Richards but was headed off the goal line by a defender, who appeared from 'nowhere'.
As half-time approached, it was 2-2 in regards to clear chances, but Alex scored a great goal just before the break to leave the Linnets with an uphill task.
Impressive all night, Daniel Udoh (another of the Crewe players with first-team experience), ran straight through the heart of the Linnets' defence at pace to slam a shot past Smith, who had no chance of saving.
The Linnets felt disappointed to be a pair of goals behind after having competed well in the game, but the second half was a tighter affair as Crewe battened down the hatches.
Allowing the ever-willing Linnets to chase them, the full- time outfit made the most of their fitness and crisp passing ability to limit the threat of the home side, while creating very little themselves if truth be told.
Matty Cross, again deputising for manager Michael Ellison, shuffled the formation to try to force a way back into the game.
Freddie Potter, Mitch Bryant and Kris Holt were all brought on from the substitutes' bench and the impact was telling.
Bryant and Potter in particular caused the Alex back four some major headaches with their more physical approach.
Potter came so close to halving the deficit with 15 minutes remaining, and a goal at that point would have led to a terrific end to the game.
A quick attack by Hickey on the right caught Crewe flat footed and the wide man's cross found Potter, who caught his volley full on from no more than eight yards out.
But it smacked into a defender, who was running across the goal line to try to cover the situation. The defender's intervention was critical, but he knew absolutely nothing about it!
There was a satisfied applause all round at the final whistle. Despite the loss, all in the freezing cold MLS had witnessed the Linnets give a strong account of themselves against high-quality opposition.
Crewe controlled the game well in the second half, moving the ball around quickly and showing why they are a full-time outfit.
But the Linnets were never overawed by their opponents and stayed in the game throughout, earning the respect of a good-sized crowd.
Our attention now turns solely to our pursuit of league points, and we are at home again on Saturday as Congleton Town visit the MLS for a 3pm kick off.
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Adam Jones, Matt Atherton, Jimmy Moore, Chris Lawton, Kieran Nolan, Paul Shanley, Michael Simpson, Stuart Wellstead, Kyle Hamid, Antony Hickey. Subs: Freddie Potter, Mitch Bryant, Kris Holt. Not used: Mark Houghton, Kasie Jones.
Crewe Alexandra: David Richards, Travis Johnson, Luke Offord, Oliver Finney, George Ray, Joshua Lundstram, Regan Griffiths, Ryan Wintle, Lewis Reilly, Daniel Udoh, Charlie Kirk. Subs: Oliver Harrison, Joe Lynch, Alex Hurst. Not used: Billy Sass Davies, Luke Barlow.
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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