The Northern Premier League

14th December 2013, Stockport Sports v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-3

Runcorn Linnets travelled to The Stockport Sports Village, knowing that they were not only due to face challenging opposition, but also a "Slippery When Wet" artificial surface and extremely high winds. Joey Dunn's team rose to all three challenges with aplomb, and came away with a highly-satisfying 3-0 win. Backed by superb away support yet again, the Linnets got off to the perfect start, with Kevin Towey heading on Mike Tomlinson's long pass into the path of Antony Hickey in the opening minute. The striker, not long back from a lengthy lay-off, took a steadying touch, and never looked like missing the target, striking the ball majestically into the far corner from the edge of the penalty box.

With the gale behind them, the Linnets patiently took their time on the ball, gauging the wind and conditions, Michael Duffy struck over the bar, and Martin Crowder combined well with Towey, once again the ball overrunning and out of play. Kyle Hamid's shot was deflected behind for the first in a series of corners, while at the other end, the Stockport No. 9, Ben Halfacre also shot over when in a good position.

More and more Linnets fans seemed to head for the relative cover of the main stand, while a jovial "bus conductor" character came round to check ticket stubs - more reminiscent of a late departure from Lime Street than a football ground. Hickey and Towey worked tenaciously once again, and Stockport had arguably their best period of play, but struggled with offsides while contemplating an extremely well-marshalled Linnets back line. Linnets 'keeper Andy Robertson remained assured and dealt with all that was thrown at him with ease, his major concern was to be considering a few extra layers of clothing that would be required for a largely lonely second half ahead.

As Runcorn grew in stature, their talismanic skipper Tomlinson got forward for a set-piece but headed wide, and then Hickey was unlucky not to double his tally after Richie Torkington, the home 'keeper had cleared straight at him, as the resultant ricochet fell just wide. Michael Duffy and Martin Crowder pressed forward from full-back, as the Linnets went in search of a second, and Kyle Hamid won three consecutive headers against taller opposition; commitment and athleticism at their best.

Matt Atherton's cheeky in-stepped shot was next to dip just wide, as again Runcorn Linnets created chances aplenty, but couldn't convert, with Michael Simpson unable to recreate the ball-striking master-class of seven days earlier, although in much more testing circumstances. Simpson and Towey exchanged passes, setting up Hamid, with Torkington pulling off a strong one-handed save to deny the Linnets midfielder, and the half ended with the visitors well on top, but preparing for a difficult 45 minutes into the wind.

The 15 minutes in the warmth of the welcoming Stockport Sports clubhouse passed all too quickly, However, the Linnets were to keep that warm glow alive with a pulsating second-half performance. Hickey released Duffy to cross, and Hamid was unlucky not to score with his header. Kyle was then booked for an uncharacteristic loose challenge in an extremely sporting game, with two sides intent on football. The Linnets kept the ball low and passed accurately throughout, making light of the strong winds.

On the hour, Crowder broke clear before squaring unselfishly for Towey to finish with ease, sending the away support into raptures. Hamid made way for Mark Houghton, and Tomlinson again went close with a decent shot. Robertson kept his concentration, and saved well from a long-range drive, and the Linnets made it three with a carbon copy of the finsih for the second goal. Houghton went clear of the Stockport defence and played in Towey for his second close-range effort. Michael Ellison and Ross McDowell came off what was possibly the strongest Linnets bench in memory, replacing the busy Simpson and excellent Hickey respectively. Duffy went close for Runcorn with a probing shot while their defence dealt with some late pressure - Mike Burke, especially, working hard to track and block a shot. The final whistle was greeted with a great reception for the appreciative players.

Full credit to The Linnets today; manager Dunn had assessed the conditions, and perfectly set the balance and tactics of the team for a dominant display. Hickey's finish in the first minute earns him a "Champagne Moment", but every player in yellow and green gave 100% effort and that, combined with a team display, was enough to send the Linnets Faithful home with a smile. Their club had moved into second in the NWCFL Premier Division table, mindful that they hold, along with Norton United, a strengthening position in league proceedings.

Stockport Sports: Richie Torkington, Tom Bane, Lee Jackson, Arron Riley (c), Paul Wadsworth, Jamie Street, Jordan Young (Sam Jacob), Alex Crowe, Ben Halfacre, Sam Pollard (Tommy Thornton), Callam Gardner (Ryan Steele). Subs (not used|): Steve Moore, Jack Wareing.

Runcorn Linnets: Andrew Robertson, Michael Duffy, Martin Crowder, Michael Burke, Michael Tomlinson (c), Matt Cross, Michael Simpson (Michael Ellison), Kyle Hamid (Mark Houghton), Anthony Hickey (Ross McDowell), Kevin Towey, Matthew Atherton. Subs (not used): Chris Lomax, Adam Wade.

Attendance: 137

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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