17th February 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Widnes : 0-2 Sponsored by Webbs of Runcorn
A FIRST home defeat of the season in The Hallmark Security League Premier Division cast a slight shadow over what was an otherwise historic day for Runcorn Linnets.
But a bumper crowd of 608 turned out to celebrate the official opening of the club's fantastic £1.4 million clubhouse building and fully-enclosed junior pitches, which will give armies of young Linnets and their opponents safe, clean and well-maintained pitches to play on every week.
It fell to The Mayor of Halton to cut the ribbon - Councillor Alan Lowe and the Mayoress, Mrs Joan Lowe being among many invited special guests.
This was our first ever meeting with Widnes FC, a relatively new club in non-league circles. However they were the most familiar opposition we have probably ever faced! Joint player-manager Kev Towey, and three of his fellow starters - in goalkeeper Richie Mottram, centre back Mike Burke and winger Chris Lomax - all enjoyed highly-successful spells while at Runcorn Linnets.
All of them remain fond favourites of our supporters to this day.
Kev, Richie and Burkey can often be found at The Millbank on their football days off.
The squad also features other ex-Linnets including Joe Fielding, Billy Webb and Jay Roberts.
It's also worth pointing out at this stage that Widnes are an excellent side. They currently sit second, behind ourselves in the table, and since Towey and Steve Akrigg succeeded former Linnets boss Joey Dunn (who had led the club to promotion last season) as manager in October, their form has been inspired.
They visited the MLS on a run of 13 wins out of 14 games, which gave a nice balance to our 12 wins on the bounce! Mike Simpson missed the game with a dead leg and was replaced by Kieran Nolan in the only change to the team that beat Aston Athletic last time out. Adam Jones moved upfield into Simmo's attacking role with Nolan anchoring the midfield.
The outcome of this game could have so different but for a fourth-minute moment of bad luck.
Freddie Potter flicked a neat header in to the run of Paul Shanley, whose shot beat Mottram but smacked into a post and back into the grateful 'keeper's arms.
It was to be the closest the Linnets came to scoring in the entire match.
Despite a good start from the hosts, it was to be our visitors who took the lead on 15 minutes in spectacular fashion. A heavy challenge 25 yards from goal resulted in a free-kick to Widnes.
Up stepped the player who was affectionately known as "Super Kev" in his time at Linnets. His free-kick beat the wall and bounced in off the crossbar to give Terry Smith absolutely no chance.
Towey's muted celebration showed his respect for both the Linnets and his current side Widnes.
Less than five minutes later, it was 0-2 and starting to look like an uphill battle. Smith fumbled an in-swinging corner over the crossbar, but from the follow-up corner the Linnets stopper misjudged the delivery and allowed Widnes joint player-manager Akrigg to head into an empty net at the far post.
Freddie Potter had a great chance to pull a goal back when Shanley sent him one on one with Mottram but, possibly unaware that he had a bit of time to find a better angle, he opted for an early lobbed effort that floated wide.
Widnes themselves had another couple of great chances to extend their lead but found Jimmy Moore in no mood to allow any extra goals, the pacey defender throwing in a number of excellent last-ditch and covering tackles.
A key moment came on the stroke of half time. Adam Jones, excellent all day for the Linnets, picked up the ball in his own half and ran straight through the heart of the Widnes rearguard to get in a a low, curling shot from outside the area. It seemed destined for the bottom left corner, only to be clawed around the post at full stretch by Mottram.
From the resulting corner, the former Linnets stopper punched away from Potter's head only two yards from goal with the big front man certain to half the deficit.
The half ended with both sides equal in chances created, but Widnes holding a commanding two-goal lead.
The second half would not live up to the quality of the first. Linnets came out looking to get back into the game but knew they couldn't over commit with Widnes so dangerous on the counter attack.
Widnes did an excellent job of nullifying the Linnets' usually devastating play from the flanks, Shanley in particular cutting a frustrated figure as he struggled to make his usual impact. This forced the Linnets to play more centrally, which played right into the hands of a strong and experienced Widnes defence.
Potter and Hickey were replaced by Mark Houghton and Stuart Wellstead as Michael Ellison tried desperately to change the game, but in truth it had little effect as the Widnes back line held firm.
The game closed out with neither side getting a shot on target in the second half, which mattered little for our visitors who survived six minutes of injury time before being able to celebrate.
They had become the first team to stop the Linnets scoring at home this season in the league, this also being Runcorn's first home defeat in the Premier Division for more than 13 months. The last such reversal had been a 2-5 loss against Hanley Town in January 2017.
There was little argument at the result in the end, and while there was also little between the sides, Widnes took their chances clinically and defended very well in the second half.
In this match reporter's opinion, they are the best side we have faced this season; full of strength and experience in all areas.
So, we have reached the end of our record-breaking sequence of wins, the bar being set at 12.
The quality of our team has put us in a strong position, and while the players and management team will be hurting from the defeat, we have built a bit of credit, meaning we keep our position at the league summit.
Ello and his players will be itching to put the defeat behind them and get back to winning ways quickly. Another massive game is upon us with 1874 Northwich visiting the MLS for a rearranged fixture this Tuesday night (kick off 7.45pm).
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Adam Jones, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Mark Houghton, Stuart Wellstead. Not used: Chris Lawton, Kyle Hamid, Matt Holmes (GK).
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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