The Northern Premier League

2nd November 2021, Runcorn Linnets FC v Cheadle Town : 7-1

Report by David 'Bill' Davies

After two excellent but fruitless recent performances against higher-division opposition, Linnets had the opportunity to face would-be 'giant killers' in the shape of NWCL Division One South side Cheadle Town, in the Cheshire Senior Cup First Round.

From the outset, Runcorn appeared in no mood to bow out from another knockout competition.

Several players returning from long-term injury were eager to make their mark.

Craig Lindfield reminded a fine Tuesday night crowd of 343 of his pedigree, with a first 90-minute appearance of the season in which he excelled in central midfield.

Alex Downes likewise followed his 13-minute return from the bench on Saturday with a stalwart full shift at centre-half.

MJ Monaghan started on the left wing for the first time since he sustained a nasty shoulder injury against Leek Town on 27th August, and Ally Brown also returned to fitness, to perform up and down the full length of the right flank.

MJ was eager to make an early impression and, in the second minute, he troubled the Cheadle defence with a one-two with Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, cut out by Liam Moran.

A minute later MJ was back in the penalty area to pass inside to Joe Lynch. He flicked on to Marsh-Hughes, whose shot slammed into the left post.

It was already obvious that Moran would be a dominant figure in Cheadle's attempts to thwart the Linnets attack, but there was nothing he or anyone else could do to prevent Iwan Murray from putting his side ahead after six minutes.

The Runcorn No.10 had options from wide on the left, with Marsh-Hughes, Lynch, Lindfield and Dapo Olarewaju all in the 18-yard box, but he had only one in mind as he curled a beauty around everyone including Cheadle 'keeper Liam Lovell, into the top right corner.

Within a minute, Monaghan was back in from the left to pass to Marsh-Hughes, who followed suit across the six-yard box for Olarewaju.

The 'keeper came out to block and parried the ball forwards, and he was fortunate that there was no-one in front of him in yellow and green.

Every time the busy head of Liam Moran cleared, Ashley Leather was on hand to pick up possession and look for forward team mates.

He did find Alfie Carmichael with a pass that set up a shot, but Carmichael couldn't get a clean enough contact, and Sean O'Mahony cleared.

Ally Brown put Linnets back on the offensive with a ball into Olarewaju, and as Dapo turned his marker outside the penalty area, he was tripped.

The free-kick appeared a little too close and central for Murray to work his magic on it with a shot, but we should have known better.

He applied a similar curling trajectory to that of his opening goal ten minutes earlier, to find the same spot in the net.

Lovell might have been expected to get nearer to it, but he didn't appear to think the shot was on either.

The NPL side were now in a comfortable position, with no need for the kind of frantic urgency that was being applied by the opposition to close them down on the ball.

They were afforded a breather while former Linnet, Adam Jones received treatment after a 50-50 clash with Brown.

He recovered, but soon afterwards right-back Josh Borthwick was forced to give way to sub Mackenzie Cookson.

A great through ball to Dapo in the penalty arc was cut out by a well-timed sprint out of goal by Lovell.

Then a neat pass out wide to Monaghan was a fraction too fierce, and, on the break, McConnell and Jones shaped a useful attack, until Downes intervened 12 yards out.

Linnets were back at the forest end, Marsh-Hughes winning a corner from Ally Brown's cut inside and pass.

It was headed away before Downes could get to it, setting up a Lynch volley that wasn't as firm as planned, and when the deflection flew out left, Downes did get power on a volley of his own.

Lovell saved well, but Alex had already been flagged offside.

The long free-kick reached Carmichael in space, but it was rapidly closed down by O'Mahony.

Olly Heywood was making more forays up the wing from left-back, and on 32 minutes his pass set up a Monaghan run into the area.

Cookson, who had been marshalling MJ closely since he came on, sent him sprawling, with no chance of reaching the ball.

Referee Jamie Kilgannon pointed instantly to the spot, from where Joe Lynch aimed for the left stanchion and hit the bullseye.

Cheadle achieved some steadying possession, trying to get a foothold in the game before the break, but Runcorn challenges were confident and mostly successful.

When Linnets were in possession, Monaghan and Olarewaju were repeated threats up either wing, supported by Heywood and Brown respectively.

In the middle of the pitch, Lindfield was taking control, and leaving the opposition to guess as to whether he would set up Lynch or Murray to penetrate the area.

When teams from one or two divisions apart compete, a key difference is usually that the higher- placed side are a fraction quicker on the ball, which greatly increases their options, while their markers have to expend more energy to limit them. It was certainly the case tonight.

Both sides carved out a few more chances before half-time. Olarewaju and Lindfield both set off on

solo runs, and a Joe Lynch shot was stopped at the foot of a post by Lovell.

In between, Heywood prevented a Leather-Cookson exchange from reaching the right corner.

A hopeful curling shot from wide sailed comfortably into Joe Young's arms.

At half-time, MJ Monaghan was subbed by Rhain Hellawell. Rhain was involved in the first attack after the break, his shot from Murray's pass deflected by Lovell for a throw.

After Cookson had been tripped wide right, the free-kick drew a header on goal, but Young caught it with ease.

Marsh-Hughes and Olarewaju built early chances from either wing, blocked for a throw and forced behind, but Linnets were clearly not content to sit back on the 3-0 lead.

Those who know Craig Lindfield know he wouldn't want to wait too long before scoring his first goal of the season.

It came 52 minutes into his first full game, in characteristic style.

Rhain Hellawell won the ball wide left and passed inside, and from just outside the area, Linny controlled, paused for a second, and glided a shot wide of Lovell into the bottom right corner.

From the restart, a rare Cheadle chance came from the right side of the area, but O'Mahony steered the ball over the top for a corner which

was cleared from the near post.

Linnets were back on the attack. A Downes through-ball reached Marsh-Hughes in an offside

position, then Lloyd made his own run up the left for a cross that was deflected out to 18 yards, where Murray laid it back for Lindfield.

Lindfield's booming shot was saved well by Lovell.

Just before the hour mark, first-time captain O'Mahony departed, replaced by Carl Spellman.

Cheadle's best spell of possession in the game comprised eight passes from left flank to right, from where Leather crossed, only for Alex Downes to clear.

It was the prelude to a 5-0 Runcorn lead, as Murray won the ball outside the Town area and laid it off to Olarewaju to his left.

The defence were busy appealing vainly for offside as Dapo played it left again, leaving Marsh-Hughes to score with ease from outside the six-yard box.

Linnets had the luxury of taking their time in possession again, through Hellawell and Marsh-Hughes on the left, Olarewaju and Brown on the right, and Lindfield, Murray and Lynch in a triangle in the middle.

Inside the last 20 minutes, Jordan Monthe's patience since his elevation from the development squad was rewarded with an appearance in place of Iwan Murray.

He was involved immediately, with a great cross after a one-two with Hellawell skimming across the six-yard box a fraction too fast for Olarewaju.

It was Leather yet again who sparked a chance for Cheadle, his cross blocked by Heywood for a corner that found the head of sub Patrick Davin, on for Carmichael. But it was cleared from the line by Downes.

Tiredness was showing on both sides, and long balls became the favoured method for attacks.

An Olarewaju pass set Hellawell away into the area, and he slid the ball under Lovell into the net, but he had been flagged offside earlier in his run.

Into the last ten minutes, a ball from halfway found Marsh-Hughes inside the penalty box.

He controlled well and shot, Lovell saving well at close range.

But Olarewaju picked up the rebound and sidestepped the recovering 'keeper before converting calmly inside the left post for 6-0.

The scoreline was a harsh reflection of the efforts of the men in red and white, but it didn't flatter Linnets' finishing, or their control of the game.

It's Calum McIntyre's job to be hard to please. A minute later he would have been disappointed with the time and space afforded to Miles Vare, as he turned inside from the left across three defenders before slotting a consolation goal into the bottom right corner.

Linnets set about restoring the six-goal margin in the dying minutes.

A Hellawell-Monthe one-two fed Olarewaju, whose shot was blocked.

Then Lovell's boot stopped a low Joe Lynch shot from Dapo's pass.

Monthe met a headed clearance from the corner and passed into the middle for Marsh-Hughes. The resulting shot was blocked for another, cleared in the air.

Cheadle defended in numbers to protect the accolade of having scored the last goal of the game, but it wasn't to be.

Olayinka's foul on Hellawell produced a Runcorn free-kick from the left.

Lindfield curled it into the penalty area, and Carl Spellman was unmarked as he charged in and headed into an unguarded net.

The final whistle came moments later, and Linnets were through to the second-round draw which yielded a tie at Winsford United, to be played in the week ending 8th January.

A display of calm control and clinical finishing had followed a pair of consecutive Linnets home defeats, the final scoreline a harsh outcome for Cheadle Town.

Their application never flagged, and they set out to tackle rather than foul throughout.

It was an admirably clean game of football, which is rare when the outcome becomes evident so early.

League action resumes with the visit of high fliers Trafford FC on Saturday 6th, followed by an away fixture at Kendal Town on Tuesday 9th.

Runcorn Linnets: Joe Young, Ally Brown, Olly Heywood, Joe Lynch, Alex Downes, Sean O'Mahony (Carl Spellman 58), Dapo Olarewaju, Craig Lindfield, Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, Iwan Murray (Jordan Monthe 71), MJ Monaghan (Rhain Hellawell 45). Subs not used: Ryan Brooke, 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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