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Match report - Hanley Town 0 Runcorn Linnets 0

By Dave Bettley

Linnets were unable to press promotion claims with a sought-after victory as, for the second time this season, their attacking efforts were blunted by resolute Hanley.

The Potteries town famously produced the Wizard of Dribble, Stanley Matthews but its football team is built on durability in defence rather than attacking flair.

It's a quality which they had already demonstrated at APEC Taxis Stadium in November. 

On that occasion, dominant Linnets were unable to find a way through and were caught by a second-half sucker punch as the Stoke on Trent side went home with all three points from a 1-0 win.

Runcorn will feel they also had the better of the play in this return fixture while struggling to create genuine chances.

Most of their attempts were from outside the box and went wide on an afternoon when both goalkeepers were seldom tested.

Harvey Passant, continuing to deputise for older brother Bayleigh, on the plus side kept his second clean sheet in as many outings.

With two games left to play, a highest ever league finish and third successive qualification for the play-offs remain in Linnets' sights

The situation might be a whole lot clearer before they play again - against nearest neighbours Widnes in Saturday's final home game of the season (ko 3pm).

Widnes, looking to come up on the rails for a semi-final spot themselves, have a vital rearranged match on Wednesday at Kidsgrove Athletic.

Before that, two other contenders, City of Liverpool and Bootle will likewise play their game in hand on Tuesday -  against each other.

While there are various permutations in terms of possible finishing positions behind champions Leek Town, the equation is simple enough for Linnets if not straight forward.

They will start the penultimate weekend's game in second place.

Victories from their last two games would secure runners-up spot with a second or third-placed guaranteeing home advantage in the semis against the sides finishing fifth and fourth.

Manager Billy Paynter was again hugely frustrated by his side's lack of end product in Staffordshire.

Runcorn have gone five games without scoring from open play but they are unbeaten in their last six thanks to opportunism from set-pieces and the penalty spot.

The boss knows that Runcorn are entirely capable of rediscovering their ruthlessness in front of goal.

Kieran Knapper and Sam Barratt mustered Runcorn's best efforts of the afternoon before the break.

But the second half was a total stalemate, Hanley substitute James Askey's harsh 82nd-minute dismissal coming too late to change the game in favour of the visitors.

"It's the frustrating side," said Paynter. "The quality in possession is there in training.

"The ball movement is slick. But when it comes to games where's that bravery?

"I know it's there. That's what frustrates me. When they're on song they can put three or four on teams."

At the same time, the boss was quick to praise Hanley's organisation and adherence to their game plan.

"I thought Hanley displayed really well," admitted Paynter.

"Their job was to frustrate us, keep it tight in the middle of the park, be compact, asking questions of us by saying "Go on, force your qualities". And we didn't show any quality.

"We were very wasteful in possession, certainly in the final third."

Paynter is challenging his players to raise their game and get the job done against Widnes on Saturday.

"It's a derby," he said. "We'll be going into the game looking to get three points.

"Not only that, we owe them one. I felt when we played them at their place, we were poor again. I'm looking for a reaction certainly from today.

"Our fans, they come in numbers, in full voice. They're superb. We want to give them something back.

"Next week it's a tasty game. Widnes are a good side. It's not going to be easy. The boys need to buckle up and be ready for the game."

Runcorn Linnets: Harvey Passant, Sam Barratt, James Short, Joe Thompson, Sean O'Mahony, Antony Kay, Kieran Knapper, Jacques Welsh, Ryan Brooke (Olly Molloy, 58 mins), Lewis Doyle (James Hooper, 67 mins), Will Saxon (Mackenzie O'Neill, 68 mins). Subs (not used): Peter Wylie, Eden Gumbs.

Attendance: 242.

Pictures by Neil Thornton.

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