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Match report - Newcastle Town 1 Runcorn Linnets 0

By a special correspondent

Inconsistent Linnets squandered a golden chance to climb into second position in Pitching In Northern Premier League West after a hugely disappointing performance.

Manager Billy Paynter has been less than impressed with his side's efforts over recent weeks, even in victory at home to Kidsgrove Athletic last time out, and wouldn't have seen anything in this dismal affair to improve his mood. 

Defeat wasn't as damaging as it might have been as all the other top sides were held to draws - including  Stalybridge Celtic, who were set to overtake Linnets into third place until their visitors, Clitheroe snatched a spot-kick equaliser eight minutes into stoppage time.

But this was another big opportunity wasted. 

Newcastle, who have now accrued seven points from three games undefeated under new manager Neil Baker, the former long-serving Leek Town boss, won the game with a first-half Tom Jones strike.

They could easily have finished it with nine men as midfielder Isaac Graham and 'keeper Joseph Slinn were  fortunate to escape red cards inside the first 50 minutes. 

But it's said that you make your own luck and Linnets didn't deserve anything more than their empty-handed return while The Castle defended well and took their chance when it came to earn the spoils. 

Boss Paynter had been forced into three changes from the team, which had hung on with 10 men for APEC Taxis Stadium victory over Kidsgrove the previous Saturday. 

Defensive midfielder Jacques Welsh served a one-game suspension after his contentious dismissal in that win while on-loan centre back Sam Wilson and winger James Hooper were sidelined by injury.

Consequently, Sean O'Mahony, Adam Moseley and Will Saxon returned to the starting line-up and the one bright moment in a dark afternoon for Runcorn was the sight of Ryan Brooke coming off the bench. 

It was the striker's first appearance since October, the assumption being after his very late cameo that had the striker been 100%,  he'd have been on much earlier.

As it was, his entry came in the 84th minute as he substituted for Lewis Doyle, who can't have enjoyed his 100th Linnets outing. 

As well as Sam Wilson has played since being brought in from parent club Warrington Rylands, the absence of Hooper with a broken rib was the more perturbing.

Linnets now have more than adequate resources, after their mid-season defensive crisis, but Hooper sets up goals with his crossing ability and creativity was sadly lacking in this display. 

It left an Ollie Molloy header late in the first half, straight at the 'keeper but at least on target, and likewise a James Short free-kick early in the second, also saved by Slinn, as effectively the sum total of Runcorn's attacking efforts. 

Whether Slinn should still have been on the field to thwart Short is another matter. The set-piece stemmed from the Newcastle stopper bringing down clean-through Saxon outside his area to deny the Linnets winger a scoring opportunity.

Slinn received only a yellow and convention in the "goalkeeper's union" was broken as his opposite number, Bayleigh Passant ran the length of the field to remonstrate with the referee over the lenient decision, only to be cautioned himself. 

Linnets had similar cause to complain before the break. Newcastle's Graham had already been booked for flattening Alex Jones when, in the 28th minute, he went through the back of Antony Kay.

It was the type of challenge which would normally warrant a caution. 

Shortly after The Castle had opened the scoring, there was a further warning from the official for the same player. 

The decisive 32nd-minute goal resulted from a mistake by Alex Jones, who had been pretty much flawless since breaking into the side in December. So there was plenty of credit in the bank for the young defender as Jake Avery, having earlier tested Passant himself, capitalised on the slip-up by this time setting up Tom Jones to finish. 

Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Peter Wylie (Sam Barratt, 63 mins), James Short, Antony Kay, Alex Jones, Sean O'Mahony, Will Saxon, Joe Lynch, Olly Molloy, Lewis Doyle (Ryan Brooke, 84 mins), Adam Moseley (Eden Gumbs, 55 mins). Sub (not used): Josh Roberts (GK).


Attendance: 336.


Lewis Doyle and Peter Wylie are under pressure as Newcastle's Jake Avery goes for goal. Picture by Neil Thornton.

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