By Dave Bettley
Linnets toughed it out for victory from their first home game of 2024, although manager Billy Paynter was happier with the result than performance.
Paynter praised his team's defensive fortitude, particularly when down to 10 men, but he was less than impressed with their use of the ball.
"Three points is important but our display, I'm not too pleased," he said.
"I've had to say to the lads before they celebrate too early, our standards have got to be a lot higher than what was shown.
"I felt we could have been a lot, lot better in possession. Once we won it, we were too quick to give it back.
"Bodies on the line, blocks are great to see defensively but we get in that position because we are not good enough with the ball."
Paynter's team had to endure the last 14 minutes of regular time plus an added five with a player short, after the controversial dismissal of midfielder Jacques Welsh for a second bookable offence.
Now seventh-placed Kidsgrove, like Linnets in third, had been smarting from defeat on New Year's Day and piled on late pressure after having their share of the play throughout.
But 'keeper Bayleigh Passant and his defence stoically survived the onslaught to avenge defeat at Kidsgrove earlier in the campaign.
The points could yet be crucial in the end-of-season reckoning, especially with the other top-four teams in Pitching In Northern Premier League West all triumphing on the first Saturday of the year.
Linnets can feel that justice was served with the result. They created the better chances, despite again not being at their best, while the sending off of Welsh left a bitter taste.
'Grove skipper Lewis Bergin initiated head-to-head contact with the Runcorn man before launching himself to the floor, clutching his face, for no apparent reason.
The upshot was a yellow for both players, with Welsh also seeimg red.
That he had been on a caution for a foul, committed a short time before, seemed all too convenient for the visitors.
It was another fits and starts display from the hosts, although visiting 'keeper Kieran Harrison had to pull out all the stops to keep the Staffordshire outfit afloat.
The decisive goal came as early as 11 minutes, Linnets leading marksman Olly Molloy scoring the 12th of his maiden NPL campaign.
The winner came from a right-wing cross from James Hooper, who had a big part to play in the first half.
Molloy, stationed on the far side of goal, benefitted from a controlling touch by Alex Doyle to fire left footed, low and convincingly, into the right corner.
The hosts struggled to keep up early momentum, curiously laying off their opponents, but were not without opportunities to extend the lead.
Welsh threaded an eye-of-the-needle pass through Kidsgrove's defence to send Molloy running clear on goal.
A further addition to the bustling front man's now five-goal lead in Linnets' scoring charts looked nailed on - until Harrison got down smartly to divert the ball for a corner.
The 'keeper produced an even better save after Joe Lynch had turned away from the Kidsgrove cover to unleash a 20-yard shot on regaining possession from his initial attempted through ball.
The midfielder’s effort was bound for the top-left corner but spring-heeled Harrison leapt high to divert it over his crossbar.
Kidsgrove enjoyed good possession and territory but Passant had been relatively untroubled going into the break.
The slenderness of the home lead was to keep the contest on a knife edge for the duration, however with Linnets' position looking increasingly precarious as the game wore on.
Runcorn's offensive play continued to be sporadic yet dangerous, Harrison again coming to the away side's rescue as Molloy shot for goal from another Hooper cross.
The miss could have been costly.
Kidsgrove had already raised the stakes in the second half but Welsh's 76th-minute dismissal only escalated the threat on the Runcorn goal with right winger Kieran Knapper posing problems.
Linnets' defensive unit, which ultimately lost skipper James Short to an injury sustained in the first half, absorbed everything thrown at them, however.
Vice-captain Sean O'Mahony brought his experience to bear as a centre back substitute, Alex Jones switchng out to left back in place of his skipper as Antony Kay continued to support the defensive line from midfield.
Passant, whose handling had been safe and confident, made his best save of the match late on to thwart an ominous Kidsgrove attack. A marauding run by Joe Woolley set up Jordan Cole for a potential equaliser but Passant was equal to the Kidsgrove substitute's shot on the slide.
In a last throw of the dice four minutes into stoppage time, and having already been the visitors' saviour at one end, 'keeper Harrison ventured forward to contest a corner at the other – in the hope of completing his rescue act with a goal.
Deliberately picked out by the taker, Harrison's high and wide volleyed finish was in-keeping with someone more accustomed to stopping shots than taking aim themselves.
Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Peter Wylie, James Short (Sean O'Mahony, 59 mins), Jacques Welsh, Sam Wilson, Alex Jones, Joe Lynch (Will Saxon, 59 mins), Antony Kay, Olly Molloy, Lewis Doyle, James Hooper (Eden Gumbs, 77 mins). Subs (not used): Adam Moseley, Sam Barratt.
Olly Molloy scores Runcorn's winner after 11 minutes. Picture by NEIL THORNTON.