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Match report - Runcorn Linnets 5 Clitheroe 1

By Dave Bettley 

A four-goal salvo in 18 minutes either side half-time fired Linnets to a convincing comeback victory against last season's play-off semi-finalists as Billy Paynter's men kept their promotion show on the road. 

Clitheroe had arrived at the APEC Taxis Stadium on an unbeaten run of six Pitching In Northern Premier League West games. 

But a fourth successive away match proved one too many for the Lancastrians as Ollie Molloy scored an outstanding 14th of the campaign in all competitions.

Meanwhile, man of the match Will Saxon netted a couple and assisted with two other goals.

Linnets consolidated their position in third place and moved three points closer to second on account of Prescot Cables' 3-0 demise at rejuvenated Newcastle Town.

But the most striking aspect of Linnets' second five-goal home league haul in 2023-24 - the other having come against the present leaders Leek Town - was the fact that Clitheroe started much the brighter and went in front. 

Sefton Gonzales, who has caused perennial problems for Linnets, marauded through the middle to open the scoring. 

From a rushed Runcorn free-kick, the ball had been intercepted and returned  between their two centre backs for the ever-dangerous Gonzales to latch onto and celebrate his goal with a somersault. 

But the 15th-minute breakthrough - a 17th of the season for Gonzales - would ultimately prove mere consolation. 

Runcorn turned the match on its head in the space of three late first-half minutes.

The elusive Saxon had looked likeliest to crack the code for Linnets and he unlocked the visiting defence with two inspired contributions. 

Firstly, after running into space he let fly for a 37th-minute equaliser, his left-foot shot from 22 yards veering inside the right post. 

Saxon then turned cleverly on a fine Jacques Welsh pass, squaring for on-loan Mackenzie O'Neill, on the six-yard line, to lash into the roof of the net from a length-of-the-field Linnets move. 

It had been quite a fightback - not least because in between the two goals, Gonzales had almost restored Clitheroe's advantage.

The hard-to-handle frontman evaded several defenders inside the Runcorn penalty area before also getting the better of Passant.

But home midfielder Lewis Doyle crucially intervened from just in front of goal, getting a saving header on the towering striker's shot. 

If Runcorn's revival hadn't been stunning enough already, it got truly spectacular four minutes into the second half.

Clitheroe had begun it promisingly but Saxon stole possession inside his own half to release Molloy, and while Saxon and O'Neill raced up in support on either side, there was only one thing on the Linnets top scorer's mind.

With Hakan Burton slightly off his line, Molloy continued centrally to unleash a shot from more than 30 yards, beating the Clitheroe No.1 emphatically at the top left corner. 

The visitors' early confidence and composure had by now dissipated.

Saxon and O'Neill created further havoc for the former to drill home his second - and Linnets' fourth - in the 57th minute. 

Clitheroe substitute Domaine Rouse's header from a corner was turned around the far post by Bayleigh Passant before Gonzales was foiled by the crossbar.

He looked to have climbed all over Antony Kay in the build-up although not in the eyes of referee Jacob Graham. 

But the whole dynamic had changed. O'Neill could have had a second but this time wasn't quite in control of the shot, which veered the wrong side of the left upright. 

Runcorn duly added their fifth in the 85th minute. A through ball by Ryan Brooke paved the way for fellow substitute Eden Gumbs to accept the rebound to a Kieran Knapper shot. 

The scorer had only been on the field for four minutes and he would stay just two more.

Retaliation by Gumbs in the aftermath of over-aggression by defender Andrew Teague at a Clitheroe corner saw both players being summarily dismissed.

Teague had struck out at Sean O'Mahony initially, sparks flying after Brooke had been floored by the centre back's initial foul.

There looked to be further contact by Teague on Gumbs in the ensuing melee, incensing the Runcorn player. 

A couple of earlier Clitheroe challenges, each poleaxing Saxon in midfield, had already left a sour taste. 

Ultimately, it was the only way that Clitheroe could stop him. 

Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barratt, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Sean O'Mahony, Antony Kay, Kieran Knapper, Lewis Doyle, Olly Molloy (Ryan Brooke, 69 mins), Will Saxon (Eden Gumbs, 81 mins), Mackenzie O'Neill (Eric Byrne, 73 mins). Subs (not used): Peter Wylie, Adam Moseley.

Attendance: 531.


Eden Gumbs salutes his goal, Runcorn's fifth against in-form Clitheroe. (Photo by Neil Thornton).

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