By Dave Bettley
Manager Billy Paynter didn't hold back in his criticism of a hugely-disappointing Runcorn Linnets display on the Pitching In Northern Premier League West away ground closest to home.
A first-half double from Widnes striker Jack McGowan saw Linnets return empty-handed from the DCBL Stadium, having scored nine goals without reply in winning their three previous games.
Giving his verdict on the performance on Linnets TV, Billy said: "So disappointed in the group.
"Firstly, I'd like to apologise to the supporters.
"I didn't ever think I would have to say that with the group so that's where my frustrations are.
"The display that they put out today, in a derby match by the way, was absolutely shocking.
"To concede an early goal, listen happens in games but we've still got 88 minutes to go.
"The boys decided to take their own game in their own hands and try to do things. So we weren't a group today we were very individual.
"Full credit to Widnes - they worked bard, they pressed us, played the better football by the way and we looked like the team that played on Wednesday night. They looked far sharper, far fitter.
"We created chances, even though it was a poor display but I don't think we turned up, the result's a fair result."
Runcorn were playing catch-up from very early on, conceding after two minutes.
They were undone by a through ball from Sean Miller, Linnets' defence being caught square and static as McGowan raced clear for the first of his match-winning brace.
Both goals were one-on-one efforts, Widnes being given the attacking freedom Runcorn would never be offered.
The former Bootle man's second was from a three-against-two raid stemming from a stray pass which was symptomatic of Runcorn's first-half ills.
Widnes and No.10 Miller, in particular, dominated the centre of the park - exploiting huge gaps left by Runcorn to underline just how much the visitors missed the injured Lewis Doyle (hamstring).
Olly Molloy, at 1-0, hit the left post at close quarters after doing the hard part in controlling a cross.
Another possible turning point came from a let-off at the other end.
A speculative but well-executed long-distance lob from the quick-thinking Miller, with Bayleigh Passant stranded, looked bound for the back of the net.
Instead, it bounced onto the corner of the left upright and bar.
But Runcorn again failed to capitalise.
Widnes were good value for a 2-0 interval lead.
McGowan was played in on the left for his 26th-minute second, although Steven Irwin could just as easily have found Ste Milne to his right.
Having given his starting XI chance to redeem themselves after the restart, Billy Paynter soon sent on Ryan Brooke.
Brooke had the first of two big Runcorn opportunities in the second half with James Hooper setting up both.
The winger trusted his unfavoured right foot to deliver a cross from close to the deadball line, after beating his marker on the outside.
Brooke's resulting header beat 'keeper Cameron Terry but cannoned off the left post.
The second chance stemmed from a Hooper free-kick, again from the right, which Widnes couldn't clear.
It eventually dropped for Antony Kay, whose low effort was cleared from the line by right back Sam Bhatti.
In committing increasing numbers forward - Linnets playing with four up front even before sending on Adam Moseley - Runcorn left themselves susceptible to the counter attack.
Widnes had posed much less of an attacking threat in the second half but they had earned the right to be less adventurous.
With stoppage time approaching, the hosts broke from deep inside their own half, centre forward McGowan being denied a hat-trick by his opposite number Molloy, who had backtracked to head clear from under the bar.
Defeat saw Linnets slip from third to sixth in a close, unpredictable division.
Billy Paynter delivered a thinly-veiled warning that their inconsistency can't continue - "We need to take this club forward," he said - and the boss is demanding a reaction, starting in Tuesday's Cheshire Senior Cup tie at holders, Congleton.
Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barrett (Adam Moseley, 75 mins), Eden Gumbs, Antony Kay, Peter Wylie, Sean O'Mahony, Will Saxon, Jacques Welsh, Olly Molloy, Joe Lynch, Ryan Brooke, 53 mins), James Hooper. Subs (not used): Lewis Doyle, Alex Jones, Mwiya Malumo.