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Match report - Witton Albion 1, Runcorn Linnets 0

A painful start to 2024 saw Linnets lose a New Year fixture at Witton for the second successive season.

The reversal was costly as leaders Leek Town won the Staffordshire derby at Kidsgrove Athletic handsomel while Prescot's home success against Bootle was enough to relegate Linnets to third place in Pitching In Northern Premier League West. 

Runcorn had a lot of the play at U Lock It Stadium but struggled to produce chances with Ollie Molloy again cutting a lonely figure in attack. 

The visitors threw everything at their opponents in the latter stages with Adam Moseley and then even centre half Sean O'Mahony coming on to bolster the attack but the frustration continued. 

At times Runcorn were their own worst enemies, overplaying with passes and failing to get the ball into the box nearly enough.

There were precious few golden chances at either end but Witton made an opportunity count, thanks to a 51st-minute finish by Brandon Newell. 

The November midfield signing swept home a cross from Connor Hughes and the visitors, who had come from 1-0 down in the last 10 minutes to beat promotion rivals Prescot on Boxing Day, couldn't repeat the comeback against mid-table Albion.

How to make more of their possession and approach play is a continuing conundrum for Runcorn because clear-cut openings aren't being fashioned with any regularity.

Somebody, who may have an answer was again observing from the stand, talismanic striker Ryan Brooke still striving to shrug off his injury problems.

But the squad on duty was certainly sttong enough, it's just that the team isn't firing on all cylinders and seems unable to string together a run of wins.

It has been a problem all season and could, if they’re not careful, derail a realistic promotion bid. 

Antony Kay and O'Mahony returned from suspensions, the latter having missed a second game after heading home to Ireland for Christmas. 

But Billy Paynter was justified in sticking with Sam Wilson and Alex Jones in central defence after their strong performance in the previous game. 

Kay found himself taking a midfield berth, Joe Lynch being unavailable, but defender Peter Wylie this time missed out, Paynter rotating at right back with a recall for Sam Barratt. 

Neither side genuinely troubled the opposition goal in the first half. Witton's goalkeeper Olie Martin looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet and was lucky to escape when his attempted clearance ricocheted off Molloy to safety. 

Wideman Will Saxon was always a threat while midfielder Lewis Doyle saw a goalbound shot charged down in the area. 

At the other end, Elliot Rokka was behind many of Albion's best moments but Runcorn's defence dealt with the danger, new boy Jones again particularly impressing.

He produced an astonishing off-the-line clearance in the second half. It denied Joe Duckworth, whose initial effort had already been blocked by the former Linnets Under 21s defender.

Just before the break, Linnets lost on-loan Cam Rooney to a facial injury, which required lengthy treatment prior to his withdrawal. 

With the game being so tight, the opening goal was always likely to be tough to retrieve for the side on the receiving end and so it proved. 

Both sides had upped their attacking game upon the restart but despite a positive initial response to falling behind, Runcorn couldn't maintain momentum.

Saxon curled a shot wide, albeit from a long distance, while in his eagerness to settle the score, substitute Moseley hit the side netting with another effort when team-mates were queueing in anticipation of a pass. 

Witton also had a couple of late opportunities to seal the win but ultimately, one goal was enough. 

Runcorn will again need to bounce back quickly when they return to APEC Taxis Stadium action - likewise Saturday's NPL visitors Kidsgrove, after a 5-0 humbling by leaders Leek at home.

Kidsgrove already boast a 3-0 victory over Runcorn this season from August's meeting, also in the league.

Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barratt (Sean O’Mahony, 85 mins), James Short, Jacques Welsh (Adam Moseley, 68 mins), Sam Wilson, Alex Jones, Will Saxon, Antony Kay, Olly Molloy, Lewis Doyle, Cameron Rooney (James Hooper, 44 mins). Subs (not used): Peter Wylie, Josh Roberts (GK). 

Attendance: 767.


Jacques Welsh gets away from a tackle in the New Year's Day game at U Lock It Stadium. Picture by Neil Thornton.

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