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Match summary – Stalybridge Celtic 0 Runcorn Linnets 1

Runcorn Linnets jumped into second place in Pitching In Northern Premier League West with victory at fellow play-off contenders Stalybridge Celtic and in the process cut the deficit on the league leaders.

A fortuitous but potentially priceless goal by Sean O'Mahony (pictured above) - the centre half's cross sailing high above on-loan Liverpool 'keeper Luke Hewitson and into the top corner - saw Linnets defeat their Cheshire rivals for the third time this season.

They now trail Leek Town by nine points, the Staffordshire table toppers having been pegged back late on in a draw against visiting Vauxhall Motors while Prescot Cables dropped to third after also relinquishing two points at home to Hanley Town.

This was a fourth successive Runcorn victory over the Bower Fold outfit and their fifth overall in seven meetings, Stalybridge's only win coming in the first back in 2013.

After their 5-1 rout of Clitheroe, this was an acid test for Linnets, not least because have often struggled this season to back up their best performances.

As they have still to visit Leek and also Prescot, who they overtook after Saturday's results, it was also important for Runcorn to lay down a marker away from home against another of the better sides.

With other clubs jostling behind them for play-off positions, promotion remains a more than realistic goal and the title is by no means out of the question for Billy Paynter's side.

While this latest match was expectedly tight, Runcorn can feel that the outcome was just one as on front from the 20th minute, they largely blunted the threat from the hosts with stout defending.

Obua Magalula came closest to a  Stalybridge equaliser with scorer O'Mahony producing heroics at the opposite end this time with a goalline clearance.

It was a game of few clear chances but no lack of commitment - a fact underlined by nine bookings, four of them for Linnets. Runcorn had more efforts on goal with Hewitson certainly the busier 'keeper.

The game was in many ways a product of the difficult pitch conditions caused by recent rain.

Attractive football was at a premium with Linnets first team coach Liam Page (pictured above) after the game praising a dogged and determined performance from the Yellow & Greens.

"On that pitch today we had to dig deep at times and you couldn’t really play football on it," he said. "It was a good win. "In the first half with the slope you're defending deep aren't you?  It's tough to get out. Going in 1-0 (up), it was massive.

"Second half, I thought we had chances on the break, always looked dangerous and we were solid all over the park. I thought we deserved it in the end."

He added: "Today was about percentage football, putting it in the right areas and forcing  mistakes on pitches like this.

"We did that. We got a bit of luck with the goal. Once you get that bit of luck, it's about staying in the game and holding onto that lead."

Linnets had the rare luxury of being able to name the same XI for a third successive game.

The only change was on the bench, Alex Jones returning after injury for the suspended Eden Gumbs.

But Ryan Brooke was the only substitute used. His experience helped Runcorn to retain possession upfield in the closing stages while he almost conjured up a second goal - an effort from outside the box shaving a post.

WIll Saxon, Mackenzie O'Neill and Olly Malloy had all tested Hewitson while Bayleigh Passant's shot-stopping skills were rarely needed.

Continuity of selection can only help bring consistency on results with Linnets giving taken 10 points from the last 12, after struggling at times this season to put runs together.

They take a break from league action, this Tuesday (20th February ) to face City of Liverpool in a Liverpool Senior Cup tie switched to APEC Taxis Stadium (ko 7.45pm).

The pursuit of a place in the NPL Premier Division for next season continues on Saturday (24th) when Hednesford Town come to Murdishaw for the first time, desperate for points to help preserve their Step 4 status (ko 3pm).

The Pitmen announced on Sunday that they had parted company with manager Harry Harris and assistant manager Steve Hinks.

Runcorn Linnets: Bayleigh Passant, Sam Barratt, James Short, Jacques Welsh, Sean O'Mahony, Antony Kay, Kieran Knapper, Lewis Doyle, Olly Molloy (Ryan Brooke, 85 mins), Will Saxon, Mackenzie O'Neill. Subs (not used): Peter Wylie, Eric Byrne, Adam Moseley, Alex Jones.

Attendance: 861.

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1 Comment

Another solid victory for Runcorn Linnets! O'Mahony's goal and resilient defending paid off. The race for promotion is heating up, and Billy Paynter's side is making a strong case. On to the next challenge, snake game!

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