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13th August 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v West Didsbury & Chorlton : 2-2 Sponsored by John and Brenda Jenkin

By Ste Bignall

THE Linnets kicked off their 2016-17 Hallmark Security League Premier Division campaign with a home fixture against South Manchester outfit West Didsbury & Chorlton on Saturday afternoon, this following the postponement due to cup replays of the intended opening fixture at AFC Liverpool last Wednesday evening.

A very new look side ground out a hard-fought and thoroughly deserved point with a 2-2 draw in a very entertaining encounter.

The game brought about competitive Linnets debuts for Paul Shanley, awarded the North West Counties League's Player of the Year trophy before kick off, Andy Thorpe and Marcus Cusani, with several others making their MLS curtain openers.

WDC were the side on top in the opening stages, getting into a few good positions without seriously troubling Cookson in the Linnets goal. In fact, the first meaningful effort fell to the home side, Adam Wade, who missed practically all of last season with an injury, firing in a ferocious strike from 25 yards straight down Buckley-Smith's throat.

The visitors' best chance of the first half came when a good passing move got them in behind the new-look Linnets defence and a rasping drive from the penalty spot was superbly tipped on to the crossbar by Cookson with the rebound cleared for a corner. Michael Ellison's men should have taken the lead moments later when an excellent cross from the right dropped perfectly for Hickey, giving a glorious chance to head home from six yards out, but the forward couldn't quite set himself and the effort went just wide.

The away side had a goal ruled out for offside just before half-time, one of many good decisions on a day when all three officials carried out their duties firmly and consistently while allowing a good flow to the game.

WDC came out looking for a goal after the break and after dragging a shot wide from a good position, did manage to open the scoring. An excellent cross from the right was headed in off the far post by Matty Kay on 55 minutes, a goal that you could argue was a deserved one. However, Linnets weren't about to dwell on the fact they had fallen behind and when a straight forward free-kick sent Shanley clean through on goal he made no mistake in rounding the keeper and slotting home his inaugural Linnets goal. Here's to many more Shanners!

Cookson made a good save from Ash Wood's low shot before gifting WDC their second of the afternoon. The new number 1 showed great confidence to come the length of his area to gather in a long ball and it can only have been that he took his eye off it too soon. The ball squirmed from his grasp and fell perfectly for Rob Black to roll the ball into the empty net.

It was a mistake that Cookson didn't deserve in what was otherwise a very assured performance.

Great character was shown by the home side who immediately answered the question that had been asked of them once again. When Adam Wade curled in a free-kick from the right the Manchester men couldn't clear their lines and the ball fell for the retuning Chris Lawton, on his home debut second time around, to fire into the bottom corner and draw the Linnets level once again.

With the bit between their teeth, Ello's charges went looking for the winner, Shanley and Cusani both going close, but the closest that Linnets came was from a deflected long-range strike by Aaron Morris that Buckley-Smith acrobatically turned over the bar with an unbelievable flying save.

Neither side left feeling overly disappointed with a draw, although both will think they could have nicked it on another day. A thoroughly entertaining game that was played at a high tempo with good physicality but never dirty.

The feedback from Linnets fans leaving the ground was that when this new side has had some time to settle, and key players return to the side, we have the makings of a very good side.

Runcorn Linnets: Jack Cookson, Dan McKenna, Chris Lawton, Kevin McGrath, Andrew Thorpe, Adam Wade, Aaron Morris, Bevan Burey, Antony Hickey, Paul Shanley (capt), Marcus Cusani. Subs: Taylor Kennerley, Allan Collins. Not used: Dan O'Brien, Adam Donohue, Tony Donaldson.

West Ddsbury & Chorlton: Haydn Buckley-Smith, Richmond Botchey, Paul Socha, Martin Andrews, Mark Rogers (capt), Anthony Potts, Robert Black, Joseph Shaw, Ashley Woods, Matthew Kay, Jonathan Poizer. Subs: Jordan Poole, George Whyment, Daniel Russell, Steven Settle, Stephen Brockley.

Attendance: 293.

NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.

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