10th September 2016, Abbey Hey v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-1By Ste Bignall
The Linnets kept up their recent good form with an extremely hard-fought win at Abbey Hey on Saturday.
Victory against the talented and hard-working outfit from Gorton always represents a highly-respectable effort.
Although Runcorn's starting 11 was the same for the very first time this season, the Linnets were without their new sergeant major Michael Ellison, the manager missing the game. It fell to a local lad in Mancunian assistant manager Matty Cross to take charge.
The weather was perfect, the surroundings were very pleasant and the pitch immaculate; all the ingredients you need for a great afternoon's football.
Being brutally honest though, great football wasn't always the order of the day with both teams working very hard and essentially cancelling each other out.
Aside from a weak effort by Tony Donaldson, a header from Chris Lawton that was saved and a clever corner routine from which Paul Shanley went close, the away side battled hard but struggled to carve out good-quality chances against a resolute defence.
Abbey Hey probably should have gone in at half-time ahead. They twice got in behind the Linnets back four, only for Tom Hunt to come flying off his line to smother both efforts, before saving a low free-kick, when unsighted until late, with Danny O'Brien clearing the ball to safety.
Crossy's men came out with more purpose at the start of the second half but within a minute or two almost found themselves behind when Abbey counter attacked from a cleared Linnets corner to go through on goal again.
Hunt's trailing foot took the pace out of the ball but it still looped towards the empty net. Danny McKenna's brilliant overhead kick cleared it off the goal line.
This rattled the Linnets and, soon after, Antony Hickey got away down the right and his square ball just evaded Mark Houghton and Shanley who were both awaiting a tap in.
The only goal came 10 minutes into the second half - carved out by sheer dogged determination by born-again striker Houghton.
Houghto had tormented the defence with his endless running and harassing and when he charged the centre back down to nick the ball, he managed to slide an inch-perfect ball into the path of Hickey, who timed his run perfectly to chip the 'keeper into the far corner.
Adam Wade replaced Donaldson to add a touch more bite to Linnets midfield as Abbey set about trying to get back into the game.
Hickey's goal was actually Linnets last meaningful effort on target as the defensive unit took centre stage.
The home side started to apply heavy pressure and completely dominated the final 30 minutes, but found the visiting back four and goalkeeper in inspired form.
The panic that cost Runcorn victory at Cammell Laird 1907 in August had been replaced with well thought out and determined defending.
Aaron Morris flew into a perfectly-timed tackle to deflect a goal bound effort over the bar, the resulting corner being cleared out to Abbey's midfield anchor man who fired a fantastic shot goal wards.
It looked every bit like the equaliser, only for Hunt to tip it onto his left-hand post at full stretch for a truly top class save.
The whole team muscled in to get through a spell of six consecutive corners, which included another great save by Hunt, before McKenna finally found a clearance that offered some respite.
Steve Foster was introduced to hold the ball up in attack and relieve pressure from the back four as Abbey continued to throw everything goal wards in an attempt to get the equaliser that they probably deserved.
Bev Burey was brought on in the final few minutes to try to run at the now tiring Abbey Hey back line, and not much later the referee blew his whistle one final time to secure a fantastic win for the travelling side.
Anyone in attendance will tell you that Abbey had the lion's share of good chances, but the deft touch of Hickey ensured that when he was presented with an opportunity he took it.
Defending is a learning curve for a back four still under construction, but the quality and determination of the defending on Saturday was a pleasure to witness.
I can't sign off without giving huge praise to Tom Hunt, who was as sold as a brick wall all afternoon. He was equal to everything thrown at him, pulling off several great saves and one phenomenal save late on.
The delight on the players' faces at full-time showed what they felt about the result as team spirit and togetherness continues to build.
Runcorn Linnets:Hunt, McKenna, Lawton, Morris, O'Brien, McCarthy, Donaldson, Hamid, Houghton, Shanley, Hickey. Subs: Foster, Burey, Wade. Not used: Mbdokele, Kennerley.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.