8th October 2016, Maine Road v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2After such a commanding performance in midweek, confidence couldn't have been higher going into today's encounter with Maine Road in Manchester and despite a couple of enforced changes, the recent impressive form continued. A 2-0 half time lead never looked like being relinquished and it proved to be another satisfying afternoon for The Linnets and their travelling fans. Graham Fenton, manager of Buildbase FA Vase 1st Round opponents South Shields, was an interested onlooker, opting to watch Runcorn instead of his own side who were also in league action. A huge show of respect from the Tyneside outfit, to whom we travel in 2 weeks time. More to do before then though.
With Chris Lawton serving a one match ban after unluckily receiving 2 yellows against Atherton Colls at home, Ronnie McCarthy dropped into central defence to partner Aaron Morris. Danny O'Brien, also absent due to a red in the same game, was replaced by Vita Mbdokele. Both of manager Ellison's selections had solid games, and contributed to restricting the home side's threat to the Runcorn goal. Notwithstanding a superb point blank save from NWCFL stopper of the month Tom Hunt, to prevent an own goal, Maine Road's first effort on target came in the dying embers through substitute Saul Henderson.
The work rate that was such an integral part of the Bootle demolition was again on show from the start. While the length of the grass and a few unexpected bobbles weren't conducive to free flowing football, Runcorn still dominated the opening stages. There were no clear chances in the first quarter of an hour, but with Hamid orchestrating affairs, a constant feed of quality passes meant that Shanley down the left and Hickey down the right both looked menacing.
It was with the first clear sight of goal that brought the opener and it wasn't dissimilar in nature to the 3rd on Tuesday. Shanley controlled a high ball, before cutting inside and curling a pinpoint cross in for an onrushing Hamid to head home. Well, when I say head, it was more back, but neither the skipper or fans were worried about that. The second arrived on the half hour. Hamid was again involved, this time being hacked down 20 yards from goal for a free-kick that Danny McKenna put away with aplomb. In between goals, Shanley was unfortunate not to add a goal of his own when he almost rounded off the move of the half, but struck the base of the post.
Presumably fresh from a half time talking to, Maine Road made a much more physical start to the second half. Captain Rory Breslin picked up the game's first yellow card for a foul on Antony Hickey and full back Joel Senior followed him in to the book for taking down Shanley as he went clear. The worst of a series of challenges though went totally unpunished. When Jack Blundell went through the back of Kyle Hamid as the midfield talisman turned a clever pass round the corner, it seemed the only decision was yellow or red. The disbelief amongst players and fans as the game was restarted with a drop ball was entirely understandable.
Runcorn remained in the ascendancy to the end. The odd break that the home side did muster saw their frontline isolated, but marshalled superbly by Aaron Morris and Ronnie McCarthy. The fast thinking Shanley nearly converted a quick free-kick to add a third, before Houghton appeared to be blocked when pursuing a Wade through ball. The impressive Kristian Holt was next to go close when he just failed to control his final shot after a clever exchange with Hamid. A fantastic piece of skill that saw Dominic Wilson sent completely the wrong way, gave Shanley another chance, but he couldn't quite find a finish to match.
The sight of Houghton hobbling off towards the end was the only negative in an otherwise excellent afternoon. Following what was arguably the performance of the season on Tuesday, it could have been a difficult follow up today, so huge credit to the players and management. It was a different kind of win than Tuesday, but built on the same work ethic and periods of quality. The win solidifies 4th position and allows Runcorn to lurk dangerously within touching distance, but allowing others to take the pressure that they have shouldered for the last 3 years. The games keep coming and next up it's Cammell Laird 1907 at The Millbank on Tuesday.
Runcorn: Hunt, McKenna, McCarthy, Morris, Mbdokele, Wade, Holt, Hamid (Burey, 81), Houghton (Kennerley, 88), Shanley, Hickey. Subs not used: Carlson, Thorpe, Jewell.
Maine Road: Livesey, Senior, Tinker, Blundell, Edwards, Broady, O'Brien (Henderson, 77), Breslin, Clooney (Steele, 50), Williams, Roe (Wilson, 67). Subs not used: Burrows.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.