18th October 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v AFC Liverpool : 3-0 Sponsored by The Fore Golfers
AFC Liverpool have been a much-fancied side in the early part of the season and they had five of last season's Linnets in their starting XI, giving the home side some knowledge of what to expect from their opponents.
The hosts took the bull by the horns from the very start, knocking the ball around and attacking at a frenzied pace that had been lacking in the defeat at Padiham.
AFC were being pulled from pillar to post and Mark Houghton should have opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he got on the end of Danny McKenna's excellent cross, but could only knock it over the bar.
AFC were heavily penned in their own half with their only moments of threat coming from long-range efforts on goal. One, from Franny Smith, did require Tom Hunt's attention in the Linnets' goal.
Runcorn almost opened the scoring midway through the half when Kyle Hamid rounded the 'keeper but he was fighting a narrow angle and his shot was cleared off the line.
You felt that it was crucial that the Linnets got a goal in their period of superiority and it came on the half hour. A mesmerising pinpoint pass across field by Hamid found Paul Shanley, who was making his way into the penalty area; the winger collected the ball with his first touch and curled it low past the advancing 'keeper with his second for a goal which was both well created and taken.
The second half was a more attritional affair much of the time, the pace having dropped slightly and good chances coming at a premium.
Danny McKenna had a free-kick tipped over the bar before AFC had their best, and only real chance. A cross from the left fell perfectly for talisman Jason Carey to head goalwards, luckily the ball drifted inches wide with Hunt beaten.
This was a wake-up call for the Linnets, who took back total control of the game for the last 20 minutes.
Mark Houghton's persistence forced an error in the AFC penalty area and Houghto almost capitalised as his shot beat the 'keeper but not Mike White, who had got back on the line to clear.
It mattered not though as Houghton did double the Linnets lead with 10 minutes remaining. More hard work and endeavour by the tiresome forward was rewarded when he won the ball near the left wing and cut in to the centre of the pitch - thrashing a shot back across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner from 20 yards to effectively secure the Linnets' victory.
This deflated an already tiring AFC side, and the introduction of the extra legs of Bev Burey, Kris Holt and Steve Foster would not have been a welcome sight for Whitey and his backline.
Antony Hickey came close when he volleyed a back-post cross into the side netting before Steve Foster added the gloss to an excellent night's work by Ello's men.
Shanley had much joy on the left throughout and when he outpaced his marker with ease, he unselfishly squared for Foster to poke home Linnets' third in stoppage time and round off an excellent performance.
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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