5th November 2016, Runcorn Linnets FC v Nelson : 3-1 Sponsored by Chris Palin and Michelle MurphyBy Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets turned in a solid, if not dazzling performance as a prelude to Bonfire Night.
Once again having to employ a completely makeshift back four that looked uncertain at times, the Linnets overcame Nelson at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday.
With new man Zac Aley continuing to deputise at left back in Danny McKenna's absence, Paul Jewell shifting across to partner Aaron Morris in the centre and attacking midfielder Kris Holt filing in at right back, the defemce contained only one recognised member for the second game running.
It was the away side, who took the initiative in the game - Nelson trying to punish the unfamiliarity in the Linnets' rearguard.
They had two good chances to take the lead, a well-struck free-kick which went just wide being followed by Tom Hunt making a smart save low to his right.
It was an impressive first half from the Pink Panther, who displayed his dominance, taking claim of many high balls into the Linnets' penalty area.
Despite being slightly on the back foot, the home side were offered a glorious chance to open the scoring when Mark Houghton latched on to a long through ball and had his heels clipped from behind by Nelson's full back.
With the referee's view obstructed the linesman waved his flag to signal a penalty - strong officiating from the assistant and something that you don't see enough of at our level.
Kyle Hamid stepped up but Danny Lever, in goal for Nelson after making one appearance for the Linnets in early season, guessed the right way and pulled off an excellent save to his left.
Mucker was obviously not happy being denied from 12 yards, and when a free-kick was awarded to Linnets a couple of minutes after the penalty miss, the captain stepped up and from almost 30 yards sent a curling effort high over the wall.
It dipped just under the bar and right into the top corner! A sublime strike that Lever's fingertips could do nothing to stop.
Within a minute of Runcorn taking the lead, Nelson managed to draw level. An attack up the left was not defended and when the cross came in Yves Zama found himself unmarked at the back post to finish with ease.
Paul Jewell thought that he had restored the Linnets lead when he headed in Aley's corner, but the referee disallowed the goal due to a push in the box.
A third legal goal in eight minutes followed, however, when Mark Houghton restored the Linnets advantage. Zac Aley found himself in an advanced position on the left and delivered a delicious cross that Houghton flicked goalwards.
He was denied by a smart save from Lever but luckily, the rebound fell kindly for Houghto, who was able to poke the loose ball home and send Michael Ellison's men in with a 2-1 advantage at half-time.
It had been a scrappy 45 minutes for the home side, a combination of good goalkeeping at one end and sharp finishing at the other giving the Runcorn a lead that Nelson would have felt was undeserved.
The second half was a different story all together, and despite only registering a solitary goal, the home side dominated throughout and worked Nelson completely out of the game.
The task was made easier on 55 minutes when Paul Shanley nipped in before Lever to nod Kyle Hamid's lobbed cross into the net and allow the home side some breathing space at 3-1.
The MLS crowd was treated to arguably the most popular substitution of the season so far - midway through the second half, right full back Jay Roberts made his long-awaited return after suffering a terrible injury early in the season.
And the attack-minded defender looked like he had never been away, making an immediate impact on the game and almost setting up a goal within five minutes of coming on - Houghton heading Roberts' deep cross over.
Steve Foster and Taylor Kennerley were both thrown into the mix by Ello – Fozzie, in particular, changing the style of Linnets attack. He almost grabbed his own customary goal before setting up Houghton with a half chance that went over the bar.
Aaron Morris kept the scoreline intact with a diving header in his own penalty box to block a threatening cross and the referee brought proceedings to a close.
The home side stay in the shake-up with the top five in the table, all of whom won their weekend fixtures.
It was refreshing to see that Michael Ellison can call on his squad members to play out of position, if required, and still see a performance to the standards needed to earn three points in this ultra-competitive league.
The Linnets manger will be hoping that he can have more of his squad back for the ever-difficult task of playing Ashton Athletic away this coming Saturday.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.