21st January 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Barnoldswick Town : 2-0by Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets played out a relatively comfortable victory at the Millbank Stadium against Barnoldswick Town on Saturday afternoon.
A rare Adam Wade goal and one from in-form front man Mark Houghton secured the points for the home side as they looked to keep up momentum with the rest of the top five in this ultra- competitive Hallmark Security League Premier Division season.
The starting eleven was more akin to that which had embarked on a superb run of form through September and October, with Danny O'Brien once again deputising at right back, Adam Wade and Ronnie Mcarthy reforming their central midfield partnership and Anthony HIckey returning after illness on the right side of the front three.
The other change from the norm was Zac Aley covering at left back for the injured Danny McKenna, whose late cameo appearance from the bench was a welcome surprise around the MLS as it was expected that his recent shoulder injury was likely to rule him out for much longer.
Ello's men set about taking the game away from Barlick right from the off, and were duly awarded. The always-menacing Hickey got clear on the right of the penalty area and had time to pick out a low cross for Wade who swept the ball home as he advanced towards the six-yard box for a 1-0 lead with only six minutes played.
Linnets had a strong shout for a penalty soon after as Paul Shanley turned his marker inside out and was bundled to the ground but the match official waved play on. Mark Houghton was next to go close for Runcorn and he should have doubled the lead as a half-cleared corner was flashed across goal by Aaron Morris but Houghto could only shuffle his feet enough to divert the ball over the crossbar.
However, the industrious front man didn't have to wait long to make amends as he did get the second goal midway through the 1st half. Jonathan Hodgkinson's header back to his goalkeeper was a poor one and when Houghton nipped in between defender and 'keeper, he was able to lift the ball over Jordan Gildley's head and, despite a slightly uncomfortable wait for the ball to drop out of the air, nod into the empty net to cement the Linnets into a strong position in the match.
A similar incident almost got Houghton a second goal but, this time, Gildley just managed to poke the ball away from the advancing attacker.
The second half started as the first had ended with Linnets looking to add a third goal to secure the points. Within a minute of the restart a curling, dipping effort from skipper Kyle Hamid drew a superb save by Gildley, tipping the ball over the bar at full stretch.
Tom Hunt was called into action for the first time on the hour mark as Barlick broke at pace on the counter attack and when a switch from left to right caught the Linnets back four out of position, it needed Hunt to make a solid block to his left to keep the score at 2-0.
A game that had passed largely without incident exploded into controversy midway through the second half as Anthony Hickey was shown a straight red card for dissent in reacting to being repeatedly kicked from behind, while on the floor, by Barlick's James Crorken after beating him to the ball.
The red card was the correct decision as per the rules of the game, but the frustration was the inconsistency in Hickey being shown red and Crorken a yellow when both players had committed a sending-off offence.
Barlick went on to have a good spell for the remainder of the game against 10 men and should have clawed themselves back into it when a free header from six yards was skied handsomely over the bar with the goal gaping.
Steve Foster, Stu Wellstead and Danny McKenna were all introduced to give the home side some fresh legs, and despite some concerted pressure by the visitors, the Linnets goal remained relatively untouched as the referee brought the game to a close.
Amazingly, this was our last home game until March, with Ello's men about to face a long run of difficult away fixtures as the jostling for leading league positions continues in this fascinating season.
Runcorn Linnets:Tom Hunt, Zac Aley. Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Danny O'Brien, Ronnie McCarthy, Adam Wade, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Danny McKenna, Steve Foster, Stuart Wellstead. Not used: Freddie Potter, Kieran Nolan.
Barnoldswick Town:Jordan Gidley, Arley Barnes, James Crorken, Andrew Hill, Jonathan Hodgkinson, Shaun Airey, Zack Dale, Matthew Cavanagh, Mark Threlfall, Harry Thompson, Ben Gorman. Subs: John Beckwith, Samuel Howell, Aurelian Gohoreanu. Not used: Jake McEneaney, Liam Blades.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.