18th February 2017, Ashton Athletic v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-3By Ste Bignall
It was a pleasant day all round at Brocstedes Park on Saturday afternoon as Runcorn Linnets turned in a confident and controlling performance to win on a lovely late-winter afternoon.
On a day of change and experimentation, with multiple injuries and suspensions hampering the team selection, manager Michael Ellison decided on a change of shape for his side along with the changes to the starting eleven.
Arguably the most notable change in personnel was a first league start for Matthew Holmes in goal, regular custodian Tom Hunt dropping to the bench. There was also a first start for striker Freddie Potter since he rejoined the fold.
It didn't take long for the visitors to open the scoring with a very well-worked goal. Paul Shanley and Potter linked up well on the left flank and found Mark Houghton, who from inside the box could easily have gone for goal himself. But he instead squared for Stu Wellstead, who finished with a shot across Martin Pearson in Ashton's goal to give his side a seventh-minute lead.
Linnets were playing very well on the decent Ashton surface and doubled the lead on the quarter hour mark. The build-up actually began in Linnets own box as a dangerous corner was scrambled clear to Kris Holt, who advanced forward and slid an inch-perfect ball into the path of Houghton, whose shot was scuffed slightly and bobbled its way off a post into the bottom corner of the net.
With half an hour gone, Paul Shanley took a slight knock and was replaced by Anthony Hickey, returning from a three-game suspension.
Ashton had the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time. Corners seemed to be their biggest threat of a way back into the game and following a scramble in the Linnets box, the ball was lifted over Holmes and into the open goal, only for the referee to blow up for a foul on Holmes to little reaction or complaint from anyone in yellow and blue.
Runcorn continued to control the game in the second half, although in a style which was was perhaps not quite as free flowing as in the first 30 minutes of the game.
The match was put beyond Ashton on 53 minutes with another excellent Linnets goal. Hickey found space on the right and "dinked" a sublime ball towards the far post, where Potter was lurking.
The 'Wizard's' header seemed destined for the bottom corner but received a helping toe from Mark Houghton to ensure the outcome from a yard out and give the Linnets a comfortable 0-3 lead.
Ashton are never a side who roll over and it took a solid save from Holmes to protect the Linnets clean sheet, not only saving but keeping hold of a dipping and swirling free-kick.
This was followed shortly after by a great piece of defending by Danny McKenna, who managed to clear the ball off his own goal line and over the crossbar with an Ashton goal looking certain.
The young left back almost scored a stunning Linnets fourth, his 35- yard pile driver sailing inches over the crossbar with Pearson beaten.
Mark Houghton had a great chance to bag the hat-trick that had narrowly evaded him at West Didsbury & Chorton a week earlier when Stu Wellsteads flick-on header set the front man clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat.
Alas it was Pearson who came out of the showdown on top, making a strong block low to his left.
Wellstead was substituted following an injury, to be replaced by Zac Aley, while Bev Burey was also brought on for Potter, but the outcome remained unchanged and Ello's men secured a solid win and moved up to third place in the table as a reward.
Runcorn Linnets:Matthew Holmes, Danny McKenna, Tom Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton (capt), Paul Shanley, Freddie Potter. Subs: Antony Hickey, Zac Aley, Bevan Burey. Not used: Danny O'Bren, Tom Hunt (GK).
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.