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4th March 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Ashton Athletic : 2-1 Sponsored by The Fore Golfers

Runcorn Linnets eventually set the record straight by ending Ashton Athletic's four-game run of Millbank Linnets Stadium victories.

But the Linnets needed an 86th-minute Kris Holt goal to end dogged resistance from the visitors.

Ashton's hopes of extending an already excellent and indeed, unparalleled recent record on Runcorn's ground had been lifted by an early opener.

But the hosts dug in, despite unfavourable ground and weather conditions, to follow up their 3-0 win against the same opponents last time out.

Freddie Potter had driven the Linnets level at the interval with an exquisite goal - his first since returning to the club - and Holt's cheeky finish sent Linnets fans home more than happy, in the knowledge that their outside chance of The Hallmark Security League's Premier Division title were still alive.

Linnets had not defeated Ashton on home soil since enjoying a 4-0 rout four days before Christmas 2013.

Saturday's visitors had, in the meantime, won two league games at the MLS while also triumphing twice in the League Cup, the most recent knockout success having come this season with October's 3-2 Macron Cup second-hand win.

Bidding for their first double over their rivals from Ashton-in-Makerfield since 2013/14, Runcorn kept largely with the team which had done the job so comfortably and effectively at Brocstedes Park a fortnight earlier.

The only change to the starting line-up saw Paul Shanley being rested to the bench, getting a little extra time to recover from the knock which had forced his substitution in that earlier meeting of the teams.

This led to Stuart Wellstead, who had switched to the left flank as a result of Shanley's exit, continuing to deputise in that role.

Antony Hickey came in on the right for his first start since returning from a three-match suspension, having got a briefer taste of the action two weeks previously as a replacement.

Before kick-off, all inside the ground joined in a period of applause in memory and appreciation of Luke Mackrell, a former Linnets Junior player who died recently aged 18, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour only 11 days earlier. The Runcorn players also wore black arm bands.

Runcorn Linnets Under 7s Blacks were mascots for the day.

If Ashton's fine performances at The Millbank of late weren't enough of an incentive for them to strike back at the Linnets this time, they received extra encouragement from a ninth-minute goal.

Matt Holmes, making his home league debut, got a hand to Joel Brownhills shot from outside the box, on the right. But the shot was too accurate and powerful and made its way, despite the diversion, inside the left post.

After initial ventures into Linnets' territory. the visitors employed a policy of containment and barring infrequent long-distance attempts off target, didn't worry Runcorn again.

The pitch, inevitably showing some after-effects of rain throughout the week, got even heavier with the sporadic showers during the game. A spoiling wind was likewise not conducive to flowing football.

The Linnets had strong first-half penalty appeals for challenges on Mark Houghton and Wellstead turned away - the referee awarding a right-wing vcorner kick and a free-kick on the left of the box.

Ashton's defence was holding together much better than it had in their home fixtures but Linnets capitalised on their best move before the break to go in level.

Danny McKenna's searching crossfield ball from the left full-back position, midway inside Ashton's half, was well controlled on the run by Hickey.

He was, therefore, able to pick out a cross more or less first time from the right for Potter to volley low and instinctively into the corner, leaving one-time Linnets 'keeper Martin Pearson completely helpless. Pearson didn't even move as the shot found the bottom corner to his left.

Having equalised in the 23rd minute, Potter flashed another effort from a half-clearance narrowly wide just before the break.

For all their territorial advantage in the second half, Runcorn continued to be very much frustrated by the resolute guests.

Shanley came on for Wellstead but not in what would have been the expected like-for-like move as the substitute was allocated a central role, behind Potter, as Michael Ellison reverted to the 4-3-3 system which he had abandoned for a 4-4-2 for the Ashton games.

Instead of Shanley, top scorer Houghton was pushed out to the left flank. Having typically run himself ragged, the club vice-captain (skippering the side again in Kyle Hamid's absence) was in turn replaced by Zac Aley.

The latter was to play a major part in the late rally which produced a winner.

Aley firstly went close to scoring after being freed by Shanley but his shot flitted past the right post.

However, Ashton's defence was decisively breached as Shanley and McKenna combined to release Aley on the wing.

His cross was headed on by Potter, whose near-post presence distracted Ashton's defence, for midfielder Holt to flick home with his heel to scenes of all-round delight and celebration.

Linnets saw out what little normal time remained plus the allowance for stoppages to claim what could yet prove three crucial points in the grand scheme of things.

Runcorn Linnets: Matthew Holmes, Daniel McKenna, Thomas Hardwick, Aaron Morris, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton, Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey. Subs: Paul Shanley, Zac Aley. Not used: Daniel O'Brien, Bevan Burey, Adam Wade.

Ashton Athletic: Martin Pearson, Jacob Jones, Adam Howard, Luke Holden, Callum Wilson, Aaron Cringle, Matthew Farnworth, Paul Watson, Lee Vaughan, Joel Brownhill, Daniel Regan. Subs: Samuel Bailey, Ben Collins, Nathan Young. Not used: Marcus Cusani, Daniel Smith.

Attendance: 316.

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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