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18th March 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Congleton Town : 5-2 Sponsored by Mary in Memory of Vernon Dwerryhouse

ON an afternoon when several Hallmark Security League fixtures succumbed to the weather, Runcorn Linnets overcame threatening downpours starting late on Saturday morning to not only play but also register three more points in their continuing quest to keep pressure on the Premier Division front runners.

Just short of 300 braved the wind and rain to see Linnets, for a second successive game, hit back from conceding the opening goal to secure convincing victory.

This game was never pretty because of the conditions but both teams gave everything to their respective cause and until running out of steam a little in the last 10 minutes, Congleton had done their utmost in the second half to get back into contention.

As in the win at 1874 Northwich a week earlier, the Linnets scored some memorable goals.

Runcorn were unchanged in the outfield positions but Matt Holmes returned in goal after being unavailable for the 4-1 triumph at St Luke's Barton Stadium.

Congleton's line-up featured striker Brian Matthews who had a spell at The Millbank either side of Christmas before eventually returning on his self-styled merry-go-round to Booth Street via Prestwich Heys from where he had arrived at Runcorn.

Matthews, having never really settled at Linnets during his brief sojourn, had the honour of getting the game under way but it was in the 29th minute that he had a real impact with an excellent cross into the box from the left. It was converted by Declan Fletcher into a Congleton lead.

Although both teams had already threatened, the goal followed a long spell of home pressure but Runcorn didn't let the setback deter them. Far from it.

Three goals in the last eight minutes of the half completely transformed the match.

Firstly, Danny McKenna again proved that it's not just skipper Kyle Hamid, serving the last match of his four-game ban, who can execute plans from set-pieces. Many fans still still remember McKenna's virtuoso set-piece at Maine Road earlier in the campaign and for those who didn't see it, he provided a repeat demonstration.

The left full-back curled a 30-yard left-foot special beyond the 'keeper and high into the right corner. It was still being applauded as the teams lined up again to restart play.

Home midfielder Kieran Nolan had already found his way into the referee's notebook for a late tackle when, a minute from half-time, the Bears' Ben Alston was similarly penalised for a heavy challenge on Mark Houghton.

The resulting free-kick into the box from the right was recycled, initially by Freddie Potter, for Shanley to strike home hard, low and true - right-footed from the edge of the 'D' to put the Linnets 2-1 up.

With virtually the last kick of the half, Kris Holt then popped up on the periphery of the area to rifle in a powerful shot after Runcorn had worked the ball infield from the left.

Unfortunately for Congleton, it hit Alston and took a big deflection to completely wrong foot Ross Heywood in their goal the Linnets' scoring burst putting a totally different complexion on proceedings.

Michael Ellison's team probably didn't want the half to end and there were signs at the start of the second half of them finding it difficult to pick up their momentum again.

A Congleton goal soon after the restart would have made it 'game on' again but for all their efforts, the away side couldn't find another way past Holmes, who again looked calm, assured and decisive between the sticks.

Linnets almost added to their rally just before the hour mark but it would have been a bizarre effort. Antony Hickey, fresh from his 100th Runcorn appearance, charged down an attempted clearance off the floor by Town's keeper, who was no doubt relieved to see the rebound just miss the target.

The issue was put beyond any doubt in the 71st minute with right back Danny O'Brien this time showing McKenna that he didn't have sole ownership of free-kicks in Hamid's absence!

This time, the offence was committed near the left corner of the penalty box and O'Brien, who'd already had the confidence to try his luck from distance in the first half, albeit over the bar, found the ammunition to shoot right footed, high over the leaping Heywood for a three-goal cushion.

That was soon deflated slightly in the 81st minute when sloppy defending by Linnets saw sub Callum Gardner find consolation with a well-taken Congleton goal.

However, the final word went to Linnets through Stuart Wellstead, who made light of Runcorn's poor record from penalties this season by calmly slotting home an 85th-minute spot-kick after the excellent Shanley had been brought down.

There was still time for the pair to combine again, almost to good effect, but Wellstead's second 'goal' with a glancing header from Shanley's run and cross was ruled offside.

Cautions for Tom Hardwick of Runcorn and Congleton's Lee Jackson had taken the number of yellow cards to four but this was not a dirty game, the mud splatters apart, and it had been well refereed.

It was also good to see visiting players, although obviously disappointed, reciprocating the applause they received at the end from supporters who were keen to show appreciation for the entertainment provided by both teams.

Victory kept Linnets in second place in the table - two points behind leaders Atherton Colls, who snatched a stoppage-time winner at Maine Road.

Runcorn have played at least three games more than the other top five sides, entering this midweek, but will visit Colls and third-placed Bootle in their next two fixtures.

So nearing the end of a season which began in such disarray, there is still much for Linnets to play for!

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

Congleton Town: Ross Heywood, Jack Pritchard, Lee Jackson, Callum Jones, Ben Alston, Nathan Haynes, Richard Bailey, Scott Sephton (capt), Brian Matthews, Michael Koral, Declan Fletcher. Subs: Callum Gardner, Scott Baker, Ryan Herbert. Not used: Norman Willis, Dylan Sweeney.

Attendance: 290.

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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