4th November 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v West Didsbury & Chorlton : 7-0 Sponsored by The Fore GolfersBy Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets banished the memory of a lacklustre August Bank Holiday performance - and 4-0 defeat - at West Didsbury & Chorlton in devastating style.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon at the Millbank Linnets Stadium, the 7-0 victory against one of the league's strongest sides also laid to rest a disappointing week of dropped points against Barnoldswick Town and Irlam.
At long last, there was a much more familiar feel to the side as Michael Ellison begins to have some of his long-term injured players available for selection again.
The return of midfield anchor man Kieran Nolan had a significant impact with his presence in the holding role allowing Kyle Hamid to move further upfield to his more natural and threatening position, whilst also freeing leading scorer Stuart Wellstead to resume duties in the three-man attack after his emergency midfield role.
West had in their ranks one of the league's most feared strikers in Tom Bailey. A one-time league championship winner with Glossop North End, he has already found the net 16 times this season.
It was clear from the off that Ello's men were in no mood for a repeat of the August debacle, taking the game to the visitors at a thunderous pace. The opening goal came after only 5 minutes when Matty Atherton delivered a beauty of a cross from the left wing to the back post where Wellstead outjumped his marker by some considerable height to nod home.
The home side continued to dominate and came close to doubling the lead when a fine move of flowing football ended with Paul Shanley curling an effort from outside the penalty area within an inch of the top corner.
However, Shanley would not be denied for long, and with the next move got himself on the score sheet. Nolan played a pass through the middle to Mark Houghton, who had attracted the attention of two West defenders, and his flicked through ball found Shanley with space to run into.
There was only going to be one outcome, Shanley slotting past Ashley in the West goal from 12 yards out to complete a fine piece of football.
The shell-shocked visitors reacted positively to falling two goals behind and went on to have a good spell themselves. This could have impacted the game had they taken one of their chances.
Former Linnet, Kevin McGrath headed over Bailey's cross from 6 yards; another chance was sliced wide from inside the penalty, with the goal gaping, and Matty Holmes produced a fine save to tip Baileys left-footed volley around a post.
Within 6 minutes of the restart, it was 3-0 to the hosts. Shanley found space on the left to tear into the penalty area at full pelt and the finish was similar to that for his first goal but from a tighter angle.
West's last chance came as the Linnets defence scrambled the ball clear amid strong penalty shouts from the Mancunians for handball - shouts so strong that their manager Steve Settle was sent from the dugout by the referee.
Settle's feelings didn't have a chance to calm before his team suffered another dismissal - within a minute or so. Mark Houghton was sent clean through on goal by Hamid but pulled down from behind by the last man, Harold Hagon, giving the match official little option but to produce a straight red card.
The resulting free kick was deflected wide for a corner, and newly-crowned Linnets player of the month Danny O'Brien's corner was headed in by Wellstead, despite a cheeky attempt from his vice-captain Houghton to poke the ball over the line!
There were chuckles around the MLS as the public address announcer asked the player, who got the final touch, to hold up his hand so the goal scorer could be correctly identified and his name announced!!
With the game at 4-0, and opponents down to 10 men, Ello took the early opportunity to rest both captain and deputy, conscious no doubt of a glut of big fixtures to come this month.
Mitch Bryant and Freddie Potter were brought on for Kyle Hamid and Houghton as the Linnets reshuffled to a 4-4-2.
West made a substitution around the same time. But a rush of blood to the head by Andrew Kilheeney earned him his marching orders after only five minutes of action - for a cynical high tackle on O'Brien, which left the full back with a nasty gash below his knee.
O'Brien was immediately withdrawn and replaced by Chris Lawton, available again after damaging an arm in the FA Vase game up at Team Northumbria.
The clock now begins to tick for Danny with two important cup games ahead this week. All fingers are crossed that the injury is not a significant one.
With the visitors down to nine, and the Linnets in no mood for sympathy, it was a case of how many more could be added to the goal difference.
Potter added their fifth, volleying home Bryant's cross in emphatic style. It was a trademark Potter finish and showed that the front man is very hungry for goals following his lengthy absence with a broken collar bone and an injured calf.
A fully-fit and fighting Freddie Potter will be a critical component as we head towards the halfway mark in the season.
Bryant was putting in a real shift in to try to get a goal of his own, the closest the front man came was when he powered Matty Atherton's cross on to a post.
The sixth goal followed with 8 minutes left and was the goal of the game. A short corner was worked to Shanley on the edge of the penalty area, and despite several passing options, Shanley ignored all such possibilities – instead dropping his shoulder to send a curling effort into the top right corner, from the edge of the area, to complete his hat-trick.
The destination of the match ball was thrown into confusion when Matty Atherton, a thorn in West's side all afternoon, delivered another excellent cross which Wellstead steered past Ashley for his third and Linnets 7th.
Incredibly this was Stuey's second hat-trick of the season and all six goals have been scored with his head!
The referee felt no need to allow West any further misery and brought the game to an immediate end after a solitary minute of injury time.
There can be no arguments that this was a truly outstanding performance and result for the Linnets. The ruthlessness that Ello instils into his side has been a bit sporadic of late, perhaps on show for 45 minutes out of 90 or even not at all.
But from start to finish this was devastating display of attacking football against a side, who also have promotion as a target this season.
With 5 games still to go until the midpoint of their league season, Linnets already have 51 Hallmark Security Premier Division goals to their name.
The clean sheet was also pleasing, especially against a side known for having a ruthless attack of their own. As the season has worn on, the Linnets' record for conceding soft goals has improved dramatically with the defensive unit looking to regain its reputation from the end of last season of being so difficult to break down.
We now take a short break from league action with two cup games in a week.
First off on Tuesday night, we visit Congleton Town for the first time this season in the preliminary round of the Cheshire Senior Cup - a game that Jimmy Moore and Antony Hickey will both miss through suspension.
On Saturday we have the rarest of fixtures as we host Sunderland RCA at the MLS in the second round proper of the FA Vase - the first time since the club's inclusion in the competition that we have been drawn at home against a team from the Northern League.
This is a game that everyone connected to the club is looking forward to as we look to try and make inroads into a competition in which success has proved frustratingly elusive over the years.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Michael Simpson, Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs: Freddie Potter, Mitch Bryant, Chris Lawton. Not used: Adam Jones, Antony Hickey.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.