18th November 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Northwich Victoria : 4-2 Sponsored by Webbs of RuncornBy Ste Bignall
Runcorn Linnets successfully returned to league action on Saturday following the midweek FA Vase heroics up in Sunderland.
With a place in the next round secured, it was important to get straight back into league mindset, especially with in-form Northwich Victoria visiting the MLS.
Now managed by ex-Linnets boss Steve Wilkes, the former Non-League powerhouse seems to have reached the bottom of years of turmoil. Now under fan ownership, Vics are slowly starting to pick up the pieces of their club and building it back up again.
With Linnets' extremely poor recent disciplinary record and several injuries catching up with us, manager Michael Ellison was left scratching his head as to the team he could put out on Saturday afternoon.
Goalkeeper Germano Mendes and young midfielder Tom Molyneux had put pen to paper late in the build-up to help ease Ello's selection crisis.
Mendes' footballing history makes for interesting reading. Born in Guinea-Bissau, he has played in Portugal and Finland as well as several clubs in the North West of England, most recently Marine.
The amount of absentees meant a reshuffle of the formation, Ellison opting for a 4-4-2 with Paul Shanley and Adam Jones on the left and right wings respectively. Tom Molyneux was thrown straight into the midfield while Mitch Bryant and Mark Houghton led the front line.
Vics carry a significant threat going forward with two of the league's most recognised strikers in their side, Jay Hart and Brian Matthews. And it was Hart who almost gave Vics the lead in the game.
There was some hesitancy shown by the linesman who seemed to hold his flag up for offside against Hart, then half put it down, then back up again, while Hart found himself unmarked six yards out with only Mendes to beat. But the goalkeeper pulled off a fine save to push the close-range shot around the post.
With the assistant's flag still half-heartedly raised the referee had to pay a visit to his assistant to see what he was up to. A corner kick was the end result of a confusing passage of play.
With Vics shading the opening stages, the home side took the lead out of nothing.
Mitch Bryant had the ball close to the halfway line and sent an excellent ball over the top for Houghton to chase, and the captain for the day made light work of racing clear of the Vics rearguard. Despite not catching his volleyed effort on the full, it beat the flailing hand of the goalkeeper, Michael Donlon to trickle into the bottom corner.
Undeterred by going behind, Vics set about levelling the game up and had a glorious chance to do just that midway through the first half. A free kick was played to the far post where Hart picked out a cross for the unmarked Matthews to volley towards goal from only a few yards out,
But despite connecting with the ball at full force, Mendes came out of nowhere to make a block on the goal line and force the ball clear to safety, an astonishing save from the new goalkeeper who was certainly playing his way into the hearts of the Linnets faithful!
After a few half chances for both sides, the Linnets doubled their lead. Danny O'Brien and Adam Jones combined well on the right flank and Jones cut into the penalty area to drill a low cross along the six-yard box for Houghton to slam home his, and Linnets' second goal - rounding off in the process a very nice move.
On the stroke of half time, Vics were dealt a further blow. With the ball at his feet just outside the penalty area Mitch Bryant turned his man to create a yard of space and sent a curling left-footed effort right in to the top corner - a sublime individual goal, both created and scored by Byrant and giving the Linnets a commanding 3-0 lead.
The second half was initially uneventful. Only another great save by Mendes from a Hart cross-shot free kick and a terrific goal line clearance by Vics' No.3, Daniel Johnson gave the crowd something to discuss for the first 25 minutes of the second period.
But all that was about to change as the game exploded into life with 20 minutes left to play.
Vics pulled a goal back when Matthews sprung the offside trap to run clean through on goal and make no mistake with his finish to give the visitors some faint hope of a recovery. That faint hope turned to real opportunity when the scored a second goal just five minutes later.
A long ball sent Hart racing into the penalty area and although it looked like Hart had fouled the goalkeeper, no decision was given and the loose ball was worked to Matthew Clarke, who finished into the empty net to bring the scoreline back to 3-2 his side a real chance.
Adam Jones was replaced by Freddie Potter as Ello looked to hold on to the ball, but a moment of madness changed the complexion of the game further. Mitch Bryant went up with Vics' Allen Weston to challenge for a header and caught Weston full in the cheek with his elbow.
He was lucky to only be given a booking and not a straight red, but it mattered not as Bryant had already been booked in the first half, following a bit of a tussle in the centre circle. Unbelievably that's Bryant second red card in a week, both for similar offences.
If a spate of red cards against a team gives them anything, it is considerable experience in how to adapt to playing with 9 or 10 players. Despite Vics pushing hard for an equaliser, they didn't actually create another clear chance once the Linnets had been reduced to 10 men and battened down the defensive hatches.
In fact, it was the hosts who scored the decisive goal to restore the two-goal advantage and kill the game off as a contest at 4-2 with five minutes to play.
A rapid counter attack sent Potter away down the left and his fantastic, early cross was converted by Paul Shanley, who had made a great run into the centre of the Vics penalty area.
There was still time for ex-Linnet from earlier this season, Sam Fitton to rattle the crossbar with Mendes beaten, but not for any further goals as the referee called a halt to proceedings to the delight of everyone in Linnets colours.
A terrific win given the circumstances and all the more important with Runcorn Town not in action, and the other sides around us all winning.
Runcorn Linnets: Germano Mendes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Tom Molyneux, Adam Jones, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Mitch Bryant. Sub: Freddie Potter. Not used: Chris Lawton, Rio Gill, Michael Ellison, Danny Salt.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.