20th November 2017, Stockport Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 2-1By Dave Bettley
Battle lines were redrawn as the Linnets' fight for honours on four fronts was reduced to three with defeat at Stockport Sports Village.
Linnets' participation in this season's Macron Cup was ended almost as soon as it had started - a goal in each half from former Runcorn striker Ben Halfacre sealing Division One side Stockport Town's passage.
Having already eliminated Premier Division Maine Road in the previous round of The Hallmark Security League's Challenge Cup competition, Stockport will see victory in this follow-up Second Round South tie as an even bigger scalp.
Yet in view of their recent workload in the league and FA Vase, not to mention the Cheshire Senior Cup, it was no surprise to see Michael Ellison give many of his stars a well-deserved and much-needed breather.
Five players who would normally be first choice were named on the substitutes' bench in a complete reversal of the last few weeks, when the manager's resources have been so stretched that he has had little back up for the starting XI.
The outcome on Monday was disappointing - the Linnets should still have had enough to dispose of their hosts. But on the bright side, there were full 90-minute run-outs for Freddie Potter, after his long-standing injury problems, and Antony Hickey, following lengthy suspension.
Just as importantly, key players will have been given time to rest and recuperate for more pressing forthcoming engagements, both domestically and on the Wembley trail.
Both Stockport goals were the result of slack Runcorn defending with their rearguard being opened up too easily. Hallfacre was able to take free shots at goal firstly when breaking the deadlock after just six minutes from a ball into the left of the box and then again midway through the second half.
No sooner had Kris Holt, appearing as a sub for the Linnets on a night when his Evo-Stik club Atherton Colls were also playing, seen penalty appeals for a foul by the 'keeper waved away than play switched tellingly to the other end.
Matt Holmes was strangely caught out of position and after getting himself beyond the visiting 'keeper, Big Ben struck the decisive blow in the 68th minute.
The equaliser in between was an ingenuitive 18th-minute effort from Potter, who swept home an Adam Jones right-wing cross on the rebound while grounded.
Runcorn tried their best and had chances to level up the scores again with Hickey going closest late on. After rounding the 'keeper, his shot was blocked by a covering defender.
But generally, Runcorn were not at their best with measuring the weight and accuracy of their passes on the artificial surface their biggest difficulty in a low-key affair.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matthew Atherton, Chris Lawton, Aaron Morris, Kasie Jones, Kieran Nolan (capt), Tom Molyneux, Antony Hickey, Freddie Potter, Rio Gill, Adam Jones. Subs: Mark Houghton, Kris Holt. Not used: Paul Shanley, Danny O'Brien, Jimmy Moore.
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.