28th November 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Bootle : 2-0By Ste Bignall
It was an exciting night on Tuesday at the Millbank Linnets Stadium as the curtain was finally pulled back on the brand new, multi-purpose clubhouse that we have all watched take shape over the last seven months.
The fantastic facility houses all the needs of the club, as a variety of offices, changing rooms and hospitality suites wrap seamlessly around the main function room area, complete with the senior team's tea bar, the junior section's cafe (The Nest) and, at long last, a fully-licensed bar serving a variety of alcoholic drinks.
Next time you're in there, try a bottle of our unique "Linnets Ale", brewed locally and not sold anywhere else in the world. The real ale proved extremely popular on its debut!
The opening of the new clubhouse marks a huge milestone in the club's progression since we returned to Runcorn in 2010. It has been a long, complex process to get to this stage, but feedback from Linnets, Bootle and neutrals alike was all glowing and is the true testament to the people across the club that have made it happen.
So from this match reporter, "thank you" to all for delivering such a fantastic facility for us all to enjoy for years to come. You should be very proud of yourselves.
Sadly, the evening couldn't all be smiles as there was also a great sense of sadness around the ground. Word had broken on Friday of last week of the shock and untimely passing of one of our most staunch supporters, Simon Charlesworth.
Simon has been an ever-present at the club since its formation, and his association with the Linnets goes back to the club's predecessor Runcorn AFC. I have memories that will stay with me for life of Si making sure that myself, as a youngster, and many others like me, stayed out of any trouble on many long FA Trophy away coach trips.
A bit of a Father figure to the Barmy Army of the 1990s and early 2000s, he continued in his unofficial role of "travelling supporter ambassador" right through to the end - as recently as our Vase visit to Team Northumbria in October, where his new charges, the Left Side Ultras, kept him busy and tormented all day long. He loved every minute of it!
He was one of the cogs of Runcorn AFC into Runcorn Linnets FC that never stopped turning, no matter how difficult things got. I'm going to say it, without Simon's drive to create the Supporters Trust that is now the operating model for the club, we probably wouldn't have the club that we all love today.
Thanks for the memories and all you did for our club mate. As the LSU sang aloud on Tuesday night, there most definitely was "only one Si Charlesworth".
With all of the above at the forefront of everyone's mind, it was easy to forget that there was actually a huge match taking place as well! Games against Bootle are amongst the toughest and most eagerly anticipated all season, and with last season's runners-up looking to go one better this season, a difficult game was expected for Michael Ellison's men.
The players did more than their fair share in toasting the new clubhouse facility and fittingly honouring Simon's memory with an important victory.
Games against Bootle are amongst the toughest and most eagerly anticipated all season, and with last season's runners-up looking to go one better this season a difficult game was expected for Michael Ellison's men.
With suspensions and injuries still playing a major role, especially in midfield, Ellison was forced to shuffle his pack once more. Kris Holt slotted back into an advanced midfield role alongside Adam Jones, the youngster fast becoming a key utility player for the Linnets.
The back four and front three remained unchanged from what we have come to expect in recent league matches.
Bootle's record at the MLS is not one they will be proud of. Still to win at the ground, their last two visits had ended in 7-1 and 5-0 reversals. Despite this, you never take Bootle for granted and a very tight game was the order of the night.
Chances were relatively few and far between for both sides, and it took two moments of individual brilliance to settle events.
The opening goal came out of nowhere with 20 minutes played. Paul Shanley had the ball on the left flank and switched to light speed as he ran at Bootle's back line before hitting an early shot from outside the box. It went right across the goal to beat Ryan Jones with such venom that it literally broke the clips securing the netting to the goalpost - and tore a couple of pegs out of the ground!
It's probably fair to say that the visitors had more of the ball for the majority of the game, looking to build their attacks with early passes out to both wings and attacking in numbers. But the Linnets defence was in a resilient mood and continually broke up attacks before they became a real danger
The Linnets doubled their lead right on the stroke of half time with another moment of magic. With Shanley again menacing, the Bootle rearguard they had to bring him down outside the penalty area to stop him in his tracks.
A large wall of bodies could do nothing to prevent Danny O'Brien curling a superb effort over the wall and plumb into the top corner of the net, leaving Ryan Jones rooted to the spot and sending the Linnets into the warmth of the new clubhouse with a 2-0 lead.
The second half was to be an even tight affair than the first. The pattern remained the same with Bootle having plenty of the play but unable to create anything in the way of a clear-cut opportunity in front of goal. The Linnets' central pairing of Aaron Morris and Jimmy Moore was particularly impressive, faultless all night.
As time wore on, Ello took the opportunity to rest some of his players and give others crucial minutes as the likes of Freddie Potter and Anthony Hickey work themselves back to full fitness. Stu Wellstead left with a knock, Danny O,Brien and Mark Houghton also withdrawn and replaced by Hickey, Potter and youngster Kasie Jones.
Bootle did find a way through to goal in injury time with a fierce shot from 8 yards that Matt Holmes did brilliantly to turn behind for a corner. It was to be the last action of an unusually timid Linnets v Bootle game - historically a fixture where players and spectators alike don't find the time to draw breath.
It was a very professional display all the same from the Linnets, who were comfortable with allowing Bottle to have possession of the ball with the knowledge that if we got a chance, it was likely to be taken with our forward line it blistering form of late.
Anticipation now changes to excitement as we move away from league action and return to our Wembley campaign on Saturday. The draw could not have made life much more difficult for the Linnets.
The fact we are at home is a slight comfort as we welcome the competition favourites Marske United to the Millbank Linnets Stadium.
Currently in second place in their league, with games in hand on leaders Morpeth, the side from the North Yorkshire coastal village make the trip to Runcorn having lost only once away from home in the league this season and conceding just five goals in the process.
There is previous between the clubs, the Linnets making the long midweek trip up to Marske for a rearranged second-round encounter in 2015. Without dwelling on the night itself, the Linnets players still present in the squad from back then will certainly be looking to avenge the 6-2 defeat they suffered, Marske proving too strong despite falling behind early on.
It's going to be a party atmosphere with the LSU promising a display of noise and colour! You would be mad to miss it!
I'm going to end this report by going back to the 2-0 win over Bootle and quoting a tweet on the Runcorn Linnets official Twitter account....
"That one's for you Simon..."
RIP Simon Charlesworth, as "Runcorn Linnets" as any person could ever be.
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Adam Jones, Kris Holt, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs: Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey, Kasie Jones. Not used: Chris Lawton, Terry Smith (GK).
NB. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Runcorn Linnets FC or its Board.