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23rd December 2017, Runcorn Linnets FC v Barnton : 4-0 Sponsored by The Holiday Inn, Runcorn

By Ste Bignall

After a series of recent postponements it was something of a relief to be back at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday for the first of three huge games for Runcorn Linnets over the Christmas period.

Barnton were the visitors on a very foggy afternoon where sight was seriously impeded in the first half.

But 286 hardy souls decided the Millbank was a much better place to spend their afternoon than the manic last Christmas Saturday shops!

The squad as a whole is going to be crucial over the next week, with only four days of rest separating three fixtures.

Stuart Wellstead led the attack with Anthony Hickey and Paul Shanley completing the three.

Kris Holt kept his place in the side (a decision he was about to repay in style) and Mike Simpson returned after an absence of 6 weeks or so.

Barnton had in their starting line-up the leagues second highest goal scorer in Chris Smith, which makes it slightly puzzling that they are several points adrift at the bottom of the league table.

However, it's at the other end that the Villagers from just beyond the Tall Trees crossroads struggle, having conceded an eye-watering 84 goals prior to this game.

They also had in their side former Runcorn Town hotshot James McShane, the scorer of the first ever Runcorn Derby goal. After being one of the league's most feared strikers, his threat is reduced somewhat these days as he plays left full back for Barnton, where he is player/coach.

Despite the visual difficulties the Linnets dominated this game from the off and had the victory sewn up within half an hour.

There was a little more than 10 minutes on the clock when Paul Shanley was tripped when turning his marker just inside the penalty area, the referee pointing to the spot with not a single complaint from the Barnton players.

Danny O'Brien strolled up to stroke the penalty high to the goalkeeper's right, sending him the wrong way to open the scoring.

Eight minutes later, it was 2-0. Kris Holt has made a significant impact since returning to the Linnets from Atherton Colls and had already looked threatening with his knack of ghosting into some deadly attacking positions.

However this goal was not like that, Holty starting and ending the move himself by nicking the ball off Patrick Hamid on the left of the penalty area and drilling a low shot inside Robert Cooke's near post before the big goalkeeper could get down.

Danny O'Brien was surprisingly withdrawn after 20 minutes with a neck injury. Danny was replaced by Adam Jones, whose role as right-sided utility man is regularly proving vital for the Linnets.

Now in total control of proceedings, Michael Ellison's men set about closing the game out early and got their third goal just after the half hour in very similar style to the second.

Holt found himself in an identical position on the left of the penalty area and this time caught Cooke out with a right footed strike that again beat the goalkeeper low at his near post.

The new clubhouse was a welcome place of warmth and refreshment for those who had braved the cool fog, and it was a welcome sight after half-time when the fog had almost vanished completely during the 15-minute interval.

The second half was a rather laboured affair. The Linnets knew full well that there was little to be gained from applying full throttle for a further 45 minutes with only Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the way of the Runcorn derby. They therefore set out to take the pace out of the game, hold on to the ball and protect the clean sheet.

Freddie Potter was given a good 35 minutes game time as he continues his climb to full fitness, substituting for Stuart Wellstead, and later in the half skipper Kyle Hamid entered the fray as he too looks to clear a niggling thigh injury with which he was soldiered through when the Linnets were struggling for a settled side in November.

Potter came close to getting the Linnets' fourth goal when his header from a corner rattled the crossbar.

With 15 minutes to go, the cherry was placed on top of the Christmas cake when Kris Holt scored his third and Linnets fourth goal of the afternoon - turning home a slightly scrappy goal from eight yards out.

The attacking midfielder was unplayable on the day and fully deserved his first Linnets hat-trick.

Potter came close again when fabulous footwork outside the penalty area created a yard of space for him to send a shot towards the top corner. With Cooke beaten, it crashed against the crossbar before being cleared to safety.

While unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, Potter's impact on the game was striking. Once fully fit our talisman will have a major impact on the second half of the season.

The game petered out with little else to report and on a comfortable afternoon for the home side, the 4-0 scoreline was a more than fair reflection of proceedings.

So that's leg one of this Christmas break 'triumvirate' safely navigated.

As with Ello, his staff and players we will for now look no further than the next game, and it's a real humdinger in prospect!

The Runcorn Derby has become one of the most hotly anticipated games of the season for both sides, as well as regularly attracting a large number of neutrals and groundhoppers.

We visit Pavilions on Boxing Day this time around, and with Town ahead of the Linnets by just a solitary point at the top of the Hallmark Security Premier Division table, a big crowd is expected for this intriguing encounter.

That just leaves me to wish everyone associated with Runcorn Linnets, right across our 44 teams, a very Happy Christmas!

See you all on Boxing Day!!

Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Michael Simpson, Kris Holt, Stuart Wellstead, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Adam Jones, Freddie Potter, Kyle Hamid. Not used: Mark Houghton, Chris Lawton.

Attendance: 286.

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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