20th January 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Charnock Richard : 6-2
There were new visitors to the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the team from Charnock Richard, a place until recently perhaps best known to our supporters for its M6 Service Station, made the journey south to Runcorn for the first time.
I will focus more on Charnock Richard itself when we have the pleasure of visiting them in April, something I am sincerely looking forward to.
But its football team are making significant waves on debut in the Hallmark Security Premier Division.
Having been a dominant force in Step 7 only two seasons ago, it is mightily impressive that they won automatic promotion from our First Division in their maiden season within the pyramid, and now find themselves as strong contenders to go up again.
They have in their ranks the division's leading scorer in Carl Grimshaw, who was one of the standout performers for the Villagers in the game along with goalkeeper Adam Halton. An interesting fact about Charnock is that their manager, Andy Westwell has been in charge of the Lancashire club for a phenomenal 17 years! How rare in modern-day football to find such a long, one-club commitment from a manager.
The weather had been boringly wet and wild all week leading up to the game, and with advice after the 11am pitch inspection being that any rain would put the game at risk, it was disappointing to spend the next three hours looking out of the window at torrents of non-stop rain.
We often count our blessings that we have such a fantastic, well- draining surface at the MLS, but for this game to have gone ahead, when so many others locally fell foul of the weather, can only be hailed as a triumph for all of those involved in pitch maintenance at the club. Yes, it cut up and became heavy as the game wore on, but its playability even for two good footballing sides never decreased. So a big thank you must go to all of our ground staff volunteers!
Ello had made just the one change from the side that had started against Congleton Town a week earlier, Freddie Potter replacing Mark Houghton to lead the attack.
There was no escaping the fact that this was a big game. Both sides are in great form, free scoring and tight at the back, with promotion a genuine target for both. So it relieved some of the pressure when the Linnets took the lead after only three minutes.
Kris Holt ran straight through the heart of Charnock's defence and despite Holt being brought down by Halton, in the Villagers goal, the ball was picked up by Mike Simpson to roll it into the empty net.
With 15 minutes gone, the lead was doubled. Paul Shanley made a run into the box and was brought down by a sliding tackle from Ryan Schofield for a clear penalty. Danny O'Brien made no mistake from the spot, the full back maintaining his impressive goal scoring form this season.
It took an excellent save from Terry Smith, in the Linnets goal, to deny Charnock a way back into the game, diving to his right at full stretch to tip Matt Davison's effort around the post. The resulting corner caused some discomfort but was eventually cleared to safety.
With half an hour gone, the task became all the more difficult for the Villagers as they were reduced to 10 men, right back Spencer Bibby being shown a straight red card for a late challenge. There was no intent or malice shown, but the timing of the challenge and position of Bibby's foot gave the referee little to think about.
Within a minute, the Linnets scored a decisive third goal to really hammer home an advantage. Danny O'Brien sent in a fabulous corner kick that Freddie Potter nodded home, despite being hampered by 'keeper Halton.
Trailing 3-0 and down to 10 men by half time, it would have been no surprise had Charnock thrown in the towel and played a damage limitation game. But within 10 seconds of the second half beginning, they had a glorious chance to pull a goal back but dragged the shot well wide, despite their player being one on one with Terry Smith.
The Villagers tried to drag themselves back into the game but were caught out on 52 minutes when a diagonal ball into the penalty area was headed across goal by Holt for Potter to stab home the hosts' fourth goal.
Charnock still continued to throw men forward in a bid to get back into the game. It was an approach that should be applauded but caused them further pain. With players out of position, they allowed Shanley, impressive all afternoon, a free run up the left channel and into the penalty area from where the forward unselfishly picked out Potter with a pass instead of going for goal himself.
Potter needed no second chance as he gratefully converted the gift from his team mate.
Changes were made by Ello, Anthony Hickey and Louis Corrigan being replaced by Mitch Bryant and Matty Atherton. Atherton, or Mr Runcorn as he is affectionately known, was marking his 300th appearance for the Linnets - the club stalwart in a league of his own as the record appearances holder at the Linnets.
Congratulations Athers, here's to the next 300!!
Even trailing 5-0, the visitors tried to salvage something from the game, and with a quarter of an hour left, they scored the first of a couple of consolation goals. A free kick into the penalty area caught the Linnets defence static and Grimshaw nipped in to finish well from eight yards out.
Ello's men were not satisfied with just the five goals, and bagged the goal of the day with five minutes remaining. Shanley once again tormented Charnock on their right side and picked out front man Mitch Bryant who with a drop of the shoulder created a yard of space for himself to finish by shooting under Halton; a classy goal from a player, who had not been on the pitch for very long.
It was actually the visitors who had the last laugh as they scored the eighth and final goal of the afternoon, when a cross from the right found the towering head of Grimshaw a couple of yards out with the big front man making no mistake.
But it's now nine league wins on the bounce for the Linnets, who find themselves 10 points clear at the top of the table. The overall picture is still slightly murky as the number of games played by teams around us varies greatly, but as it stands we find ourselves in a good position.
A striking fact is that Mitch Bryant's goal was our 81st of the league season, despite us having played only 25 games.
We are at home once again this coming Saturday as Darwen visit the MLS looking to avenge their 8-0 defeat on the final day of last season - a game most remembered for the magical moment of Adam Wade's 90th-minute goal in his final game for the Linnets after seven years' service.
Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kris Holt, Mchael Simpson, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Antony Hickey. Subs: Matt Atherton, Adam Jones, Mitch Bryant. Not used: Mark Houghton, Chris Lawton.
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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