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6th February 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Ashton Athletic : 2-0 Sponsored by George and Paul Coward in memory of Ros

By Ste Bignall

I was asked at the game last night if I knew our longest ever run of consecutive league wins - because if we secured three points against Ashton Athletic it would be 12 wins on the bounce.

Not knowing the answer, but after a little research on the morning after, I'm pleased to inform you all that Michael Ellison's current team are record breakers, and in fact have been for quite a while.

Our previous longest streak of league game wins came under Joey Dunn in 2014-15, his team winning the opening nine fixtures of that season before ultimately missing out on promotion to Glossop North End.

So, after coming through a very difficult 90 minutes on Tuesday night with a 2-0 against one of the league's best sides, Ello's crop in fact added to their already 'broken record'. And long may it continue!

There was a more recognised feel to the team than last Friday night's at Barnton, Ello reverting to his favoured 4-3-3 set up. The only unfamiliarity in the starting eleven was through Adam Jones adding another position in his ever growing utility man role.

He this time took up the crucial defensive midfield job in place of the absent Kieran Nolan. Danny O'Brien and Aaron Morris both returned in defence.

Ashton Athletic have, in recent years at least, been a continual thorn in our side and particularly at the Millbank Linnets Stadium. They are a club that I admire greatly, building their talented squad from committed local players and doing an excellent job of it. So this was always going to be a difficult evening.

Before moving on to the game itself, it would be ignorant of me not to mention once again the quality of our playing surface. On a night when every other game in our league fell victim to the weather, we once again managed to produce a magnificent surface for both of these footballing sides to play on.

People often comment on the quality of our pitch, but a football pitch doesn't maintain and prepare itself. Our pitch is the way it is, and gets as many games on as it does, because of our wonderful volunteers that put hours and hours of work into it.

I remind people of this often, but next time you look at the pitch and say 'Doesn't the pitch look fantastic tonight', take a moment to think about the people that make it so.

A side of Ashton that we haven't encountered previously was the very physical approach that they employed, especially in the first half. Paul Shanley in particular, came in for some real rough house tactics as he made his way up and down the wing.

This was a high tempo affair with both sides playing out from the back and moving the ball around at pace. Neither side was the dominant force as both tried to work openings, but the Linnets defence did an excellent job of snuffing out Ashton when they entered dangerous positions.

Jimmy Moore, in particular, threw in some outstanding covering tackles as Ashton were about to pull the trigger.

One of the performances of the night was without a doubt that of the Linnets beloved Left Side Ultras, and the timing of one of their signature tunes could not have been better!

With Freddie Potter's hair 'do' under critique by the vociferous gang, The Wizard himself beat the Ashton offside trap to head in Danny O'Brien's spectacular cross and open the scoring with a high-quality goal after 24 minutes.

Ashton were very lucky not to concede a second when goalkeeper Martin Pearson went walkabout on a corner kick. The ball ended up in the back of his net but there was a stunned reaction around the MLS as the referee awarded Ashton a free kick for a push.

Kris Holt then had a great chance to score from six yards out but couldn't connect fully with his attempted strike which, in golfing parlance, could be compared to a "topped drive".

Pearson pulled off a stunning save right on the stroke of half-time as Antony Hickey beat his man and smashed a shot towards the top corner from eight yards out.

The imposing goalkeeper flew to his right and got a solid palm on the ball to turn it around a post - a really top save by Pearson, who had a very brief spell with ourselves a few seasons ago now.

With Linnets leading by a solitary goal at half time, everyone knew that this game was far from over and the second half would prove just as tough as the first.

Ashton came out strong after the break, working the Linnets midfield and back line hard. We stood up to the task like warriors, limiting Ashton to the odd long-range shot, well wide of Terry Smith's goal.

With Ashton on top in the game and the Linnets struggling to get a foothold, it was clear that fresh legs would be a big benefit. With a good 30 minutes still to play, Ello made his substitutions much earlier than usual.

Jones and Potter made way for Mark Houghton and Stuart Wellstead, and their arrivals brought a change in shape to provide more bodies in the Linnets midfield. The ploy worked.

Ashton started to find it difficult to impose themselves as the Linnets moved in for the kill.

With 20 minutes remaining, the Linnets doubled their lead in truly spectacular style. Paul Shanley was putting in a performance of the very highest order, despite taking a good kicking throughout the game.

And when Shanners found himself surrounded near the corner flag by two Ashton bodies, he did very well to squirm free and head towards the penalty area.

Without even needing to look up, the highly-influential wide man curled an effort from outside the penalty area, over the fully stretched arm of Pearson and into the far corner.

I was fortunate enough in my position to the left of the goal to be right behind the flight of the ball as it curled majestically through the air and beyond Pearson's desperate reach. As goals of individual brilliance go, you won't see many better than this one!

This knocked the stuffing out of Ashton, who had put in a strong performance but knew that the task was moving beyond them. They continued to push but high praise must be given to the Linnets defensive unit, who limited a talented and strong side to not a single on target shot at Terry Smith's goal throughout the night.

The rearguard action was equally as impressive as the two goals scored at the other end.

Some matches have a feel of a "box ticked" if you get through them with a win. But everybody - players, coaches, supporters etc alike - recognised how big and vital this victory was.

At our best, most teams can't match us when we are in full flight, but there wasn't much between these two sides on the night - barring two goals of immense quality.

Indeed, we probably won't be tested to this degree many more times this season.

Attention now turns once again to a quick return to Barnton on Saturday afternoon. This time, we make the lovely short journey to take on The Villager's tenants - the once mighty non-league giants and big rivals of our old club, Northwich Victoria.

Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Adam Jones, Kristian Holt, Michael Simpson, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley (capt), Antony Hickey. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton. Not used: Matt Atherton, Mitch Bryant, Chris Lawton.

Attendance: 302

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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