20th February 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v 1874 Northwich : 2-1 Sponsored by 80 Years Young!
The always eagerly-anticipated visit of 1874 Northwich to the Millbank Linnets Stadium saw Runcorn Linnets quickly put behind them a very rare home defeat to Halton neighbours, Widnes three days earlier.
While there is a great relationship between the Linnets and 1874 (a bond that goes back beyond the current make up of both clubs), there has also developed a fantastic rivalry on the pitch.
Quite simply, these games are never ever dull! This was the eighth meeting, with Linnets having a tight stranglehold over the Greens. In seven previous attempts, 1874 hadn't tasted victory, losing five.
1874 (or simply 74 as they now like to be known) are on club a record-breaking FA Vase run this season, and will visit Leighton Town in the quarter finals this Saturday. This is likely the reason that they made a number of changes to their starting eleven, which had beaten Runcorn Town on the same day that we lost to Widnes.
Michael Ellison made three changes to his team that had started on Saturday with Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey and Terry Smith all replaced - by Mark Houghton, Mike Simpson and Matt Holmes.
Houghto led the attacking line with Adam Jones taking Hickey's place on the right of the front three.
74 set their stall out after only 20 seconds. Sam Freakes completely poleaxed Adam Jones on the halfway line, near the seating stand, and was rightly shown a yellow card.
The first chance of the game did fall to the visitors, Kazim Waite Jackson firing well over the bar after being set up by front man Kyle Riley. From this moment on, chances at goal would prove hard to come by for 74.
Linnets took total control of the game and almost took the lead on 20 minutes, but an excellent double goal line clearance kept us out. However, it would prove to be just a stay of execution, as three minutes later the deadlock was broken.
Neat play on the Linnets left flank between Louis Corrigan and Paul Shanley ended in Shanners swinging in a magnificent cross that found Mark Houghton eight yards from goal. The Linnets captain on the night rose to connect perfectly, guiding a cushioned header into the bottom corner and leaving Greg Hall rooted to the spot.
Shortly after, it was almost 2-0 when Mike Simpson chipped a loose ball goalwards following a scramble and watched as. agonisingly, it hit the crossbar and bounced down away from the goal line.
There was another booking for 74, this time Kyle Riley for a late and heavy tackle on Jimmy Moore, before one of our own with Kris Holt picking up a needless yellow for a trip.
74 were looking to the imposing figure of former Winsford striker Riley to get them back in the game, and Matty Holmes had to stay on full alert to snuff out any crosses that were thrown in. This he did impeccably.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with Linnets on the front foot and trying to extend our lead. Strong penalty claims for a foul on Houghto were waved away by the referee.
Holt then did well to beat his man but shot over from outside the penalty area. Paul Shanley, a menace to 74's Jack Lever all night, cut inside and fired just wide with Aaron Morris so close to deflecting the ball on target.
When 74 nicked the ball off us in midfield and broke down the left wing, it seemed a certainty that a booking was about to follow as Ryan Jackson was sent tumbling to the ground. A booking did follow - it was given to Jackson for what the referee perceived as a dive.
A big moment arrived on the hour mark. 74 had played a risky game all night, trying to play out from the back, and almost got caught out on numerous occasions.
Their luck ran out as Houghto pounced on Woolley's miscontrol just outside the penalty area and found himself one on one with Greg Hall.
Woolley sent Houghto tumbling and was very lucky to be shown just a yellow card when it seemed that Houghto had been denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Danny O'Brien's resulting free kick was deflected just wide by the defensive wall.
As the half wore on, the visitors started to grow into the game somewhat. While still struggling to create chances, they did start to move the ball around better and give the Linnets something to think about.
They also created a good chance for ex- Linnet Rory Fallon, who put a free header wide when well placed. It led to a feeling that a second Linnets goal was needed.
Ello brought on former 74 fans favourite Stu Wellstead, in place of Adam Jones,and replaced Mark Houghton with Freddie Potter. Once again the manager's choice and timing of substitutions were to prove a master stroke.
With 10 minutes remaining Shanley made a run up the left, beating full back Lever and advancing into the penalty area along the dead ball line. A wild challenge from centre back Danny Meadowcroft would have resulted in a stonewall penalty, but Shanners managed to stay on his feet and find a perfect pass for Wellstead to drill the ball home from six yards out to double the Linnets advantage and send the vociferous Left Side Ultras wild.
It tells you everything about our team when the goalscorer directs the celebrations away from himself and towards the goal creator.
A gloss coat was almost applied to the evening in the final few minutes as Freddie Potter dug out a high curling effort that looked destined for the top corner, but with a truly world-class, flying fingertip save by "pantomime villain" Greg Hall flicked the ball on to the crossbar and it was cleared to safety.
There aren't many goalkeepers in our league who could have made that save.
Holt was withdrawn by Ello in the closing stage and replaced by Linnets captain Kyle Hamid, who has been much missed in his prolonged absence from the field.
'Mucker' is working his way back from a troublesome injury that he played with throughout November and December, when injuries and suspensions applied a big strain to the Linnets team selections.
Putting your body on the line for your teammates and club like that is what truly defines Hamid as club captain.
74 finally managed what was their only shot on target in the last minute of injury time. A quick break down the right wing was followed by a well-placed cross that Ryan Jackson volleyed home from only a few yards out to give the visitors some faint hope.
Hearts were in mouths in the last few seconds as the Linnets needlessly lost the ball in midfield but, with maroon shirts flooding the penalty area, Matty Holmes did his job once again by taking a brilliant catch under pressure. With the ball still safely in the goalkeeper's grasp, the referee brought proceedings to a close.
This was a big victory for the Linnets. The games against 1874 Northwich are among the first that you look for when the fixtures are released.
While the league table is distorted with 1874 having an eye-watering amount of league games to catch up on, most around the league expect them to be fighting for promotion come April.
Not only that, it was crucial to respond well, following the defeat to Widnes on Saturday. And the response was excellent.
We now look ahead to Saturday and, weather permitting, a trip north to Barnoldswick. One of their meat and potato pies in a bowl will definitely be the order of the day!
Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Kieran Nolan, Kristian Holt, Michael Simpson, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Adam Jones.
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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