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20th March 2018, Congleton Town v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-2

By Ste Bignall

Runcorn Linnets turned in an excellent performance to come away from Congleton Town with victory, a feat we have achieved rarely in our visits in the last 10 years.

Two first-half goals, one inside 30 seconds from Stu Wellstead, followed by a workmanlike and determined defensive performance guided the Linnets into the final quarter of the Hallmark Security League Premier Division season with a crucial three points.

Michael Ellison made three changes to the side held at home by City of Liverpool on Saturday as skipper Kyle Hamid, Mark Houghton and Stu Wellstead all returned to the side in place of Kris Holt, Freddie Potter and Antony Hickey.

The impact of these changes had a striking effect right from the kick-off. With less than a minute played Stu Wellstead settled the nerves of the Linnets faithful by opening the scoring. Great link up play on the corner of the penalty area between Shanley and Houghton allowed Shanners a yard of space to pick out a cross to the far post.

Wellstead had ghosted in unmarked to slide home the opener from a couple of yards out.

For those unaware, Stuey's goal was our 100th of the league season, this landmark being reached in only 34 league fixtures.

The excitement of the early goal was almost quashed immediately by the hosts winning a corner straight from the restart. The Linnets defence could only half clear and Thomas Morris hit a sweet strike from the edge of the penalty area.

Dylan Forth tipped the shot around the post at full stretch; a remarkable save from our new goalkeeper.

Congleton's side has plenty of pace and they carved out a great chance on the counter attack midway through the first half. Breaking up the right wing, the play was switched across field to Hasler-Cregg with space inside the Linnets box but his shot from a good position was high and wide.

The Linnets scored the crucial second goal on the half-hour mark and it was again very well executed. Hamid intercepted in the centre circle to play a sublime ball over the top of Congleton's defence that sent Shanley racing through on goal.

With the angle narrowing rapidly, it seemed like a square pass across goal would be the best option. But Shanners had other ideas and smashed a half volley across the goalkeeper, finding the far corner of the net.

Ello's men went all out to kill the game off with a third goal before half time. A rasping Hamid strike was well held by Congleton's goalkeeper, before a great piece of last-ditch defending denied Houghton a certain goal.

The best chance however fell to Stu Wellstead when he was set up eight yards from goal by Mike Simpson. Unfortunately, his strike let him down and he sliced the effort wide.

The pattern of play shifted slightly in the second half as Congleton came more into the game. Their cause was aided as the referee didn't seem to be consistent with his decision making.

The Linnets defence were called upon a number of times to make crucial tackles as well as defending a number of dangerous corners. The hosts should have halved the deficit with an hour gone when a spectacular volleyed cross from the right wing fell perfectly on the head of Dave Short only six yards from goal. But his header was weak and straight at Forth.

Freddie Potter came on for Hamid as Ello looked to freshen things up, but soon after this change, Congleton were gifted an opportunity to get right back into the game.

Mini Adegbenro, a persistent thorn in the Linnets side over the years, cut in from the left wing at pace and was brought down by Jimmy Moore. Despite Moore holding his position to prove to the match official that the foul had been committed two yards outside of the penalty area, the referee had already made his decision to award a spot- kick.

Former Linnets cult hero Steve "Fozzie" Foster put the ball on the spot and his strike was sent right towards the top right corner of the goal. But fortune was with the Linnets as the ferocious strike unbelievably crashed against the crossbar and down on to the goal line, back up and off the crossbar for a second time before bouncing on the goal line yet again.

The ball was eventually hoofed clear by Louis Corrigan, reacting quickest to the fact that it had not crossed the line.

Hickey and Adam Jones replaced Wellstead and Danny O'Brien as the game wore on. The missed penalty seemed to knock the drive out of Congleton and it was Linnets, who closed the game out on top - albeit without making any further impact on the home side's goal.

But it mattered not as the full-time whistle blew, and a significant obstacle had been very well negotiated by the Linnets. To a man, the performances were excellent on the night. Each and every player had a big role in getting the team over the winning line in what had been a very professional performance.

We have got this coming Saturday off (but let's be honest, nobody actually wants that!) before making another tough midweek journey up to a resurgent Padiham next Tuesday night (ko 7.45pm).

The countdown is now on. 10 games to go....

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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