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26th April 2018, Ashton Athletic v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-3

'By Ste Bignall

A big travelling contingent followed Michael Ellison's Runcorn Linnets to Ashton Athletic on Thursday to roar the team to a fine 0-3 victory - a win that leaves the Linnets requiring just three more points to secure the Hallmark Security Premier Division title.

Ashton Athletic have been a niggling thorn in the Linnets side over recent years, picking up several notable victories against us including two previous title challenge-denting wins in 2014 & 2015, as well as a quarter-final victory at the MLS in the Macron Cup in 2013-14.

At the start of this season, Ashton also enjoyed a commanding FA Cup win over the Linnets at Brocstedes Park - one that saw them play the next round against Chorley with 'live' streaming on the BBC website.

So nobody in the Linnets camp was taking this fixture for granted!

Ello remained faithful to his side that have been on a sensational run in the final furlong of the season, Matt Atherton remaining an immovable object at centre back, with Aaron Morris staying on the bench, and Adam Jones keeping his place on the right of the attack.

When you consider what was riding on this game, the manner of the Linnets performance and dominance was a joy to witness.

Kris Holt had an early chance for the Linnets after Paul Shanley's run down the left had set him up, but Martin Pearson, in Ashton goal, got down well to save from close range.

A series of Linnets corners followed but none were converted.

As the 20 minute mark approached, Freddie Potter sent the Linnets faithful into delirium with a truly wonderful solo goal.

Kyle Hamid fizzed a ball in to Potter at chest height, just outside the penalty area. In one move, the Wizard controlled the ball with his chest, spun on the spot and volleyed first time right across Pearson's considerable reach and into the far bottom corner!

A comment close to me was that, in any league anywhere in the world, that goal would be described as a world-class piece of centre forward play.

Soon after the opening goal, Mike Simpson picked up an injury, which was to force him out of the game. Kieran Nolan came on to pick up his midfield anchor man role.

Ten minutes before half time, another stunning piece of individual brilliance brought about the Linnets' second goal. A free kick 25 yards from goal on the right of the Ashton penalty area was sent sailing over the wall and right into the top left corner of Pearson's goal by Louis Corrigan - once again giving the big goalkeeper no chance.

It had been a tremendous first half performance by the Linnets, who were in total control.

Within 10 minutes of the second half restarting, it was 0-3 with no way back for Ashton Athletic. Danny O'Brien swung in a corner kick that drew Pearson from his goal line - Potter winning the physical battle with the 'keeper to head into the empty net.

Cue wild celebrations in Ashton's covered terrace as the players ran over to celebrate with the Left Side Ultras, who were in fine voice all night long.

Shanley was given a rare rest by Ello and replaced by Mitch Bryant, who almost got himself on the score sheet immediately - blazing over from 12 yards after being set up by Jones.

Stu Wellstead was the final substitute, for Adam Jones, as the Wigan weather turned and rain began to pour on the proceedings.

This brought all of the Linnets supporters together under cover along the dugout side of Brocstedes Park - creating a fantastic atmosphere for the final 10 minutes.

With Runcorn Town and Widnes likewise in Thursday night action, dropped points by either of the other Halton contenders would have secured the Linnets promotion, as a guaranteed top-two side.

However a late penalty save by former Linnets favourite Richie Mottram earned Widnes a 0-1 victory at 1874 Northwich, while Runcorn Town demolished downtrodden AFC Darwen 10-3 at Pavilions.

As the Linnets players and fans celebrated at full time, the look of confidence all around Brocstedes Park hammered home the feeling that everyone felt that it was now only a matter of time.

The promotion party had to be put on hold, but not for very long....

Saturday brought about another initially frustrating blank day in the fixture list for the Linnets - a second consecutive spare Saturday.

But with the FA confirming on Friday morning that all 14 step 5 runners up will now be promoted, due to various issues around the leagues, half an eye was cast on social media for the afternoon.

The focus was on Widnes v West Didsbury & Chorlton and Ashton Athletic v Runcorn Town.

Defeat for either Widnes or Town would see Linnets' promotion to EVO-STIK League Division One West secured.

For a while, it wasn't looking promising - both sides were leading at half time.

However there was to be late drama at Ashton Athletic. After the hosts had been reduced to 10 men late on, a Joel Brownhill double in the last five minutes earned Ashton an impressive 3-1 victory, guaranteeing the Linnets a place in the EVO-STIK at long last!!!

The celebrations began on social media immediately, before moving on to the Bridgewater Bar, a place of great significance in Runcorn Linnets' history.

Located on Canal Street, the bar and function room sits roughly a penalty kick away from the turnstiles of the old Canal Street ground, home of Runcorn AFC and in a former life, before redevelopment, the original Linnets Social Club.

It was in this iconic Runcorn venue that Runcorn Linnets FC was born at a fans' meeting, 12 years to the very day that promotion from the Hallmark Security League was secured!

A plaque commemorating the beginnings of the supporter-owned club adorns the wall of the Bridgewater Bar.

Saturday evening's celebrations ended at Wigg Island, where clusters of supporters old and new had gathered to get the best view of the Mersey Gateway crossing, lit up in Yellow & Green to commemorate 100 years of non-league football in the borough - Runcorn AFC having been founded in 1918.

The yellow and green colours were synonymous for many years with Runcorn AFC and now Runcorn Linnets.

So promotion was secured on the 'new' club's 12th birthday, 100 years since the launch of town team association football in the town and with the towers of the Mersey Gateway illuminated in yellow and green!

It was timing at its very best - a historic and wonderful evening that none of us will ever forget.

BUT!!! The title remains at large!! In our time as Runcorn Linnets we have been promoted before, but it is 36 years since a Linnets title win.

The last was a big one, when Runcorn AFC won the Alliance Premier League, which became the Conference and is now The National League.

With four games left, can now secure that elusive title when visiting Barnton on Monday night for the first of these - a rearranged game against Northwich Victoria, a traditional rival of the Linnets.

If you're reading this now and unsure what to do with yourself on Monday, make the short trip to Townfield Lane, to hopefully cheer the lads across the finish line and share in the prospective, long-awaited championship celebrations! Fingers crossed!!

Runcorn Linnets:Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Matt Atherton, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Michael Simpson, Kristian Holt, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley, Adam Jones. Subs: Kieran Nolan, Stuart Wellstead, Mitch Bryant, Not used: Aaron Morris, Mark Houghton.

Attendance:236.



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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