4th August 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Witton Albion : 0-3
Arguably the best and most important thing to come out of Runcorn Linnets' 3-0 defeat to higher ranked Witton Albion in their closing friendly was that there was no visible sign of any further damage to the playing squad.
Injuries have dogged Michael Ellison's side throughout pre-season and with other absences for holidays or unavailability, the manager's selections have not provided any real clue as to his likely choice for the new season opener in the Emirates FA Cup extra-prelim tie at Hallam.
On the plus side, the personnel changes from one game to the next, while not aiding continuity, have at least given Ellison every opportunity to build up the fitness of all his charges - always the main priority for any manager approaching a new campaign.
There has also been plenty of scope for trialists to stake claims and for newcomers, who have signed, to bed in.
The visit of Witton and their merry band of sponsored walkers raising valuable funds for charity† - the dozen recipients receiving well-deserved refresments, courtesy of the host club - rekindled friendships formed in Linnets' early days as tenants at Albion's Wincham Park.
It also revived memories of the first ever game at The Millbank. Witton's 2010 visit, also for a friendly, drew a crowd of just over 1,000 - still a ground record.
This time, 223 came through the turnstiles to witness another useful workout for the Linnets† - their third at home against more senior opposition.
All three have ended in defeat, as part of a mixed bag of results ahead of the serious business of league and cups.
Ellison's men will undoubtedly have benefitted and hopefully learned much from this type of encounter as they prepare for their first taste of competitive action at a higher standard.
The Linnets are unlikely to come across teams with the quality of Chester, Ashton United or Witton - certainly not on a regular basis - but they will be better equipped to deal with whatever comes their way.
To continue the reunion theme, Witton had in their ranks Danny McKenna, Linnets left back from the campaign before last, who has clearly lost none of his zest with the move across county. He has added another string to his bow, looking equally busy and effective in a midfield role and being heavily involved in most of the good things Albion produced.
Another one-time Linnets defender River Humphreys, newly signed by the visitors - also reappeared on his old stamping ground, albeit for the last eight minutes only.
Witton were good value for the victory although there had been little between the teams in the first half until a burst of Albion pressure culminated in Will Jones firing them ahead after 38 minutes from a slick and well-worked move down the right.
Freddie Potter, as he has been throughout the friendlies, was Runcorn's biggest attacking threat. Promptly breaking into the box, likewise on the right, in search of an equaliser, he forced the familiar figure of former Glossop and 1874 Northwich 'keeper, Greg Hall to block with his legs.
However, only two minutes into the second half, the visitors doubled their lead. Hall's long ball was worked into the left corner from where McKenna's cross picked out Rob Hopley to convert.
Soon after, 'keeper Hall left the field with what looked like an injury.
Runcorn's had the ball in the net themselves after a very tidy finish fro a trialist striker but he had obviously handled in bringing the ball under control.
Potter wasn't too far away with an angled shot against the replacement No.1 but Runcorn's relative improvement after a disjointed first half, wasn't enough to seriously trouble Witton.
The EVO-STIK League Premier Division side wrapped the game up with a late penalty, safely accepted by Billy Smart despite Dylan Forth diving the right way (to his left).
So, not the end to pre-season Runcorn would have wanted in terms of result and performance but when at their strongest, Linnets have shown that they are well capable of building on last season's success.
Fans know all too well that warm up games ultimately count for nothing and will be forgotten by the time the team kicks off in earnest with the Cup tie next Sunday (August 12th) in Sheffield.
Runcorn Linnets: Dylan Forth, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Trialist A, Michael Simpson, Kieran Nolan, Ronnie McCarthy, Kyle Hamid, Freddie Potter, Trialist D, Paul Shanley. Subs: Mitch Bryant, Kurt Sherlock, Adam Gilchrist, Kasie Jones, Trialist B, Trialist C, Danny O'Brien, Matty Holmes.
Witton Albion: Greg Hall, Trialist A, Danny McKenna, Anthony Gardner, Michael Wilson, Josh Wardle, Cesaire Lingouba, James Foley, Rob Hopley, Tom Owens, Billy Smart. Subs: Will Jones, River Humphreys, Trialist B, Matty Devine.
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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