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29th December 2018, Runcorn Linnets FC v Skelmersdale United : 2-1

by Ste Bignall

Twelve months on from entering 2018 as the team in top spot of the Hallmark Security League Premier Division, Michael Ellison's side have remarkably repeated the feat.

As Auld Lang Syne rings out to bring in the year 2019, Runcorn Linnets will be occupying pole position in the EVO-STIK League West Division table.

The 2-1 victory against Skelmersdale United at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Saturday guarantees that no matter what results roll in across the league on New Year's Day, the Linnets can enjoy their day off knowing their league position is secure.

The Linnets' starting XI for the visit of the struggling Lancastrians was unchanged from the side that had secured a narrow Boxing Day win against Widnes just three days earlier.

Skelmersdale currently find themselves at the bottom of the league table, but anyone expecting a top versus bottom rout in favour of the Linnets was mistaken.

While Runcorn dominated the play throughout, Skelmersdale proved a tough nut to crack.

Freddie Potter went close to opening the scoring on five minutes when his effort from a corner was saved on the goal line by former Linnets 'keeper Terry Smith.

The opening half an hour was largely made up of Runcorn poking and prodding their way around the Skem penalty area, trying to work an opening.

But Smith marshalled his penalty area well and turned in a good display of handling high balls into the area.

Half an hour in and a quick move up the left wing gave Skelmersdale their first sight of goal, Dylan Forth getting down quickly to make a smart block to his right.

Aaron Morris sent a looping header from a corner goalwards but it would clear the crossbar, before strong claims for a Linnets penalty for handball were waved away as Paul Shanley's cross struck one the United full backs inside the area.

Just before half time, the Linnets had their best chance of the half. Louis Corrigan's free kick from midway inside the Skelmersdale half found the head of Shanley, who directed the ball goalwards but straight into the grateful palms of Terry Smith.

Such was Shanley's proximity to goal that a yard either side and Smith would have had no chance.

Runcorn found a greater level of intensity in the second half and started to ask Skelmersdale some more troublesome questions.

A corner, within a minute of the restart, presented Freddie Potter with a chance but the striker's effort was deflected wide for another corner.

The pressure was building on the Skelmersdale goal and, on 50 minutes, two individual pieces of quality led to the hosts breaking the deadlock.

From a deep position, Peter Wylie swung in a wicked cross which found the head of Zac Aley on the penalty spot. Aley still had plenty to do, but guided his header over the dive of Smith and into the top corner.

It took a remarkable goal line clearance in the 72nd minute to keep Skelmersdale in the game.

A good move by the Linnets drew the Skem defence out of position and when Kurt Sherlock's square pass set up Potter, the writing appeared to be on the wall with Smith nowhere to be seen. But Potter's effort was turned away from goal by Matthew Coughlan.

Goalscorer Aley took a heavy knock to the ankle on 76 minutes and had to be replaced by Ryan Gibson.

Just five minutes later, Gibson's pacey run into the Skelmersdale penalty area was ended when he was brought down under a challenge - the referee pointing to the penalty spot with no hesitation.

Louis Corrigan swept the penalty into the bottom corner to double the Linnets advantage with eight minutes to go.

As apposed to Skem waving the white flag, falling two goals behind actually spurred them into having their best spell of the game.

Committing men forward, they gave themselves a chance of rescuing a point when centre back turned emergency striker John Keatley neatly half volleyed a goal in the 86th minute, leaving them only one adrift.

The visitors threw everything they had at the Linnets in the final stages, Runcorn standing firm despite a few sliced clearances and mislaid passes.

With the last kick of the game, Skelmersdale did carve out a chance but volleyed high over the bar from just inside the penalty area.

The referee brought the game to a close, also bringing an end to an historic year for Runcorn Linnets, 2018 being our title- winning year.

And, as a final high point for the day, it was fantastic to see the game played out in front of our highest attendance of the season, with 404 spectators spending their afternoon at the Millbank Linnets Stadium.

That just leaves me to wish everyone connected to Runcorn Linnets a very Happy New Year. LIke me, I'm sure you can't wait to see what 2019 has in store for us.

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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