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16th February 2019, Clitheroe v Runcorn Linnets FC : 0-5

by Ste Bignall

Runcorn Linnets produced without doubt their best and most ruthless 45 minutes of football this season at Clitheroe on Saturday.

The Linnets players headed for their half- time oranges with a 0-4 lead and their opposition looking completely floored.

Clitheroe is one of the many non-league clubs in the Burnley/Blackburn area of Lancashire - an area that we have probably visited more than any other over the years.

In fact, as you approach Clitheroe there is a crossroads where the signage is left for Clitheroe or right for Padiham!

Clitheroe's Shawbridge ground is a real gem of a place. You can feel the history all around you and see the developments at different stages throughout time.

Their pitch is quite unique as well with a distinctive slope from wing to wing, along with the odd undulation here and there.

Despite its unusual plain, it actually played very well.

Paul Shanley and Liam O'Neill led the line again with Kurt Sherlock keeping his place on the right wing following Tuesday's victory over Congleton Town.

The back four remained settled with Danny O'Brien keeping his place at right back for his 100th Linnets appearance.

This defensive unit is bringing its rewards with Runcorn proving much more solid and difficult to break down these last few weeks.

The first-half performance was nothing short of perfection. Much of the damage inflicted by Runcorn came about through the lightning pace of the team, when we picked up the ball and set off on the attack.

Clitheroe had no answer to the speed and movement of Shanley, O'Neill, Aley, Sherlock and Holt.

The scoring began on 11 minutes when Liam O'Neill was on hand to force the ball over the line in a crowded penalty area, and the Linnets never looked back from that moment on.

In less than the time it took this reporter to walk from behind one goal to the other, it was 0-2.

Ronnie McCarthy picked out Kurt Sherlock with space to attack on the right wing, and Kurt took one stride forward then spectacularly half volleyed the ball beyond the goalkeeper from 18 yards.

Louis Corrigan was unfortunate to pick up a booking for a soft tackle midway through the first half, but the frustration was shortlived as the Linnets soon scored an absolutely sublime third goal!

Zac Aley had the ball near the dugout on the left wing and picked out a sensational wing to wing switch pass that was perfect for Liam O'Neill.

O'Neill drove into the Clitheroe penalty area and played a clever backheel to Kris Holt who was lurking in space, and Holty's cross found Paul Shanley who slammed home a first-time volley from six yards out.

The entire move had Clitheroe chasing shadows and was without doubt the best team goal of the season so far.

Zac Aley took a knock to the ankle as half time approached and had to be substituted for in-form Mitch Bryant. Only four minutes after entering the fray, Bryant got himself on the score sheet.

McCarthy again found Kurt Sherlock in space, Kurt dropping a shoulder to shake off his marker and attack the Clitheroe penalty area.

Sherlock then played a little, toe-poked pass into the feet of Bryant who turned sharply and back-heeled the ball into the net from close range.

The players left the field at half time with a 0-4 lead and to rapturous applause from the large travelling contingent, who had followed the Linnets north.

The second half started in the same way the first half had ended, with a goal for Mitch Bryant.

It was the Linnets' right wing again that created the chance, O'Neill and Sherlock combining well - a resulting low cross to the near post picking out Bryant, who controlled and drilled the ball home from inside the six- yard box.

With the game well and truly won, Runcorn made the wise choice, given our tear-jerking injury situation, to ease the pressure off slightly and look to see the game through without sustaining any further hospital visits.

This allowed Clitheroe a bit more of the play and to their huge credit, they tried with everything they had to reduce the deficit and give their own good home support something to cheer.

The home side went close a few times with long-range shots, which all cleared the crossbar. The Linnets' rigid back four showed great determination to keep the hosts at a manageable distance and protect the clean sheet.

The one time Clitheroe did break through, they drew a superb save from Matty Holmes - diving low to his left to turn a fierce shot away from danger.

Ello was able to give new signing Frank Jones his debut in the last 15 minutes, the tall central defender looking instantly comfortable in his new surroundings. (Stat for the day: Frank Jones is the Linnets first ever Frank! Credit to club statistician Mark Buckley!)

This was a great day all round for Runcorn Linnets. A superb support followed the team up to Lancashire, the weather was unseasonably mild and the team turned in a dazzling performance on the pitch. It was also a timely one as results elsewhere were unusually mixed in the top six, strengthening our current play-off position and edging us a little closer in second place to leaders Atherton Colls - with 11 games of our maiden EVO-STIK League West Division season remaining.

We now look ahead to a huge game on Saturday as fourth placed, in-form Mossley visit the Millbank Linnets Stadium.

The players are now treating each game as a cup final and we should all do the same, Let's get there in numbers, colours and voices on Saturday and give the lads our support in what will be another difficult and very important fixture! Kick off is 3pm!

Runcorn Linnets : Matt Holmes, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Peter Wylie, Danny O'Brien, Ronnie McCarthy, Kris Holt, Zak Aley, Paul Shanley, Liam O'Neill, Kurt Sherlock. Subs: Mitch Bryant, Bobby Evans, Frank Jones. Not used: Ryan Gibson, Harrison Coady.

Attendance: 380.

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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