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2nd March 2019, Kidsgrove Athletic FC v Runcorn Linnets FC : 5-0

By Ste Bignall

Runcorn Linnets found themselves on the wrong end of an unexpected but humiliating defeat the hands of a fully-deserving Kidsgrove Athletic on Saturday afternoon, with each goal conceded seeming to compound further a totally out-of -sorts Linnets performance.

Located not far from one of our old NWCL opponents Alsager Town, Kidsgrove's Hollinwood Road ground has a lot of character. Unusually for this level of football, there is seating and cover on all four sides of the stadium. It also has an in-ground beer garden, a smattering of different hospitality lounges, and for the Peter Kay fans among you a social club called "The Pheonix Club"!

On the pitch, Kidsgrove have already shown themselves to be a tough nut to crack, with two very late goals required for the Linnets to squeeze through the recent home fixture with a 2-1 victory. Grove also made it through to the 4th and final qualifying round of this season's FA Cup, narrowly losing 1-0 at National League side Hartlepool United.

Frank Jones made his first start for Runcorn in the centre of defence with Pete Wylie moving out to right full back. Louis Corrigan was suspended so Zac Aley dropped into the left back slot, Mitch Bryant returned to add some physicality to the Runcorn attack while Ryan Gibson was also brought back into the team.

From the very first minute, Runcorn just never got going in this game. Kidsgrove started the better and barring the odd flurry, remained the better throughout.

Plenty of warning shots had already been fired before Kidsgrove took the lead with a very good goal on 14 minutes, Anthony Malbon beating Jordan Perrin with a high curling shot from outside the penalty area.

Perrin made a good save when he turned a close-range shot over the crossbar with the Linnets wide open at the back, but Kidsgrove would soon double their lead as an afternoon of defensive errors began to unfold.

Finding space again on the right wing, they delivered a low cross with an attempted clearance being sliced onto our own crossbar.

With the ball looping in the air, it was Malbon again who was quickest to react and head the ball past Perrin to score his and Grove's second.

Having already been booked for an early pull back, Frank Jones was substituted after half an hour, Ello replacing the youngster with new signing from Trafford, Ally Brown.

A few critical moments in the game all went against Runcorn, and perhaps things might have been different if one of them had gone in our favour.

Our best move of the game created an opening for Gibson, whose shot beat the goalkeeper but was blocked on the line in unbelievable fashion by Bergin. He seemed to appear out of nowhere to deny the Linnets what seemed a nailed-on goal.

Just before half time, Kurt Sherlock broke up the right flank and rolled the ball across the penalty area looking for the sliding Paul Shanley. But Shanners was millimetres short of connecting with the ball and forcing it over the line.

With the half-time score at 2-0 to the hosts, the next goal was always going to be crucial. It would turn out to be the most disappointing of the whole sorry afternoon.

In the first minute of the second half, Zac Aley and Jordan Perrin found themselves on different radars. Zac's attempted header back to Perrin had the young goalkeeper chasing but unable to prevent the ball going out for a totally unnecessary corner kick.

But that doesn't excuse the ease with which Chris Budrys was able to rise unchallenged at the far post to head the corner in, essentially sealing the victory for his side.

Bryant and Ronnie McCarthy were replaced by Liam O'Neill and Josh Dobie as Ello tried to get a response from his team, but Kidsgrove remained unmoved and handled the sparse Runcorn threat with ease.

In the 81st minute, more slack defending gifted Kidsgrove a fourth goal. Perrin was off his line quickly to clear a long ball, his clearance found a Linnets shirt but the ball was lost immediately. With Perrin way out his goal, Malbon was able to curl the ball into the empty net to complete his hat-trick.

And unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it. In the last minute of normal time, Kyle Diskin had the ball on the halfway line and hit a strike that in all honesty looked in from the second it left his foot.

Perrin got a hand on the ball but could only palm it into the back of the net. Salt not just rubbed but trampled into an already throbbing Linnets wound.

The full-time whistle blew shortly after, with the Linnets players looking totally shell shocked, but also entirely apologetic to the large travelling band of Runcorn supporters.

It's only fair to mention that on a day when everything went wrong on the pitch the support from the terraces was magnificent, with both teams being applauded off at full time. There were rousing shouts of encouragement from the away crowd to the Linnets players to consign this one to the history books and start again with renewed vigour.

We haven't had many days like this under Ello's watch, and he has given us so many occasions to cheer and celebrate that off days like this leave you scratching your head.

But it happens, and one thing that we always do after a poor defeat is respond well. Personally, I've no doubt that we will come back much stronger from this defeat.

We now look ahead to the very welcome distraction of a Cheshire Senior Cup semi-final tie at the Millbank Linnets Stadium on Tuesday night.

A tough tie against Cammell Laird 1907 sits between us and a potential place in the final of this historic competition. Kick off is at 7.45pm.

Runcorn Linnets: Jordan Perrin, Zac Aley, Aaron Morris, Frank Jones, Peter Wylie, Ronnie McCarthy, Kris Holt, Ryan Gibson, Paul Shanley, Kurt Sherlock, Mitch Bryant. Subs: J Dobie, A Brown, L O'Neill. Not used: B Evans, D O'Brien.

Attendance: 200.

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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