REPORT | Widnes 0-1 Runcorn Linnets
By Callum Chadwick
Sherlock strike sinks Widnes
Widnes were defeated by a single Kurt Sherlock strike as Runcorn Linnets ran-out narrow 1-0 Halton Derby winners on Boxing Day.
Sherlock’s goal shortly after the hour-mark ensured a first ‘El-Clasitoll’ victory for Michael Ellison’s Linnets who have finally beaten Widnes at the fourth time of asking.
The Whites had chances, notably in the first-half through joint-manager Kev Towey and George Lomax, but they were ultimately beaten at Barnton’s Offside Trust Stadium.
Towey was amongst four Widnes changes from the side that lost at Radcliffe, replacing Dale Korie-Butler who dropped to the bench. Elsewhere, Sam Sheen, Danny Ventre and Chris Lomax were all recalled.
Widnes had never lost to Runcorn heading into the contest, winning both league contests last season and this season’s curtain-raiser in the North West Counties Champions Cup.
It was also the first Derby between the two sides to be played outside the Borough, as Widnes continue to await a return home to the Halton Stadium as delays continue with the stadium’s newly re-laid artificial surface.
Lomax started at the tip of a Widnes three-man midfield, with strikers Ben Hodkinson and George Lomax supporting the central Towey from the flanks as the Whites looked to attack a Runcorn side beaten 4-0 at home by Droylsden last time out.
However, it was Linnets who were first to threaten but the impressive Joe Herbert threw himself in the way of Freddie Potter’s shot on goal.
There was little between the sides in the early exchanges, with Chris Lomax firing off target for Widnes before Paul Shanley hit one wide for Linnets who were seeing more of the ball.
Linnets were beginning to assert themselves midway through the half with Potter fizzing a dangerous cross across goal while Zac Aley was a hair’s breadth from connecting with another from Shanley.
Widnes still carried a threat of their own, and they were denied an opener by the woodwork as George Lomax latched on to a threaded Sheen pass that opened up the Runcorn rearguard. Dylan Forth raced from his goal but was beaten by Lomax’s lob that agonisingly bounced back off the foot of the post and into the goalkeeper’s grateful gloves.
Ex-Linnet Towey then wasted a glorious opportunity just before half-time, wildly volleying over the bar from close-range after a clever dinked ball from Lomax. The Widnes co-boss’ frustration was obvious as he kicked out at the goal post knowing that his side would be hard-pressed to create a better chance.
There was still time before the interval for Owen Wheeler to get himself into a spot of bother when attempting to clear a loose ball which didn’t break kindly for the Linnets pair of Potter or Sherlock with Jay Roberts hooking away the danger.
Into the second half and as thick mist began to roll in over the Offside Trust Stadium, Widnes became camped inside the own half down the slope at Townfield Lane.
Potter was to test Wheeler with a powerful effort early in the half but the Widnes keeper produced a strong save to push the shot away from goal.
Runcorn then had a shout for a penalty turned down by an unimpressed referee Darren Rogers as Ellison’s men enjoyed their best spell of the contest.
And their strong pressure eventually paid off as the visitors broke the deadlock on the 62-minute mark.
The ever-dangerous Shanley fed the over-lapping Matty Russell down the right-flank who provided a cross towards the back-post with Sherlock ghosting in to turn home from close-range to draw first-blood for Linnets.
Runcorn almost doubled their advantage three minutes later but Potter could only fire straight at Wheeler who got down quickly to make a good block.
Widnes made all three changes in an attempt to get back into the contest, and despite a period of sustained pressure, the Whites never really penetrated a stubborn Linnets backline and test keeper Forth.
A dangerous Roberts narrowly evaded substitute Rob Bourne before Widnes had a somewhat half-hearted penalty appeal waved away by Rogers.
Sherlock was denied a second late on by Wheeler as Widnes continued to commit bodies forward, but the impressive pair of Aaron Morris and Peter Wylie kept the hosts at bay to secure a first-ever Halton Derby triumph for Linnets.