REPORT: Runcorn Linnets 0-2 Widnes
Bosses strike to secure Derby win
Widnes FC played the role of party poopers to perfection on Saturday as goals from joint managers Kev Towey and Steve Akrigg secured a 2-0 Halton Derby triumph over Runcorn Linnets.
Linnets were marking the official unveiling of their new £1.4million clubhouse at the Millbank Linnets Stadium, but a momentous day off the pitch for the hosts ended in relative disappointment on it as Towey and Akrigg struck within four first half minutes to secure a deserved three points.
The victory for Widnes closes the gap at the top of the Hallmark Security League Premier Division to seven points as the Whites handed Linnets a first home league loss for 13 months in front of a bumper crowd of 608.
Widnes were without influential midfielder Stuart Cook who suffered a calf injury in training, while Jay Roberts (ankle) and Jack Banister (tonsillitis) were only fit enough to make the bench.
The joint bosses made five changes to the side that lost at Marine in midweek, with Jack Graham, Michael Grogan, Akrigg, Chris and George Lomax all earning recalls.
The first five minutes belonged to Linnets. Runcorn pressed early with Adam Jones blazing over after Akrigg blocked a Kristian Holt shot, before Paul Shanley latched on to Freddie Potter's neat flick-on only to hit the foot of the post with his effort.
Widnes settled into the game and took a 15th minute lead. After Sean Myler was fouled on the edge of the box, ex-Linnets hero Towey stepped up and found the back of the net with a sumptuous free-kick that beat Runcorn goalkeeper Terry Smith via the underside of the bar.
Relaxed and composed with an early advantage, Widnes continued to threaten with skipper Kev Pollard heading over from a Chris Lomax corner when he arguably should have doubled the visitors' advantage.
Linnets looked suspect when defending set-pieces, and Widnes capitalised to stun the bumper home faithful with a second goal in four minutes.
The joint managers combined as Towey's floated corner towards the back-post left Smith scrambling, with Akrigg powering home a header much to the delight of the travelling Widnes support.
Two goals to the good, Widnes took control with defender Mike Burke shepherding the threat of Potter while stand-in right-back Graham nullified the always-lively Linnets skipper Shanley.
The visitors continued to threaten, with George Lomax effortlessly dropping the shoulder to carry Grogan's neat pass into the Linnets area only to fire over.
Michael Ellison's hosts, on a 12 match winning streak heading into this contest, took their time in recovering from Widnes' quick double-salvo to end the half strongly. Potter dragged a shot wide of the far post after Pollard was caught in possession before Jones forced a terrific fingertip save out of Widnes keeper, and former Linnet Richie Mottram.
Half time: Runcorn Linnets 0-2 Widnes
The second half was devoid of clear-cut chances, with Widnes content to sit back and hit Linnets on the break whilst allowing Runcorn to control possession.
Ellison's men struggled to penetrate Widnes' backline as Burke and Akrigg routinely put their bodies on the line for the cause while Graham and Phil Doran continued their fine performances at both fullback positions.
Neither side particularly worked their opposing goalkeeper, with Widnes' best chance falling to George Lomax who did well to bring down Burke's pass before shooting wide while substitute Ben Hodkinson fired narrowly over.
The Derby threatened to boil over at times and as the contest because a touch feisty at times with a number of players from both sides finding themselves in referee Nathaniel Cox's notebook.
Louis Corrigan had a free-kick deflected Widnes for Linnets, but aside from the odd goalmouth scramble, the visitors held firm and ended the hosts' unbeaten home league record.
Full time: Runcorn Linnets 0-2 Widnes
Widnes are now unbeaten in 13 league games, winning 12 of those contests. While victory over the league leaders doesn't blow the title race wide open, Akrigg and Towey's men have certainly put themselves in the conversation in the race for promotion.
However, the games continue to get tougher for Widnes who now face another difficult away trip to City of Liverpool next Saturday.