REPORT: Widnes 2-1 Runcorn Linnets
Hodkinson penalty clinches smash and grab Widnes raid
Ben Hodkinson came off the bench to net a 94th minute penalty as Widnes completed the double over neighbours Runcorn Linnets with a 2-1 win at the Halton Stadium on Monday night.
In a cagey and scrappy first half, it was George Lomax's 40th minute opener that narrowly separated the two sides with an advantage that was extinguished when Freddie Potter netted for Linnets midway through the second period.
Linnets pushed for a winner and looked the more likely side to claim all three points, but it was Widnes who nicked the victory from under the noses over the neighbours, with Hodkinson converting a spot-kick that he had won himself.
In truth, Widnes survived a Linnets onslaught late on with Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey's side under the cosh for large periods of the second half.
Widnes stood tall, however, with Hodkinson's winner equalling a club record 15 league games unbeaten.
The Widnes co-managers made two changes to the side that won at City of Liverpool last time out. Hodkinson and Chris Lomax dropped to the bench, with George Lomax and Stuart Cook coming into the starting XI.
In similar fashion to the game at the Millbank Linnets Stadium - that Widnes won 2-0 - just two weeks earlier, Linnets started the better of the two sides.
Skipper Paul Shanley found himself in space down the left, finding Potter with his cross in the area. The Linnets striker engineered space, with his hooked shot at goal forcing Richie Mottram into a great diving save down to his left.
From the resulting corner, Shanley rose highest to head against the post as Widnes survived an early scare.
The game then settled into a cagey rhythm, but it was Linnets who looked the most threatening. While Jack Banister had the ball in the net for Widnes only for Towey to be ruled offside, Potter smashed over for the visitors after good work by Shanley.
Widnes struggled to test Runcorn goalkeeper Matthew Holmes and even ask questions of the Linnets defence, but when Banister was fouled 25 yards from goal, the hosts crafted an opener.
Towey floated the set-piece into the area, met by the head of Kev Pollard who forced Holmes into a decent save. Michael Grogan was allowed to hook the loose ball back into the six-yard area, where George Lomax was on-hand to nod home into an empty net.
The goal lifted Widnes, with Towey volleying over at full stretch on the stroke of half time after latching on to Stuart Cook's magnificent lofted pass.
Half time: Widnes 1-0 Runcorn Linnets
Widnes had an early sight of goal in the second half, with Towey unable to get on the end of Sean Myler's cross from the right.
Clear-cut chances would remain at a premium for Widnes as Linnets took control, going in search of an equaliser.
Danny O'Brien's free-kick evaded everyone in the area, with Jack Graham having to react quickly to clear his lines from close to his own goal line with multiple Linnets lurking.
Linnets then had their best sight of goal on the hour-mark. Antony Hickey raced on to a Shanley through-ball before rounding Mottram, but with the goal at his mercy, co-manager Akrigg got back well to clear the ball of the line, clattering the post for his troubles.
Widnes could only half-clear the resulting corner, which was floated back into the area where Potter managed to find space to rattle the upright with a powerful effort.
Potter was proving to be Linnets' dangerman, and Runcorn had Widnes under the cosh as the striker twice forced Mottram into action, with the second being a terrific diving save down to his left.
Runcorn eventually founded a breakthrough and it was a wonderfully-crafted goal from the visitors. Adam Jones released Shanley down the left, who in turn picked out Potter with a magnificent cross, arriving on time to turn home from close-range.
With Linnets piling on the pressure, Widnes were holding on for at least a point. Potter nodded narrowly wide while Akrigg again cleared off the line, this time preventing substitute Kyle Hamid from poking home.
Michael Simpson then drove into the area only to find the side netting with his powerful effort.
Widnes had barely been out of their own half, but one late foray deep in Linnets territory produced what would crucially be the winner.
Cook wonderfully glided past three Linnets defenders with quick feet before going down under the challenge of Moore. Referee Michael Barlow waved away the protests, only to be left with no choice but to award a penalty moments later, as Hodkinson was felled by a Hamid sliding challenge.
Buoyed by a fine individual run of form, Hodkinson stepped up himself and confidently dispatched the penalty despite Holmes getting a hand to it.
Hodkinson and his jubilant Widnes teammates celebrated with First Team Coaches Paul Jones and Andy Burgess in the technical area, but the job wasn't done yet.
Linnets launched the kitchen sink at Widnes, but the hosts survived a massive penalty shout and a corner to complete the El Clasitoll double.
Full time: Widnes 2-1 Runcorn Linnets
Widnes had survived a Linnets barrage to record a 14th league win in their last 15 contests, lifted by 'keeper Mottram's heroics that earned the ex-Linnets the Man of the Match award.
Akrigg and Towey's men now face a league and cup double header against AFC Darwen. Widnes host Darwen in the Macron Cup last 16 next Monday night, before again welcoming the Lancashire-based side for a league game five days later.