REPORT | Runcorn Linnets 0-2 Widnes
By Callum Chadwick
Widnes claim Derby Day spoils
Widnes claimed the derby spoils at Runcorn Linnets as they celebrated a 2-0 victory on Easter Monday.
Stoppage time goals in both halves from Finlay Sinclair-Smith and Conor Ready settled an enthralling encounter at the Millbank Linnets Stadium, denting Runcorn’s play-off ambitions in the process.
It sent the decent Widnes following into raptures as the Whites maintained their 100% record away from home against Linnets.
Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey made three changes to the side that produced a late comeback to dispatch Colne on Saturday. Ben Hodkinson, struggling with illness, dropped to the bench as Chris Lomax was promoted to the front-three alongside Ready and Sinclair-Smith.
Elsewhere, ex-Linnet Mike Burke was recalled to the defence in place of Joe Herbert, while Sam Sheen was preferred to Harry Brazel in midfield on his return from suspension.
Widnes made a decent start and were denied by the woodwork inside the opening eight minutes when Shaun Holden’s cross-cum-shot rebounded against the crossbar, with Linnets sweeping away the ensuing danger.
There was little to separate the two sides as the first half became a war of attrition. Neither keeper was tested as Ryan Gibson hit a dipping effort over for Runcorn.
Linnets’ best chance of the half came following the half-hour mark. Paul Shanley got in behind for the hosts and hit an effort that squirmed beneath Richie Mottram towards goal, but Jay Roberts reacted quickly to clear the loose ball as Gibson looked poised to pounce.
George Webster would then test Runcorn keeper Tom Scott, who spilled the effort before collecting the loose ball at the second attempt, but Runcorn always carried a threat through Shanley who was denied again by Mottram who recovered well after a poor clearance.
Linnets perhaps edged the first half, but it was Widnes who went in at half-time one goal to the good. It was a Louis Corrigan error that provided the finest of margins as he made a mess of a long ball forward from Burke. Sinclair-Smith would pounce on possession and hit a volley into the top corner to muster a breakthrough.
Peter Wylie headed over for Runcorn from a corner early in the second half as the hosts started positively, but Widnes were content to soak up pressure and look to hit Linnets on the break.
It almost paid dividends moments later as Sinclair-Smith surged forward from the right to carve an opening. The ball eventually fell to Ready on the edge of the area, but he wasted a gilt-edged opportunity by striking off target.
Mottram was again called into action on the hour, reacting quickly to get a hand on a Shanley header who had cleverly peeled away from his marker to meet a deep free-kick.
Freddie Potter would then strike off target for Linnets before Ready hit a dipping volley wide as both teams exchanged half-chances with the game finely poised as a contest.
Linnets made a double change with 20 minutes to go as Mitch Bryant and Kurt Sherlock came off the bench, but Widnes’ solid back four proved difficult to break down.
Widnes responded with a change of their own as Hodkinson was introduced from the bench in place of Webster who had been on the receiving end of a number of heavy challenges in a performance mature beyond his years.
The Whites went for pace up front against a Linnets side committing more bodies forward, but the hosts couldn’t find a way past an inspired Mottram. The Widnes shot-stopper produced a fairly comfortable save to push Potter’s powerful volley over, before getting down well to his right to push a Corrigan free-kick away to safety.
Linnets’ cause was a dealt a blow when Bryant limped off injured late on, leaving Michael Ellison’s men a man short and a goal down.
Widnes duly capitalised and made the result safe inside second half stoppage time. An incisive break away led to Sinclair-Smith providing a cross for Ready to head home at the near-post, sparking jubilant scenes.
Nine minutes were added on by referee David Croft, and in truth, Widnes should have added gloss to an already impressive scoreline. Hodkinson would shoot straight at Scott after breaking clear of the Runcorn backline, and moments later, substitute Niall Watson would see an effort blocked by Scott before missing the target with his rebound.
Runcorn were afforded an opportunity to set up a tense finish when the hosts were awarded a penalty after Michael Grogan fouled Gibson, but Corrigan’s miserable afternoon was compounded as he could only strike the crossbar with his spot-kick.
Widnes were deserving of their win, dealing a heavy blow to Linnets’ promotion chances who have dropped outside the play-off places with a game to play.