MATCH REPORT | Runcorn Linnets 7-0 West
Runcorn Linnets 7 (Wellstead 5, 59, 90+1, Shanley 22, 51, 82, Potter 76)
West 0 (Hagon sent off 57, Kilheeney sent off 72)
Two goals shipped without reply against Barnoldswick Town, four against Bootle, now seven against Runcorn Linnets – what is threatening to become West’s autumn of discontent hit a new low on an X-rated afternoon in Halton.
Stuart Wellstead and Paul Shanley both plundered hat-tricks and Freddie Potter added another as the home side avenged August’s 4-0 defeat at Brookburn Road, and went one better than the six-goal beating they handed West at the Millbank Linnets Stadium in 2014.
This visit to the same venue was so calamitous for West – Harold Hagon and Anthony Kilheeney were dismissed in the second half, and Steve Settle ordered from the dugout – that it would be tempting to write off this first seven-goal league defeat since joining the NWCFL as a freak result. But after a first period in which they remained within arm’s reach of one of the division’s outstanding sides, West dissolved alarmingly in the face of adversity after the interval. A failure to score goals at one end and keep them out at the other is in danger of becoming the new normal, and for the second match in succession West finished without a full complement of players.
The outcome could have been different if West had taken at least one of three presentable first half chances. Kevin McGrath volleyed over from close range against his former club, Ben Steer skewed a shot wide with the goal gaping, and Tom Bailey had an effort deflected narrowly wide. The home side had already raced into a two-goal lead by the time those opportunities rolled along the conveyor belt, Wellstead converting a Matthew Atherton cross from the left and Shanley tidily finishing a neat move, and when Shanley added his second on the counter-attack in the opening stages of the second half, the match was over as a contest.
West’s misery was only just beginning, however, and the visitors’ spiral into farce began in earnest four minutes after the Linnets’ third goal. When a Linnets defender appeared to block Bailey’s goalbound shot with a hand, Steve Settle’s apoplexy at the referee’s failure to act resulted in the West boss being sent to stand for the remainder of the match. Two minutes later, West lost a man on the pitch as Harold Hagon was dismissed for felling Mark Houghton when the Linnets striker was through on goal. And when Wellstead bundled in a fourth for the home side from a corner moments afterwards, an afternoon that had been merely frustrating for the visitors became excruciating.
The implosion continued – Kilheeney replaced Steer halfway through the second period but was dismissed inside five minutes for a high foot on Daniel O’Brien. In midweek, the Linnets had two sent off early on at Irlam but showed resilience and spirit in almost snatching a point – West, on the other hand, melted when reduced to nine. Substitute Potter emphatically finished one of many Linnets overloads not long after Kilheeney had made his exit, and at this point the Linnets were merely considering which number to include in the final score. Shanley completed his hat-trick with the goal of the game – an exquisite curled shot into the top-left corner – as the match entered the closing stages, and Wellstead staked his own claim for the match ball with the final touch of the afternoon, heading in a corner to add brackets to the scoreline.
This was a nadir in a season in which Steve Settle’s team have veered dramatically between the sublime and the ridiculous. Tuesday’s Lancashire Challenge Trophy visit of Lancaster City may prove a welcome distraction, but West’s next two league matches – both at home, to mid-table Irlam and basement Barnton – may reveal a little more about the true nature of this side.
West: Ashley, Pagnell, Houghton (Simcock 59), McGrath, Tinker, Hagon, Steer (Kilheeney 67), Shaw, Bailey, Richardson, Mendes Gomes (Massamba 61). Not used: Whyment.