SECOND-placed Runcorn Linnets Ladies maintained the only 100 per cent record in Cheshire Women’s League Division One with an emphatic win at Crewe Alexandra Ladies.

Devoid of key players through injury, the Linnets were aided by their strength in depth against dangerous third-placed hosts.

Linnets’ victory keeps the pressure firmly on the table-toppers Egerton Ladies, who the Linnets team still trail by two points with a couple of games in hand.

Runcorn started brightly before an enforced 17th-minute change. Steph Hamel, struggling with a dead leg, was replaced for her season’s debut by Laura Underdown in a straight left-wing swap. The roll on, roll off substitution rule would, however, see Hamel return with a vengeance in the second half.

Megan Pickering flashed a shot wide for Runcorn after good play involving Tempany Carlson and Kim Roberts. Another opportunity went begging when Underdown got free down the left wing, cut inside and set up Chelsea Penny, the midfielder’s left-foot curler rebounding off the left upright to be scrambled clear.

The visitors took a deserved lead on 37 minutes through top scorer Megan Pickering’s well-taken goal.

Nichola Hyland played the ball down the line from deep for Carlson to run on to.

Her pass inside in turn found Roberts, coming off her marker. Turning to face goal, she played a perfect pass for Pickering on the edge of the box.

The striker cleverly allowed the ball to run across her body, flat footing a defender, before swivelling to shoot left-footed - beating the keeper low at her left post.

Crewe went straight on the offensive, tricky winger Jodie Alderman getting free down the right. Runcorn centre half Sadie Bond’s mistimed tackle brought a yellow card.

Attempts by Pickering and Penny, after good approach play involving Underdown, Kennedy and Roberts, went narrowly wide. (Half-time 0-1).

Crewe had a period of sustained pressure from the 50th minute but the Linnets back line, with a little luck on their side, remained solid, Nat Pinnington making a fantastic low, full-stretch save from a header.

Just before the hour, in what proved an inspired double substitution, Lorna Bratt was replaced by Gabby Evans at left back and Steph Hamel returned to the fold in place of Kim Roberts, moving up top alongside Pickering.

Great awareness from Hyland in dropping deep to cover and intercept a goalbound effort preserved the lead which was doubled on 63 minutes when Penny had found enough space to afford a touch to set herself for a low, powerful drive to the despairing keeper’s right.

Linnets continued to press and, on 66 minutes, Underdown and Penny helped Hamel to run clear before passing the ball into the net beyond the on-rushing keeper.

Two minutes later, Hamel added her second to make it 4-0 after excellent pressing from Kennedy had enabled Penny to pick out the makeshift striker.

Linnets centre half Tish Collins netted an opportunist fifth when Carlson’s superb corner was spilled six yards out.

The late rout was completed on 80 minutes when Carlson beat the keeper at her near post with a low drive.

From the restart, Crewe’s Abbie Whittingham took a ball full in the face. After a five-minute stoppage, she was taken to hospital with concussion. All at Runcorn Linnets wished Abbie a speedy recovery.

On 83 minutes, Carlson was applauded off, replaced by Evelin Zalavari. With time ticking down, the visitors won a dubious penalty for handball, Hamel, on a hat-trick, declined and regular taker Pickering’s spot-kick was saved by Charlotte Baddeley.

The player-of-the-game award was shared by Hyland and Underdown.

Runcorn: Pinnington (capt), Bratt (Evans), Bond, Collins, Hyland, Hamel (Underdown), Kennedy, Penny, Carlson (Zalavari), Roberts, Pickering.