WITH the opening of the The Millbank Linnets Stadium’s fantastic new clubhouse and emotional pre-game tributes being paid to Linnets Trust pioneer Simon Charlesworth – after his death aged 51 - it was easy to forget that there was a huge match taking place on Tuesday against another of the top sides in The Hallmark Security League Premier Division, Ste Bignall writes.

The players did more than their fair share in toasting the new facility and fittingly honouring Simon’s memory with an important victory which leaves them in good spirits for this Saturday’s FA Vase third round visit of highly-rated Marske United from the EBAC Northern League.

Games against Bootle are among the toughest and most eagerly anticipated all season, and with last season’s runners-up looking to go one better this season a difficult game was expected for Michael Ellison's men.

With suspensions and injuries still playing a major role, especially in midfield, Ellison was forced to shuffle his pack once more. Kris Holt slotted back into an advanced midfield role alongside Adam Jones, the youngster fast becoming a key utility player for the Linnets.

The back four and front three remained unchanged from what we have come to expect in recent league matches.

Bootle's record at the MLS is not one they will be proud of. Yet to win at the ground, their last two visits had ended in 7-1 and 5-0 reversals. Despite this, you never take Bootle for granted and a very tight game was the order of the night.

Chances were relatively few and far between for both sides, and it took two moments of individual brilliance to settle events.

The opening goal came out of nowhere with 20 minutes played. Paul Shanley had the ball on the left flank and switched to light speed as he ran at Bootle's back line before hitting an early shot from outside the box which went right across the goal to beat Ryan Jones with such venom that it literally broke the clips securing the netting to the goalpost - and tore a couple of pegs out of the ground!

Its probably fair to say that the visitors had more of the ball for the majority of the game, looking to build their attacks with early balls out to both wings and attacking in numbers. But the Linnets defence was in a resilient mood and continually broke up attacks before they became a real danger.

The Linnets doubled their lead right on the stroke of half time with another moment of magic. With Shanley again menacing, the Bootle rearguard had to bring him down outside the area just to stop him in his tracks.

A large wall of bodies could do nothing to prevent Danny O'Brien curling a superb effort over the wall and plumb into the top corner, leaving ‘keeper Jones rooted to the spot and sending the Linnets into the warmth of the new clubhouse with a 2-0 lead.

The second half was to be an even tight affair than the first. The pattern of play remained the same with Bootle having plenty of the play but unable to create anything in the way of a clear-cut opportunity in front of goal. The Linnets’ central defensive pairing of Aaron Morris and Jimmy Moore were particularly impressive, faultless all night.

As time wore on, Ello took the opportunity to rest some of his players and give others crucial minutes as the likes of Freddie Potter and Anthony Hickey work themselves back to full fitness.

Stu Wellstead left with a knock, Danny O’Brien and Mark Houghton also withdrawn and replaced by Hickey, Potter and youngster Kasie Jones.

Bootle did find a way through to goal in injury time with a fierce shot from eight yards that Matt Holmes did brilliantly to turn behind for a corner. It was to be the last action of an unusually timid Linnets v Bootle game – historically this is a fixture where players and spectators alike don't find the time to draw breath.

It was all the same a very professional display from the Linnets, who were comfortable to allow Bottle to have possession of the ball with the knowledge that if we get a chance it was likely to be taken with our forward line in blistering form of late.

Anticipation now changes to excitement as we move away from league action and return to our Wembley campaign on Saturday. The draw could not have made life much more difficult for the Linnets, the fact they are at home being a slight comfort as competition favourites Marske United make the journey south.

Currently in second place in their league, with games in hand on leaders Morpeth, the side from the North Yorkshire coastal village make the trip to Runcorn having lost only once away from home in the league this season, conceding just 5 goals in the process.

There is previous between the clubs, with the Linnets making the long midweek trip up to Marske for a rearranged second-round encounter in 2015.

Without dwelling on the night itself, the Linnets players still present in the squad from back then will certainly be looking to avenge the 6-2 defeat they suffered, Marske proving too strong despite falling behind early on.

Runcorn Linnets: Matt Holmes, Matt Atherton, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O’Brien, Kieran Nolan, Adam Jones, Kris Holt, Mark Houghton, Paul Shanley, Stuart Wellstead. Subs: Freddie Potter, Antony Hickey, Kasie Jones. Not used: Chris Lawton, Terry Smith (GK).

Attendance: 307.