TWO goals of the highest order helped table-topping Runcorn Linnets to extend their lead to 13 points while stretching what was already a club record run of league wins to 12 matches, writes Ste Bignall.

The Linnets’ previous longest streak of league game wins came under Joey Dunn in 2014-15, his team winning the opening nine fixtures of that season before ultimately finishing runners-up to Glossop NE, missing out on promotion.

There was a more recognised feel to the team than last Friday night's at Barnton, Michael Ellison reverting to his favoured 4-3-3 set up.

Adam Jones added another position to his ever growing list.

The utility man this time took up the crucial defensive midfield job in place of absentee Kieran Nolan.

Danny O'Brien and Aaron Morris returned in defence.

Ashton Athletic have, in recent years at least, been a continual thorn in our side and particularly at the Millbank Linnets Stadium. So this was always going to be a difficult evening.

On a night when every other game in the league fell victim to the weather, the host club’s volunteers once again managed to produce a magnificent surface for both of these footballing sides to play on.

A side of Ashton that we hadn't encountered previously was the very physical approach that they employed, especially in the first half. Paul Shanley in particular, came in for some real rough house tactics as he made his way up and down the wing.

With both sides playing out from the back and moving the ball around at pace, neither was dominant but the Linnets defence and especially Jimmy Moore did an excellent job of snuffing out Ashton when they entered dangerous positions.

One of the performances of the night was without a doubt that of the Linnets beloved Left Side Ultras, and the timing of one of their signature tunes could not have been better!

With Freddie Potter's hair 'do' under critique by the vociferous gang, The Wizard himself beat the Ashton offside trap to head in Danny O'Brien's spectacular cross and open the scoring after 24 minutes.

Ashton were very lucky not to concede a second when goalkeeper Martin Pearson went walkabout on a corner kick. The ball ended up in the back of his net but there was a stunned reaction around the MLS as the referee awarded Ashton a free-kick for a push.

Pearson pulled off a stunning save right on the stroke of half-time as Antony Hickey beat his man to smash a shot towards the top corner from eight yards out.

With Linnets leading by a solitary goal at half-time, everyone knew that this game was far from over and the second half would prove just as tough as the first.

Ashton came out strong after the break, working the Linnets midfield and back line hard. But Linnets stood up to the task like warriors, limiting Ashton to the odd long-range shot.

With a good 30 minutes still to play, Ellison made his substitutions much earlier than usual.

Jones and Potter made way for Mark Houghton and Stuart Wellstead, bringing a change in shape to provide more bodies in the Linnets midfield. The ploy worked.

With 20 minutes remaining, the Linnets doubled their lead in spectacular style. Paul Shanley was putting in a performance of the very highest order, despite taking a good kicking throughout the game.

And when Shanners found himself surrounded near the corner flag by two Ashton bodies, he did very well to squirm free and head towards the penalty area.

Without even needing to look up, the highly-influential wide man curled an effort from outside the penalty area, over the fully stretched arm of Pearson and into the far corner.

As goals of individual brilliance go, you won't see many better than this one!

This knocked the stuffing out of Ashton, who knew that the task was moving beyond them. They continued to push but the Linnets defensive unit prevented a talented and strong side from getting an on-target shot at Terry Smith's goal all night.

Some matches have a feel of a "box ticked" if you get through them with a win. But everybody - players, coaches, supporters etc alike - recognised how big and vital this victory was.

There wasn't much between the sides - barring two goals of immense quality.

Indeed, Runcorn probably won't be tested to this degree many more times this season.

Runcorn Linnets: Terry Smith, Louis Corrigan, Aaron Morris, Jimmy Moore, Danny O'Brien, Adam Jones, Kristian Holt, Michael Simpson, Freddie Potter, Paul Shanley (capt), Antony Hickey. Subs: Stuart Wellstead, Mark Houghton. Not used: Matt Atherton, Mitch Bryant, Chris Lawton.

Attendance: 302