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'Stanley for the title' says ex-Red Liam

Runcorn FC Halton 0 Stanley 2: STANLEY couldn't win away for four and a half months but having ended that jinx a week earlier, they promptly brushed aside Runcorn.

RORY Prendergast had a fine match (Picture: Roy Gabryszak)
RORY Prendergast had a fine match (Picture: Roy Gabryszak)

Runcorn FC Halton 0 Stanley 2: STANLEY couldn't win away for four and a half months but having ended that jinx a week earlier, they promptly brushed aside Runcorn at their own Halton Stadium courtesy of a pair of first-half Lutel James penalties.

James subsequently missed out on a match-ball by failing from the spot for the first time in 11 attempts shortly after the interval but by then Reds, despite a token late revival from the home side, had the points in the bag.

With none of their main rivals having a league game it was a very significant three points, too, stretching Stanley's lead at the top of the table to 11 points.

No-one is counting any chickens but I would think now that eight wins and a handful of draws from their remaining games would see Reds almost unassailable. And the momentum which seemed to have stuttered to a halt during that poor away run has gathered force once more.

One man who is probably as qualified as any to judge the validity of Stanley's aspirations to the title is Runcorn player-manager Liam Watson, who helped Stanley to the Unibond Second Division title in 2000 and played part of the following season in a red shirt.

And Watson says: "Coley (Stanley manager John Coleman) has done a fantastic job. When he and Jimmy went to the club it was in turmoil but along with Eric Whalley they have built it back up and put together a quality squad. Every season has been a success - promotion, an important season of consolidation, three cups last year and I believe they will win it this time.

"If there's a better side in the Division then I haven't seen them and they can only lose the league themselves now, no-one is going to catch them up because they're as good as Stanley. People say they have had money to spend but everyone in football knows that doesn't guarantee anything and John has bought particularly well."

Watson had no complaints about the result - "There were four cast-iron penalties, all three of theirs and one for us late on which wasn't given but they deserved to win," - as his own injury-ravaged side was swept aside by resurgent Reds.

Home keeper Tony McMillan looked nervy when he dropped a Paul Howarth free-kick under the bar early on, Jonathan Smith just unable to force the ball home. Then a Rory Prendergast corner found its way to James who couldn't quite direct it in.

James has been lethal from 12 yards though and he got another chance to increase his tally on 19 minutes. Howarth's diagonal pass sent Paul Mullin racing clear and McMillan hauled him down at the corner of the penalty area, luckily escaping any kind of card. James was as cool as a quick-draw marksman in planting his shot to McMillan's right.

The marauding Prendergast might have done better when he ran free down the left with the unmarked Mullin screaming for a pass to be played inside. But the next strong run into the box by the impressive winger brought reward when he was tripped by Mike Tomlinson. Cool-hand Lutel picked the other side to double the lead and came close to completing a hat-trick when he headed a Prendergast cross over minutes later.

There was little to tax the Stanley defence and Jamie Speare held an on-target but weak Liam Watson shot just before the break.

Nine minutes into the second half James was felled by a Runcorn defender after nipping onto a Prendertgast pass but this time his penalty was too near Tomlinson and was saved.

Runcorn rallied for Watson to strike the outside of the post then the home player-manager appeared to be unceremoniously upended by Speare as he went through but his luck was clearly not in as he was then quite legitimately denied by Speare in another promising break.


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