Runcorn Linnets manager Dave Wild has labelled Workington the ‘best side in the league’ ahead of their meeting.
Linnets have yet to face current leaders Macclesfield – who are widely regarded as the champions-elect. But they have already come up against the Reds in the FA Trophy.
It was a happy midweek trip to Cumbria when they visited last month as Jamie Rainford’s stoppage-time penalty ensured their progression after coming from behind.
But despite already winning their first meeting, Wild isn’t interested in the notion that it gives them the advantage ahead of their trip this weekend.
He told Off The Park: “No I don’t think so, I’ll say this till I’m blue in the face – we’ve not played Macc [Macclesfield], I haven’t seen them play myself – but for me, Workington are probably the best side in the division.
“They had a bit of a slow start in terms of results but you just have to look at them now, I think they’re five unbeaten, four in the league and when we went up there in the Trophy it was not a stroll in the park. We were under the cosh for large parts of it, on another day I think we would’ve lost it, got lucky and got a penalty in injury time.
“I don’t think we’ve got a particular advantage [after winning previously], I know Danny Grainger, they want to play football and it gives us an opportunity to prep better because we know they’re likely to play. It’s the same for them, they know how we play and what we’re going to do. I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve got the advantage, for me they’re probably the best side in the league.”
They secured a midweek win over Newcastle Town thanks to goals from Jamie Rainford and Ryan Brooke – on his second debut for the club.
As a result, they rose to second just a point behind Danny Whitaker’s side having played a game move. Whilst the league position looks good on the eye at this early stage, Wild isn’t taking any notice of it so far and believes sitting in that positions makes them hotter targets.
“Whilst we’re high up in the table, we’re there to be shot at, I think Mossley were up there last season – they were flying – then boom you lose a game and then you’re 12th that’s how tight the league is,” he added.
“I think we’re there to be shot at, we’re unbeaten in eight, everyone wants to take that off us and it’s up to us, it’s a long, old, ugly, dogged season and we’ve only played nine games. I don’t pay too much attention to the table, I’m sure everyone wants to try and beat us but we’ll go up there and give it a go.”
Last weekend, Eden Gumbs and Oladapo Olarewaju helped book Runcorn Linnets in the FA Trophy First Round proper for just the second time since their reformation, as they came from behind to beat Ossett United.
Their win now means they will host Belper Town in the next round. Under the circumstances and narrative behind their clash, the outcome gave the Linnets boss all the more satisfaction.
He continued: “I was thrilled with that one, when we spoke last week it was a bit of a weird tie, it was a fixture that could’ve easily got away from us in terms of our lads thinking they can get their cigar’s out with the game already won.
“To get the job done after going 1-0 down was really pleasing to be honest, we were nowhere near our best, I don’t think we have for a number of weeks so to go one down and turn it around I was particularly pleased. There’s loads of stuff that comes with the cup win, the next round, money for the club, overall it was a pleasing day. We’ve got aspirations of pushing on so it’s just another opportunity to keep going.
“I feel like we’ve got a real sturdy and solid core of players that have the ability to grind out results. The big thing for me is, I’ve not done it purposely it’s just one of them periods, where it all comes together at once because we have so many leaders in the changing room that are happy to stick demands on what would be classed on other leaders.
“I’m looking at games and just because Shorty [James Short] is captain, he doesn’t get special treatment he gets absolutely ripped apart by players and visa versa so that’s probably one of the big key things as to why we’re able to grind out victories because we’ve got such a good core of lads who all believe in what we’re doing, pushing each other to the limits.
“One of the most pleasing thing is it’s being left on the pitch, there’s times where you get players in and they can be touchy, for one want of a better word, b*llocking. I think they can get themselves touchy and shirk responsibility but it doesn’t seem to be happening at Linnets so we’re in a good place.”
Prior to their visit to Newcastle Town, Brooke’s return was confirmed in a deal that was months in the making.
The departure of David McNabb opened the door for a number of departures at Gorsey Lane, one of which was the former Linnets striker – despite only signing for the reigning Northern Premier League West champions in the summer.
But for Wild, the wait was very much worth it – describing it as a “no brainer”. He said: “It’s been a bit of weird one because I’ve had an idea in the back of my head about this one for about a month that we were potentially getting him back.
“It’s taken a little longer than I wanted to to get him over the line for one thing or another in terms of how it happened at Rylands but I can’t thank Jody [Banim] enough to be honest for how well he supported the deal and helped get it over the line because some clubs just suit certain players and certain players suit certain clubs – I think that might be the case with Ryan and Linnets.
“He’s scored again on his debut, I think that’s made him the 10th leading scorer at the club and he’s only been here for two seasons so I think it tells you all about him.
“He’s a massive character, touchwood, I’d like to say he’s guaranteed goals which will help us push on a little bit more.
“It’s a bit of a statement really, just because we’re doing well, we’re not going to rest on our laurels and if there’s a chance to strike, improve we’ll do it but it’s got to be the right people and Ryan certainly suits the bill.
“The uplift in terms of social media, especially Twitter, has been absolutely ridiculous since he’s come back, he’s so well liked at the club so it was a no brainer for me.
“I was over the moon with the performance. For the first 15 minutes, we took a bit of a pasting in terms of possession, we just couldn’t get on the ball, they’re a very organised side, I just think on the day they lacked that cutting edge whereas we didn’t,” Wild said on their win over Newcastle Town.
“We ground out our two or three opportunities and took them, which was the difference. It’s the clean sheets for me, I say it time and time again, we’ve played nine, conceded five, three or four clean sheets in the league if we’re going to be serious about having a successful season or at least improving on last year in terms of statistically, defensive structure is one of the main things.
“If you’re keeping clean sheets you’re going to be at the right end of the league come May. It’s up to us to ensure that keeps continuing and working hard defensively. That clean sheet is one of the best ones of us, we were dogged, under the cosh for a large part of the first-half and we were very professional with it, got the job done, we knew we didn’t have to go silly chasing it so our structure came into the game.
“To a man we were brilliant, a special mention has to go to Eden Gumbs to be honest, he’s been playing out of position whilst Shorty’s injured and he’s turning into my very own James Milner at Runcorn, he’s played every position so far this season and he’s been brilliant, he was certainly to shout home about and the two centre-halves were outstanding. Tuesday night, two goals, clean sheet, job done, come home, can’t do much more than that.”