Runcorn Linnets fans will be bouyed by the news that Zac Aley, Stuart Wellstead, Chris Lawton and Tom Hardwick are to remain with the Hallmark Security League Premier Division club for next season.
All four have made impressive contributions to the Linnets’ late season surge, not only with the quality of their performances but also their versatility.
Front runner Wellstead joined the club from 1874 Northwich in October but it was after Christmas that he really came into his own.
Be it as a central striker or playing out wide, he regularly chipped in with some important goals, both as a starter or off the bench.
Manager Michael Ellison said: “I played alongside Stu earlier in my career when we were at Winsford United together so I knew full well what a very good player I had brought in.
“It took him a little while to settle in and he wasn’t helped by picking up an injury soon after joining us, but as the season has progressed, he has shown everybody just what he can do.
“He has really influenced games and found the net on a regular basis and will, I am sure, continue to have a big input as we move forward.”
Aley, 25, came to the club in November with a good pedigree but looking to rebuild his career after a long-term injury and was handed a place in the squad after a brief trial.
Having initially come to prominence at Southport, progressing through their youth system to make the first-team, he signed for then Premier League club Blackburn Rovers.
While never making the first-team at Ewood Park, Aley later played in League Two with Morecambe.
“Zac gives us very good options down the left where he has done well for us as a full back or pushing forward in support of the front men,” added Ellison.
“He is another player who has improved game by game as his match fitness and confidence have grown.
“He has a lot of ability, setting up goals with his crosses or scoring them himself.
“He was chosen by the fans as our player of the month in April and I have to say it was thoroughly deserved.”
Central defenders Lawton and Hardwick brought a lot of know-how to the Millbank Linnets Stadium ranks.
In Lawton’s case, however, his major influence could from now on be brought to bear more on the coaching side than as a player.
The veteran centre-half’s playing involvement has been scaled down since the turn of the year with Hardwick getting most if the action alongside ever-present, Aaron Morris.
Lawton has, however, shown that he can still do a job on the field and his man-of-the-match performance as an emergency replacement ‘keeper, after a sending off in the Boxing Day derby against Runcorn Town, means that the 2016/17 season is one he will never forget.
Ellison said: “Lawty returned to the club in pre-season when we were in real turmoil and his experience helped us to get through those early months when we were re-building.
“He is still more than capable of playing but will now be just as vital to us in the backroom. He has previously been assistant manager at Barnton.
“With Danny Salt no longer able to commit to his coaching role, this is a perfect time for Chris to get more involved behind the scenes. He will still be registered for us as a player.”
Hardwick came back to Linnets in January of this year after serving Colwyn Bay in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
His involvement at the higher level – Hardwick also played NPL football with Warrington Town – has been invaluable in establishing Linnets as one of the most difficult teams to beat in The Hallmark Security League.
“Tom has bags of experience and is a commanding figure at the heart of our defence, next to Aaron,” added Ellison. “They have played a big part in us having one of the best goals-against records in the Premier Division – bettered only by the champions, Atherton Colls.
“Tom has been in and around football at our level for several years now and it is reassuring to have someone of his stature heading up our defensive unit”.