This was probably the day when Leek Town announced themselves as true title contenders to the wider footballing world. It was also the day when this current crop of Blues came of age as they rode out an intimidating approach by their opponents and showed the grit to defend a lead despite being reduced to ten men for the final quarter of the match.
The tone of a feisty encounter was set when a crude challenge on Rob Stevenson earned a yellow card within ninety seconds of the opening whistle.
Referee Lee Hible appeared to have shown that he would stand no nonsense with his early booking but he should hang his head in shame for an abject performance as the game wore on. Many indiscretions went largely unpunished and he allowed himself to be surrounded by protesting players at every decision. In particular, many in the bumper crowd of 403 were left open-mouthed in amazement that a dreadful challenge by Scott Metcalfe on Niall Maguire received no more than a yellow.
Perhaps it was inevitable given the official’s hesitant performance that the only red card shown was to Scott Lycett for kicking the ball away.
Despite all the mayhem on the pitch, Leek saw themselves through to the break with a fully-deserved two-goal lead that was created both through their own craft and the shortcomings of the Radcliffe players.
The opener was an example of Leek’s craft as Stevenson’s cross from the left was met at the far post by Aaron Bott but the second was purely down to the failings of visiting keeper Ollie Martin. Martin’s distribution had been poor throughout but this time his attempted clearance went straight to Dan Trickett-Smith who planted his effort beyond the stranded keeper and into the vacant net.
Martin made amends for his mistake by pulling off a great save to deny Stevenson and then diving at Bott’s feet as Leek looked to put the game to bed.
Radcliffe’s approach changed after the interval with Jon Macken making two positive changes. Those who have seen the visitors before will have seen a side capable of producing top-drawer football and it didn’t take long for the deficit to be reduced. Good work by Tunde Owalabi cut the home defence apart, leaving Danny Roberts to face two Borough players with no defenders in sight. Louis Myers was the one picked out to finish with aplomb.
But Radcliffe’s earlier tactics now counted against them as they had fired up the home support to create a crackling atmosphere that drove the Blues on. A determined rear-guard action denied Radcliffe the clear opportunities they craved. A shrewd Metcalfe cross that went begging and a near-post effort that Roberts had to beat away were rare chances offered by a stingy defence.
With the visitors reduced to wayward shots from distance – one threatened the third-storey windows of the building on Macclesfield Road – Leek were able to hold on for a valuable and hard-fought win.
Following the match, Neil Baker had this to say:
“That was what you might call a proper game of football. We played well and came out with a deserved win. Radcliffe found that it is not that easy to play against ten men. I thought we defended very well even though we tried to keep two up front to give us a chance to hurt them. But that did leave us short in midfield.
Radcliffe came here to disrupt us and to knock us out of our stride. The players were told to stand up for themselves but not to get rattled and not to lose their heads. Unfortunately, with everything that was going on, it was us that had a player given a red card for kicking the ball away.
We have prepared for a tough run in January and next week at Kidsgrove will be difficult. But I felt that we could win today and I also know the team can win away. We had a very patched-up side today but they put their bodies on the line and I am proud of them. Even so I am seriously thinking of bringing another player in.”