A disastrous first-half that saw Leek trailing 2-0 at the interval thanks to goals from Harry Franklin effectively signalled the end of the Moorlands side’s long winning run and their exit from this season’s Buildbase FA Trophy. Franklin completed his hat-trick after the break against the run of play giving the Blues a mountain to climb and, despite goals from Will Saxon and James Kirby, the job in hand was just too much of a reach.
Despite being bolstered by the signing of former Stoke City player Ryan Shotton – who was plying his trade in the Championship with Middlesbrough last season- Leek’s defence looked uncharacteristically edgy throughout the first forty-five minutes and this was tragically summed up by the opening goal.
Evesham had looked particularly enterprising down their right-hand side with crossfield balls picking out Franklin in space. With yet another ball aimed towards Franklin Leon Ashman’s attempted header back to his keeper fell woefully short and the forward had the simple task of placing the ball through Danny Roberts’ legs.
Shortly afterwards it was two for Franklin as yet another deep cross found the former Hereford youngster who thundered his finish off the underside of the bar and into the net.
Worse was to come for the visitors on the stroke of half-time when Rob Stevenson was fouled from behind and, in the act of falling, was accidentally struck on his head by his opponent’s knee. After lengthy treatment Stevenson was stretchered from the pitch with suspected concussion.
The substitution of Saxon for the stricken Stevenson injected some pace and inventiveness into Leek’s movement in the second half and, with their ears still smarting from the half-time dressing down, they set about trying to reduce the deficit.
Dan Trickett-Smith saw an effort cannon back from the bar while Lewis Clayton made a good save from a swirling shot from Saxon
However, Leek’s hopes of making it through to the next round were effectively ended with Franklin’s third. A mesmeric run from Aaron Basford set up a low cross that was coolly finished by the Robins’ number ten.
But Leek have shown their character before this season and almost wriggled their way out of their predicament. Roberts had to be alert to claw away a fierce drive from Lorcan Sheehan but in the final half-hour of the game the Blues turned what had previously been a confident well-organised Evesham outfit into desperate defenders longing for the final whistle. Saxon weaved his way through the defence for the first and Kirby was on hand for the final touch after all of the hard work had been done by Trickett-Smith for a second. And Leek took it so close to a penalty decider when an excellent header from Shotton found Jessy Bavanganga at the far post only for the effort to be blocked on the line.
Rumour has it that the players were spoken to in no uncertain terms both during the break and at full time and it was a very disappointed Neil Baker that spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio after the tie. He said “You can’t play like that and expect to win games. It wasn’t just that we didn’t defend well – there was no life in the team. It was a lethargic game I thought until they scored which gave them the impetus – or rather we gave them the impetus – because after that goal they score another and we showed very little to suggest that we could come back. And I said that at half-time. I said that I know you are capable of coming back but you are going to have to do a damned sight better than you did in the first half. Which they did and it showed. We looked a good side in the second half having looked a poor side in the first half. But we didn’t deserve to get anything out of the game. Having somebody who could threaten the back of defences in the second half – which we hadn’t done in the first – made a difference. We looked a different side and after Will got his goal there looked to be some hope at that stage. We pulled two back and almost had a bit of late drama but overall, we didn’t deserve a draw.”