Leek made it seven wins on the bounce since the beginning of the season to overcome a tricky tie at Whitchurch. The Blues became a small part of Alport’s history as they became the first visitors to Yockings Park for an FA Cup tie and contributed to a record crowd of 797.
On paper it had always looked a potential banana skin as the Reds entered the game with an unbeaten record and a proven ability to score goals. And so it proved for much of the first half. But Leek applied themselves in the second period to go through with goals from Jake Twyford – courtesy of a massive slice of fortune – and a late killer blow from Rob Stevenson.
The game kicked off in a carnival-like atmosphere that unfortunately was not replicated on the pitch. The first forty-five minutes provided few real chances for either side but there was occasional evidence of the potential skill on show.
The visitors showed up well in the opening stages as Dylan Bath looped a header over the bar after a pinpoint cross from Darren Campion. Then Alex Hughes forced Danny Roberts to go down swiftly to his left following excellent approach work from the effervescent Joe Cuff.
Leek gradually took control as the half wore on and proved to the bumper crowd that they had the ability to breach a very well organised home defence.
Tim Grice made space to fire in an effort from the edge of the area that had Dave Parton palming away at full-stretch and then was wide with a cheeky back-heel. Charlie Walford – in for the injured Marc Grocott – also had two decent efforts saved. A fierce drive was fisted away by the former Kidsgrove keeper before Parton was almost deceived by a free-kick that was shovelled away at the expense of a corner.
The Blues had let themselves down in the first period with their crossing and set-pieces lacking the required quality and the opening minutes after the break followed a similar pattern. But a massive slice of fortune was to break the deadlock.
A long-range effort from Twyford seemed to be heading for the keeper’s arms but the ball looped from the back of Leon Ashman and into the net past a stranded Parton.
The goal seemed to deflate the Reds for a while and the home side were grateful to their goalie who kept his side in the game with a string of saves. Twyford, Stevenson and Grice were all denied by Parton as Leek laid siege to the home goal.
Failure to kill the game off almost cost Leek the victory. The introduction of veteran Northern Ireland International Steve Jones lifted the home side. Jones almost made an immediate impact but his overhead kick was off-target. Then the under-used Roberts had to be at his best to turn a powerful effort from Jud Ellis over the bar.
Whitchurch’s real chance to save the game came with five minutes left on the clock. Jones belied his years to outpace the Leek defence only to take a touch too many and give Roberts the opportunity to win the one-on-one.
The game was all over three minutes later. The referee played a good advantage following a foul on Walford and this allowed the ball to be played to Stevenson – a thorn in Alport’s side all afternoon – who netted with a thunderous shot from an acute angle.
Neil Baker was interviewed exclusively by Moorlands Radio and he had this to say “I said at half-time that I may as well not have said anything before the match as they definitely didn’t listen. They sometimes get it in their heads that they are a league above and that is what I think happened in the first half. The second half was different and I think we showed our little bit of class.
The game should have been dead and buried by the time Jones had his chance. People have said Danny Roberts kept us in it but I believe that Dave Parton kept the score down. I am glad we got the second one because I don’t want people to say we were lucky and got a deflection. I think Rob (Stevenson) got his just rewards today for a magnificent second half.
It is a tough week coming up and I think we’ll know a bit more about ourselves after next Saturday. It was a great crowd today and I am very pleased for Whitchurch. They are a great set of people.”