There was a surreal atmosphere at the Sunhat-villas Stadium. Given the current situation in the nation regarding the coronavirus outbreak and the fact that the BetVictor Northern Premier League is the only competition still operating at Steps 3 and 4 of the Non-League Pyramid, there was very much an end-of-season feeling to the match. It is to Leek Town’s credit that they overcame all the negativity surrounding the game. While not at their scintillating best, the Blues were professional enough to come away from Lincolnshire with all three points courtesy of goals from Rob Stevenson and Tim Grice.
With a change of Manager taking place earlier in the week, Lincoln had made wholesale changes to their line-up. Twenty-three players had been registered by the club since Monday and just three players from the Whites’ team that had faced Leek at Harrison Park just four weeks ago survived the cull.
Having so many new faces was always likely to cause Lincoln some teething problems and so it transpired as a goal was gifted to the visitors inside the opening minutes. A mix-up between Michael Jackling and debutant keeper Ross Woolley – a Lincoln City loanee – saw the ball squirm free and eventually worked to Stevenson who gratefully slotted home into an unguarded net.
Billy Reeves had a goal-bound effort charged down and Grice was narrowly wide as he spun to shoot before Woolley made amends for his earlier error. A cross from Louis Keenan was met by Grice’s perfect header but the young keeper responded by flinging himself to his right to turn the ball round his post.
Leek continued to dominate the half but lacked the final killer pass and had to wait until seven minutes before the break for the goal that finally settled the match. Good work by Stevenson created a cross into the area and a poor defensive header landed at the feet of Grice who swivelled to fire home from ten yards.
It was very much more of the same after the interval as Leek made light of the absence of talismanic skipper Darren Chadwick. Lincoln huffed and puffed but were kept very much in control by Ollie Harrison and Josh Agbozo meaning that Danny Roberts had a thoroughly untroubled afternoon.
Although United were totally dominated, they worked hard under the vocal encouragement of their coaching staff and put in a stout defensive performance, keeping a second-half clean sheet. But they came so close to conceding with great efforts from Leek’s two main strikers.
Stevenson cleverly lobbed a stranded keeper only to see the ball take an abnormal bounce that took it to safety. Then Grice came agonisingly close to netting his 200th career goal in the dying seconds. A turn of pace took him past a despairing tackle (if he had decided to go down it would surely have been a penalty!!) only for his effort to shave the wrong side of the far post.
Following the game, Leek boss Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said” I’ve just told the players how professional they were. A job well done. I don’t think we particularly played too well. We got caught in two minds whether to go long or not. The pitch looked better than it actually was. We realised as we warmed up that it was going to be bobbly. I think we fell into a trap first half and I thought that we were much better in the second half. We kept the ball better and got into some dangerous positions, so I was pleased. We didn’t give Lincoln a chance.
I thought Rob was alert for the first goal and was responsible for a lot of measured crosses. We had worked on that in the week because I thought that last game, we had flashed the ball anywhere. Gricey looked more like the Tim Grice we know. I told him before the match that I wasn’t bothered by his goals. I wanted him to play well. I thought he was a lot better today. He got his goal and showed his composure.
We will carry on preparing for games until the decision is taken out of our hands. I will be very surprised if there is any football anywhere after today. If there is to be no more football at all this season it would be unfair to call the season null and void. The last seven months would all have been a waste of time and expense. I think the fairest decision would be to judge on points won per game for each club. Then everybody would be in the same boat. I know clubs will say that they have games in hand but if you go points per game that is the fairest way of settling it.”