Leek showed their character to twice come from behind and nick the points in an entertaining but controversial match that will surely persuade the new lockdown attenders to come back for more. Cleethorpes took the lead through Alhagu Sisay and Harry Middleton but were pegged back by strikes from Rob Stevenson and Will Saxon before Tim Grice netted what had seemed an unlikely winner. But that scoreline hides an enthralling story.
The game appeared to be meandering towards the half-time break having been an interesting game but very short of goal-mouth incident. All of that was to change two minutes before the interval. A corner was won by the visitors who crowded around Danny Roberts, making it very difficult for the Blues’ defenders to deal with the vicious inswinger. The ball was only half-cleared from the crowd of players and debutant Sisay – on loan from Grimsby Town – lashed the ball into the net. It was at this point that Referee Ben Robinson inexplicably decided to intervene. Having seen a handball by a Leek defender in the scramble before Sisay’s strike, Robinson pointed to the spot thus disallowing the goal. This prompted a mass protest by the visitors that eventually persuaded the official to reverse his decision and rightly award the goal.
There was still time before the half-time whistle for Clee skipper Scott Vernon – unusually ineffective on the day – to lead another mass protest. This time it was an attempt to defend the tackle from behind by Josh Venney on Jack Wakefield that had resulted in the brandishing of a red card. On reflection, the visitors will surely come to realise that tackles such as that by their influential midfielder leave a referee with little option but to dismiss the offender.
To their credit, Cleethorpes made light of their numerical inferiority in the opening stages of the second period even though the red card probably proved to be the crucial factor in the end result. With Ross Hannah working overtime, Leek were made to struggle until an individual piece of magic from Stevenson unlocked the Cleethorpes defence. Picking the ball up on the right, he outpaced his marker before pulling back from the bye-line, running across the defensive line and unleashing a left-footer that stunned the visitors.
Cleethorpes were not finished yet though. The pacy Sisay drew a foul from Ollie Harrison in a dangerous position. Former Port Vale man Middleton stepped up and his low drive clipped the wall with the deflection taking the effort beyond Roberts’ despairing dive.
That goal was greeted by the visitors as the winning goal even though there was still a quarter of the game to go and still plenty of time for potential drama. In a game such as this there was ample opportunity for controversy to arrive. And it arrived fourteen minutes after Middleton’s goal.
Sisay was adjudged to have pushed a Leek player down in the area and a second penalty of the game was awarded by Mr Robinson. Inevitably, this was hotly contested by the Cleethorpes players – as decisions against them often were – but the decision stood. Leek skipper Darren Chadwick is normally a reliable penalty-taker but was thwarted from the spot for the second consecutive time as Theo Richardson guessed the right way. Unfortunately for him he was only able to parry the penalty and Saxon reacted the first to fire the equaliser home despite almost having his shirt ripped from his back by a desperate defender.
The Leek comeback was complete six minutes from time. A through ball dissected the visiting defence and Grice was on hand to clip what proved the winner past Richardson. This sparked yet another mass protest but, with no flag having been raised by the Assistant Referee, the goal stood even after a lengthy discussion between the officials.
Cleethorpes were unfortunate not to get something from the game and threw everything at Leek in the final minutes. However, Leek held on to earn the win in a match that will long remain in the crowd’s memory – although not necessarily for all the right reasons.
After the match, Leek Manager Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said “I’ve said before that substitutions sometimes come off and, sometimes, they don’t. The important thing is whether they have an impact on the game. They did and that is a pleasing thing. Will has by his own admission made a stuttering start but he shows promise. There is still plenty to come and it depends what role we give him. Will gives you pace in abundance up front and I allowed him to have a free role when he came on to cause problems by floating around.”
Baker also had some harsh words to say about Cleethorpes approach to the game as he added” Their approach unsettled the referee without a doubt and I suppose that means that they did their job. I may have acted like that when I was twenty-five or thirty but I’m glad I don’t now and certainly I’m glad my team don’t. It sours things and it is really pleasing when you beat a team that thinks that them things are right. So, it was nice to win the game because they tried every trick in the book.”