Leek once again picked up all three points on offer but were pushed all the way by fellow promotion contenders Carlton Town.
It all looked so easy when Olly Harrison’s header opened the scoring in the 3rd minute and Darren Chadwick converted a penalty not too much later. But the Millers’ top scorer had cancelled out Harrison’s goal and was to add a personal second after the break.
In the end the two substitutes Aaron Bott and Jacob Twyford combined late in the game to break the visitors’ resistance and earn the win.
The opener came courtesy of a foul on Rob Stevenson – the first of many – not all of which were punished by ineffectual referee Matthew Young. Matt Bell took control of the free-kick and swung in a delightful cross from wide on the right. Harrison was allowed to rise unchallenged and nod the ball home.
The lead was to last just five minutes. Leek lost the ball on their left and a stumble from Josh Agbozo allowed the ball to run to Tyler Johal who advanced into Leek’s area. Although Danny Roberts got down well to make the initial save, he could only parry the effort and Blake showed a true striker’s poaching ability to be first to the loose ball which was forced home from close range.
Leek soon restored their lead in an action-packed opening to the game. Stevenson was upended by Dan Brown and Chadwick sent Jack Steggles the wrong way from the spot.
Steggles was by far the more active keeper and he showed his class when making himself big in a one on one situation with Stevenson to make the save. But the Blues were given warning of the Millers’ attacking potential when a superb free-kick from Niall Davie was swept into the net by Toby Moore. The home side were rescued by the assistant’s flag.
Leek almost doubled their advantage on the restart when Jacob Sturges had to head an effort from Chadwick off the line following Billy Reeves’ corner. However, the home fans were stunned into silence just seven minutes later when Blake notched his second. Carlton won the ball out on the right and a low cross fizzed to the far post where the visitors’ leading scorer was on hand to fire home.
Carlton became increasingly confident in defence as Leek huffed and puffed in attack and it took the fresh legs of Bott and Twyford to beak the deadlock. Bott was fed wide on the right and he beat his marker at the bye-line to pull the ball back to the penalty spot. Twyford was free to hit what proved to be the winner.
The goal visibly shook Carlton’s resolve and the Blues were able to play out the remaining minutes in comparative ease to maintain their five-point lead in the table.
Following the match Leek boss Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said “I thought we looked nervous particularly early on. I said at half-time it surprised me. It didn’t look as though they were enjoying themselves. That’s what I want them to do but I think that most games will be like that now. We’re at the business end of the season with a lot riding on every game. The crowd gets a little apprehensive and that spreads through to the players. I think the crowd are good but I think one or two of my players are feeling that pressure. In the middle of the season they just get on with it but now – and I hate to say this – results are more important than performances.
The referee let a lot go and Carlton were very disruptive in their approach and that’s what you get. You hope that the referee clamps down on it quickly but he didn’t get to grips with it at all. But we got there in the end and credit to them. There was a little bit of quality for the winning goal which hadn’t been apparent for all of the second half. It wasn’t an inspired substitution but this time it worked. But I have always said that that is what substitutes are for – to make an impact”