Watching Leek Town this season is very much like a Groundhog Day. Once again, the Blues fell behind to an early goal. Once again, they out-passed their opponents into oblivion. Once again, they pocketed the points after a dominant second-half.
After falling behind to an eighth minute goal from Arron Opoku Leek levelled through Dan Trickett-Smith before Leon Ashman headed home what proved to be the winner.
In fairness to all the players both sides did extremely well to put on such a competitive game. The pitch itself looked like something resembling the worst of the rough at Gleneagles and matters were not helped by the torrential rain that- in some minds but fortunately not the referee’s- surely caused doubt that the game would reach its conclusion. In the closing stages play resembled children playing in a paddling pool with fountains of water splashing skywards and players struggled to keep their footing.
After an even opening period Carlton were gifted the opportunity to open the scoring. Leek skipper Darren Chadwick pulled up lame and Opoku took full advantage by firing past a stationary Danny Roberts.
In a first half that ebbed and flowed both sides had a fistful of corners that came to nothing but a rejigged visiting defence held firm giving the home side just one more real opportunity to extend its advantage. A snap shot from Opoku was easily fielded by Roberts.
Dogged defending from the Millers was generally stopping Leek’s advances in their tracks. Matt Bell had an effort charged down and Marc Grocott screwed wide from twenty yards.
Tim Grice was twice denied by Jack Steggles and the closest that the Blues came to an equaliser was when a free-kick fell to Trickett-Smith. He hit the ball through a crowd of players only for the ball to bounce back from the base of the post.
Leek upped their game a gear after the break and forced Carlton into rear-guard action. Steggles remained in commanding form though and it took a special goal from Trickett-Smith to prise open the home defence. Excellent approach work by Grice and Will Saxon found Trickett-Smith on the right and the Port Vale loanee’s drive went across the face of goal and into the far corner.
Carlton responded well with three corners in quick succession but the endless chasing as Leek passed the ball around was taking its toll. The home side found it more and more difficult to make sustained attacks and a tiring Opoku became a mere shadow of his first-half ebullient self.
It was almost inevitable that a third goal would go the way of the visitors. In the end it arrived via a set-piece. Trickett-Smith’s corner was inch perfect to the far post where both Ashman and Ollie Harrison rose with Ashman given the nod as scorer. It almost came at great cost though as both players had to receive lengthy treatment after a clash of heads.
The Blues sensed further blood but despite having most of the play Leek were denied by some determined defensive work. To be fair a heavier defeat than this would have been cruel on Carlton who had contributed to a very enjoyable game.
Following the match Leek boss Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio. He said “It’s a difficult pitch to play on. The grass was long. The rain helped. At the end of the match I complimented my players – not just for coming back but for the quality of their play especially in the second half. It wasn’t a bad performance in the first half but we didn’t start well with another easy goal gone in. We lost our centre half as well. But I had already planned for that as we weren’t sure that Darren would be fit. We went to three at the back. Knowing how Carlton play we knew we could get away with it. I was pleased how we kept going even in the first half. I had told Trickett-Smith that he had been shooting from long-range without troubling the keeper. I said I wanted him scoring from inside the box and I would have been surprised if he hadn’t finished. Leon Ashman is a brave player. He’s come in and done well for us. He and Ollie are fighting over who actually scored but I’ve given it to Leon.”