Leek Town once again showed their credentials as title challengers as they added another victory and another clean sheet to their season’s tally. A 1-0 scoreline courtesy of a second-half strike from Matt Bell was enough to snaffle the points and maintain the five-point lead over the chasing pack at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier South-East division.
Leek had to overcome the absence of talismanic striker Tim Grice due to a broken hand and battle against the elements of a howling wind, a pitch hardly conducive to cultured football, combative opponents and hostile home support. Westfield Lane has been the graveyard of many a team’s ambitions but Leek’s win was probably more comfortable than the scoreline would suggest and the home support was largely silenced as Frickley were penned into their own third of the pitch for most of the second half.
The visitors could have been a couple of goals to the good in the opening stages had the finishing been more clinical. Louis Keenan caused havoc in the home defence with a precise cross that found Billy Reeves. Keeper Tom Jackson did well to parry the initial shot but Reeves will be disappointed not to have put the loose ball away from close range.
Rob Stevenson then did well to leave the central defenders for dead only to hit over the top with his unfavoured left foot before Chris Baker was denied by Jackson’s outstretched right leg after he had been played in behind the Frickley defence.
These misses were greeted by hoots of derision from the Frickley faithful but their own players were hardly fuelling the home fans with inspiration. Despite a swirling wind being behind them, Frickley were unable to make a dent in the visiting defence. A couple of tame shots from outside the area were easily fielded by Danny Roberts before a speculative overhead kick by Jacob Hazel went narrowly wide of the far post.
Leek turned the screw after the break and, apart from a brief spell of attacking by the home side that came to nought, spent the majority of the second period camped out in the opposition half.
The breakthrough came in the 65th minute. Keenan was once again the provider with a cross from the left and Bell – uncharacteristically wearing Grice’s number nine shirt – hit a volley into the ground and over Jackson’s despairing dive.
Frickley had problems of their own as they were only able to fill two spots on the bench with a sub goalkeeper and their coach leaving Dave Frecklington with few options to change things on the pitch. These options were reduced even further when leading scorer Jonny Margetts crumpled to the ground with what looked a serious ankle injury and had to be carried off the pitch just before half-time. The home side then had to play the final minutes of the game with just ten men after Paul Sherburn committed a late tackle on Danny Chadwick – a challenge that sparked a general melee.
This was not a pretty game to watch but Leek were just pleased to get back on the coach with another three points in the bag.
Following the game Leek Manager Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said “The conditions were as bad as any I have ever come across and that is saying something. The wind was terrible and the pitch wasn’t much better. It’s probably the hardest place to come in the league and we’ve come away with a terrific win.
It was nigh on impossible to play good football. I changed the team as soon as we got here from what I had originally selected. That was because of the conditions. We’ve played on some bad pitches this year but that was as bad as anything. We changed the way we were going to play because of that.
I was going to play Jake Twyford but realised it wasn’t his sort of pitch. We decided to play three in midfield and keep the two wingers high. We had practiced this in midweek and I’m glad we did. I thought we fashioned two or three good chances so I was fairly happy with them. I just said at half-time that they had to be a bit more astute and play with a little more control. I thought we did that and managed the game really well. We restricted them to few chances.
I think we kept very calm and we always mention discipline to our players. We don’t want to lose players through suspension. On days like these we just want to get the points, go back home and get in front of the fire.”