For the second season in succession Leek exited the FA Cup at the hands of near-neighbours Mickleover.
The Derbyshire side had topped the Premier Division pile when proceedings were halted last season and many of the home faithful – given the Premier League and professional experience (including Premier League) running through the visiting side and the lack of form and extensive injury list endured by the Blues – feared the worst. In the end, Leek gave as much as they got but succumbed to second-half goals as Andy Dales and Declan Bacon took advantage of rare mistakes.
Leek were given early notice of the menace posed by their opponents when Stuart Beavon fired an effort against Sam Booth’s post. But the Leek keeper had little to do through the first period as Leek’s pressing defence kept Sports at bay and gave Burton loanee goalie Callum Hawkins all of the work he wanted.
A flying save at his near post was needed from Hawkins to keep out a powerful drive from Jack Wakefield. Leek also twice rattled the visitors’ woodwork with headers – firstly off the bar from Zack Clarke and then from Darren Chadwick as he tried to finish at a corner.
Two free-kicks in dangerous positions were wasted as the defensive wall did its job but the Blues entered the break in a good place as they had more than matched their Step 3 opponents.
That good place disappeared within sixty seconds of the restart. Clarke gave away the ball in midfield and with the Leek defenders unable to cope with the quick breakaway, Dales cleverly chipped the stranded Booth for the game’s opener and his personal fifth of the season.
Leek almost hit back immediately when a good move gave Clarke the opportunity to strike only for Hawkins to pull off a good save with the loose ball eventually scrambled away. Hawkins once again proved Wakefield’s nemesis as he clawed away another fierce effort as Leek looked to get back on level terms.
But the second half was generally controlled by Mickleover and they settled the tie in the closing stages. Scott Wara – forced to play at right back after Jesse Bavanganga failed a pre-match fitness test – was robbed of the ball which was squared into the area where Bacon had the simple task of netting the decider.
Despite the defeat, there were some late bright points. Billy Reeves was introduced late on and Rob Stevenson made a limited but welcome return to action. There was also a promising cameo from new signing Amaar Dyer. Plenty to appreciate in the Blues’ performance but the task now is to translate that into points in League games.
Following the match, Manager Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio saying:
“I didn’t feel we were fit enough to keep pressing them. We did it well in the first half but couldn’t do it in the second half. So, they had some easy possession without doing anything to us. I’ve told my players they did well and they played well but I can’t say well done because they lost. There were good signs and it was probably our best performance over ninety minutes this season. We changed the way we played a bit and played 4-4-2 because they have good attacking players and Zack and Will (Saxon) were asked to play deeper which they did effectively. I was happy with the performance but when you make errors against higher-class opposition, they can capitalise on that.”