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Blues Defeated in Season Opener

Leek always knew that a trip to FA Vase winners Warrington Rylands to kick off their 2021-22 season was going to be a difficult task. And so it proved as the hosts ran out 2-0 winners in what was a chastening experience for the Leek faithful after several seasons of seeing Leek bossing their opponents.

The scoreline barely tells the full story. Rylands dominated the game for large spells and with their crisp passing, energetic display and strong defensive pressing gave something of a footballing lesson to an out-of-sorts Moorlands side. But despite all of the pressure and huge tally of attempts on target by the home side, Leek carved out possibly the better clear-cut chances only to come across a keeper in fine form in the shape of Graeme McCall. Eventually the dominance told with late goals from Joe Coveney and Adam Buxton.

Despite an impressive centre back pairing of Richard Smith and Joe Denman Leek almost carved open Warrington’s defence early in a very-evenly contested first period as attacks down the right saw two low crosses slid into the danger area. The first was touched narrowly wide by Dan Trickett-Smith and the second was dealt with by McCall who intervened with a deft hand.

Shortly afterwards the ball broke for Will Saxon who was unmarked in the area but brave goalkeeping saw McCall snuff out the danger before Tim Grice used his strength to burst through the defence only to see his shot go narrowly over.

Grice almost broke the deadlock just four minutes after the break when the ball was threaded  through and a clever flick seemed destined for the top corner before it was superbly turned aside by McCall. Saxon failed to make the most of a couple of opportunities as his pace was used to good effect but the tide was running against the visitors and the pressure finally took effect in the 68th minute.

Danny Roberts had been forced to make a number of saves but, helped by a generally good performance by his defenders, Leek had held firm. However, the lively Ste Milne did well to shield the ball and find Coveney whose fierce effort went across the keeper’s body and into the net via the inside of the far post.

The goal was little more than Warrington deserved but Town almost clawed their way back into the contest. A cross found skipper Darren Chadwick who should probably have done better but his header was thumped against the bar and Ollie Harrison was off-target with his follow-up attempt.

That was to be Leek’s last hurrah as the game was put to bed by Rylands’ second in the dying embers of the game. Roberts put Marc Grocott under pressure with his rolled pass and when the ball was lost it was worked to substitute Buxton who sublimely chipped the stranded keeper to seal the points.

After the game Leek manager Neil Baker said “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen us give the ball away so often. Whether that was down to our bad play or their good play will have to be looked at. We can put it right for Tuesday’s game. There were some good things by us today and despite them having most chances I thought we created the better ones. I know that the season is a marathon and not a sprint but I believe a title can be won early. If you get off to a bad start then you are soon playing catch up.”

Dave Stringer
Sports Reporter and Theatre Critic

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