The weather did its best to destroy this game as a spectacle and the howling wind and driving rain certainly removed the finesse from the play of two fine footballing sides. But there was still plenty in an intriguing contest to entertain an above-average gate.
Even at this earlyish stage of the season, Leek needed a result from the contest to keep realistic hopes of a top finish alive and they finally triumphed by the odd goal in five. The persistence of Tim Grice saw him net a double on his 400th appearance in a Blues’ shirt after a somewhat bizarre opener from Billy Reeves but the home side was pushed hard by league-leaders Marine who netted through a super strike from Lewis Reilly and a deflected effort from Neil Kengni. However, it has to be said that Leek’s cause was very much helped by a performance from visiting keeper Bayleigh Passant that would have haunted the former Tranmere stopper all the way back to the Wirral.
Reilly will look back on his second-half goal with relish but had the former Crewe striker done better with an early attempt the complexion of the game could have been very different. Played in by Kengni, Reilly could only tap tamely into Danny Roberts’ hands from six yards out.
Roberts was the busier of the two keepers in the early stages but Leek almost took the lead when a curling drive from Dan Trickett-Smith beat a Passant at full stretch only for the ball to bounce back into play from the inside of the far post.
It wasn’t much later for the opener though. A deep cross from Reeves would normally be meat and drink to a keeper but Passant never got his positioning right as the ball swirled in the gusting wind. The outcome was that an off-balance Passant allowed the ball to squirm through his hands and over the line.
The Marine goalie denied Rob Stevenson with his leg and Trickett-Smith rose highest at a corner only to head narrowly over meaning that Leek took a slender lead into the break.
With the conditions in their favour for the second period, the visitors would have felt confident of getting back on level terms but were rocked by a second from the home side just four minutes after the restart. Marine’s keeper could curse the weather for the opening goal but there was nowhere to hide as Leek doubled their lead. Passant got in a terrible tangle with his defender Mark Howarth and failed to take control of the loose ball. This allowed the predatory Grice to come out top in the ensuing melee to score.
Reilly’s goal was a magnificent strike from just outside the box that left Roberts flat-footed as the ball cannoned in off his right-hand post. But the hopes of the visiting support that this was the game’s turning point were dashed just two minutes later by yet another howler from Passant. A misjudgement of bounce and pace meant that he failed to gather a through ball. The mistake was pounced on by Grice who coolly slid the ball home.
Marine Manager Neil Young rang the changes and his side forced themselves back into the game as Leek struggled to clear a corner. Leading scorer Kengni forced the ball home with the aid of two vicious deflections.
Excellent game management saw Leek over the line through the tricky closing stages and they were almost gifted a fourth when Passant spilled a fierce drive from sub Lewis Short. But the keeper made amends by making a point-blank save as Grice attempted to complete his hat-trick.
Following the match, Leek Manager Neil Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Sports and said
”I don’t know that we have played in worse conditions than that. It spoiled the football but it was exciting to watch and we got there in the end. We had a chat on Thursday night that we can’t rely on other teams to beat Marine. We have to help ourselves. I thought we paid them too much respect and they paid us respect. We pressured them but I don’t think we showed good intent when we got possession. We made the decision at half-time not to play through midfield. I think Billy Reeves has gone up a level over the last few weeks and is having a great impact on games and Tim Grice is improving with age.”