Saturday marked a big day in the history of Leek Town as, prior to the Staffordshire derby game against Newcastle Town, former Leek player and Premier League striker, Mark Bright, cut the ribbon to officially open Leek’s new artificial 3G pitch.
A bumper crowd of 814 turned out to watch, meaning that the kick- off was delayed by five minutes, in order for all of the crowd to get into the ground. Blues manager Neil Baker made one change from last week’s disappointing defeat to City of Liverpool with Will Saxon dropping down to the bench and being replaced by Matt Bell.
Leek began the game brightly and had the early chances with Tim Grice missing with a header that he would normally have put away and then failing to get the ball out of his feet in order to get away a close- range shot.
Newcastle were defending well with the experienced pair of Dennis and Askey coping with most of what Leek threw at them, while on the Newcastle left Morley and seventeen year old McMahon were linking up well.
Indeed, it was Morley who put the visitors ahead against the run of play on 27 minutes with their only shot on target in the first half. A long ball forward split the two Leek centre backs allowing Morley in on goal and he coolly finished low to Roberts right. The goal encouraged Newcastle and whilst not threatening to add to their lead they came more into the game and began to pass the ball around more fluently.
Leek huffed and puffed but Mooney in the Newcastle had very little to do with the general quality of Leek’s play in the final third being below their usual quality.
On the stroke of half time, Newcastle did have a breakaway from a Leek corner only for referee, Mr Tankard to blow his whistle for the break, much to the frustration of Newcastle manager Robin van der Laan and his players.
Half time: Leek Town 0 Newcastle Town 1
Leek came out for the second half re-energised although Neil Baker said afterwards that he had not said anything particularly in the dressing at half time other than to keep doing what they were doing but better.
On 48 minutes a low ball into the box found Tim Grice who almost managed to miss another chance as his initial effort was saved by Mooney at very close range, bobbled around in the box and then back to Grice who forced the ball into the back of the net to put Leek back on level terms.
Brownhill then missed a glorious opportunity to put Leek ahead as he blazed wildly over with the goal at his mercy and Mooney flat out after a collision with Dan Trickett-Smith.
Neil Baker made a double change on 56 minutes with Bavanganga and Wakefield replacing Bell and Brownhill. This was the signal for an onslaught on the Newcastle goal which lasted for virtually the rest of the second- half and it was only the heroics of Mooney in the Castle goal that kept Leek at bay.
Leek were using the wide areas much more intelligently than in the first half in order to by-pass Askey and Dennis with Rob Stevenson looking much more like the player of the past two seasons but Newcastle were not helped by the loss of Jarman who had to be replaced by Fishman.
Three times Mooney tipped over Leek efforts that appeared to be goal bound but his best save came from a Trickett- Smith shot that he managed to get his body in the way of after it reared up off the pitch. In addition to that Askey got his head in the way of a Tim Grice pile driver that looked to be curling into the top corner with Mooney beaten.
Newcastle were still dangerous on the occasional break and Smith, a substitute for Chimenes on 84 minutes should have done better on a rare Newcastle foray into the Leek half.
Leek’s attacking became more and more frantic with a succession of corners that Newcastle managed to scramble away but the ball would not fall for the Blues in the area and Newcastle managed to keep their goal intact until the final whistle.
The Leek players will consider this as two points dropped rather than a point gained as for much of the game Danny Roberts was a spectator in the Leek goal. Afterwards Neil Baker agreed that the second half performance of his team was much improved and much closer to the Leek displays of a couple of years ago. He will certainly be hoping that they can continue this improvement on next week’s trip to Bootle.
Final score Leek Town 1 Newcastle Town 1