When the draw was made for the Buildbase FA Trophy preliminary round tie it seemed that Leek had a potentially tricky tie on their hands.
Games between the two local rivals are normally tight affairs but this time Leek eased through comparatively comfortably thanks to braces from James Kirby and Rob Stevenson after Aiden Walker had opened the scoring. Castle hit back through Ethan Cartwright and Tommy Van Der Laan but were generally second-best in a contest that lacked the ferocity of the usual local derby.
With five first team regulars unavailable through injury Neil Baker had to shuffle his pack bringing in his Mansfield Town youth loanees Walker and Jason Law alongside Stoke City youngster Adam Porter. But within sixty seconds yet another change had to be made when skipper Darren Chadwick limped off without having touched the ball in anger.
Castle had the opportunity to punish Leek in the opening stages. Leek had to defend well as Ryan McLean rampaged down the flank and put in two very tempting crosses. However, the best chance fell to Michael Conlon who, after timing his run and then deceiving his marker, screwed his left-footed effort wide.
In contrast Leek showed their deadliness in front of goal in the seventeenth minute. A flowing move down the right saw Stevenson put a cross to the far post where Walker arrived to poke the ball under the keeper.
That was the only goal of the first period but Leek all but settled the tie within six minutes of the restart. The crowd had barely had time to return from their half-time refreshments when Kirby laid the ball wide to Stevenson who rounded his man before hitting a low drive goalward. Raajan Gill went full-length and got a good hand on the ball but the effort had enough power on it to continue into the net for Leek’s second.
Five minutes later the Blues put themselves well in control of the game. Following sustained pressure, Walker headed a corner against the crossbar and Kirby nodded the ball home from close range.
Newcastle were handed an unlikely lifeline when a clumsy challenge from Harry Goode gave them a penalty. Danny Roberts did well to keep out Nathan Morley’s spot-kick but Cartwright was alert to the situation and slammed the loose ball home to reduce the arrears.
Hopes of a Castle comeback were quickly snuffed out though. Gill failed to control a pass-back and Kirby nipped in to roll the ball into an empty net. Stevenson then added a fifth when he outpaced his marker to beat Gill at his near post.
There was still time for a late consolation from the home side. It came when a switched-off visiting defence allowed the ball to be worked to Van Der Laan who lashed the ball into the far corner.
Following the match Blues’ boss Baker spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said “We picked this team on Thursday and we practiced a little bit with those lads because we had the Mansfield boys and the young lad from Stoke. They looked very comfortable on the ball and that made a big difference to the team. I needed a midfielder who could hold the ball for us and help Billy Reeves. I thought they complemented each other very well and ran the game I thought. Normally if you can control the midfield you control the game and we proved that today.”
Regarding the very early substitution of Chadwick, Baker added “We must have made history. Really unprofessional. He obviously got injured in the warm-up and then told us as we were coming out to start the game he wasn’t fit. Absolutely not happy about that. If he had told us twenty minutes before the match, we could have done something about it. It was a very poor start for us as we kicked off with virtually ten men. Anything could have happened. I am not best pleased.”