Leek manager Neil Baker woke on the eve of his side’s game with City of Liverpool with a real selection headache.
Already without midfielders Marc Grocott, Jack Wakefield and Lewis Brownhill due to long-term injury, he now knew that star player Dan Trickett-Smith was likely to be out for several weeks due to a groin injury and Rob Stevenson was unfit with a leg problem. Once it was factored in that Lewis Short was not fit enough to play a full ninety minutes and that Ammar Dyer is lacking in game time through injury problems of his own, it was difficult to see how Baker would be able to turn out a side.
However, with the acquisition of youngster Joel Tabiner from Crewe and the use of an unfamiliar 5-3-2 system, Leek were able to put out a competitive outfit that, despite not being able to profit from having more chances to score, were able to carve out a draw from the game. Tim Grice once again rose to the challenge to net another pair but defensive lapses meant that they had to settle for a point after the Purps registered goals through James Edgar and Tinashe Chakwana.
Scott Harrison almost carried on where he left off against Kendal as he rose high to head for the top corner only to be thwarted by Ollie Martin who produced a good hand to turn the effort aside.
Leek then had another great chance to open the scoring. Tabiner had struggled to adjust to the pace of the game in the opening stages but gradually found his feet and produced a superb crossfield ball to release Will Saxon. Unfortunately, the Leek forward delayed his shot and Martin was able to smother the ball.
Liverpool looked assured in their passing, though, and, with Zac Aley rampaging down the wing, looked dangerous going forward. Nevertheless, it came as a huge surprise when the visitors took the lead. The home defenders stood off Edgar to allow him to try his luck from all of thirty yards. The effort did not seem to have the power to trouble the keeper but to many in the crowd it appeared that Danny Roberts was slow to go down and the ball sneaked inside the post for the opener.
In a crisis turn to Grice and he hammered his equaliser in with aplomb. A through ball from Harrison saw the record goalscorer run between the two central defenders and score past the beleaguered goalie.
The Blues came out for the second half in ebullient style and quickly nicked the lead. Tabiner forced a corner with his cross-shot and from the flag-kick Grice was left unmarked at the far post from where he nodded the ball downwards and past Martin for his second of the afternoon. Grice then almost completed his hat-trick but was denied by a last-ditch block.
The visitors were not finished though and substitute Chakwana levelled with his first touch of the game. With the Blues’ defenders slow to react, the sub ran unchallenged onto a through ball from Edgar and scored off the inside of Roberts’ right-hand post.
With Baker unable to make an impact from the bench, the smart money was on City to take all three points but Leek rallied to make a grandstand finish. Three corners were forced in the closing stages and Tabiner almost claimed the win from the edge of the area only for his effort to be turned over by an in-form Martin.
Following the match, the Leek manager spoke exclusively to Moorlands Radio and said “That was a cracking game with both teams at it and both teams playing some good football. I thought – and I am biased of course – that we just edged it. In the second half their keeper was a lot busier than ours. So, considering the team and the formation that we had to play. I am pleased although disappointed that we couldn’t quite make it three points rather than one. The lads are absolutely gutted in there but I’ve told them they shouldn’t be because I think they’ve been fine. I told them we were missing some top players but we’ve still got some top players out there. They had to take on some added responsibility and find a way of winning the game and the majority of them did. Everybody put a shift in. It’s where we are and we get on with it. I’ve no complaints about the lads who played today. The goals were probably the most disappointing thing. I need to look at them again and then I will pass judgement.”