Leek Town 1 Stafford Rangers 0
BLUES’ boss Lee Casswell was hoping to select from a full squad for the first time in his pre-season programme.
But his plans were derailed by the loss of goalkeeper Ben Chapman (work commitments) and strike duo Andy Kinsey and Tim Grice through injury.
However, Leek outfought Rangers in the opening half and took the lead with a fine goal just 16 minutes into the game.
But Dan Shelley and Sam Hall both missed chances to add to the lead and Blues were denied a penalty on the half hour mark.
The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession throughout the game but rarely tested stand-in keeper Rob Hackney until the second half, after they made no fewer than nine substitutions.
Blues created chances in the second period but failed to add to their first half advantage, while Hackney was called on to make two or three good saves to keep the lead intact.
In Leek’s first real attack of the game, they took the lead in the 16th minute when Anthony Danylyk dug in to win the ball and play it back to Joe Evans.
He lifted a fine ball over the Stafford defence for John Johnston who outpaced Jon Lynch to cross low into the box, where the unmarked Jamie Pointon swooped to drill the ball past stranded keeper Jon Brain.
Blues came close again two minutes later when another fine ball by Evans just evaded the outstretched boot of Shelley in the Rangers’ box.
On the half hour mark, Leek felt they should have had a penalty after Johnston’s shot was clearly handled inside the box but the referee thought otherwise and awarded a corner that was cleared.
Stafford finished the half strongly, winning two corners in quick succession leading to a goalmouth scramble – but Christian Dacres headed the ball straight at Hackney on his goal line.
Former Leek Town defender Greg Clowes, now manager at Stafford, made nine substitutions during the break and his side looked a better act in the second half.
Rangers began to look more determined forcing Blues to dig deep and defend in depth whilst attacking on the break.
In the 52nd minute, the impressive Fabrice Kasiama attacked the Leek box to get in a fierce shot but Bell went to ground to bravely block the ball.
Leek caught Rangers on the break in the 53rd minute, with Pointon holding off Michael Carr – but his goal-bound shot struck the startled keeper on the elbow and the ball flew wide for a corner.
In a repeat performance six minutes later, Pointon again held off Carr but this time, the Leek striker poked his shot well wide, with just Adam Alcock to beat.
Stafford continued to push forward but Sean Kinsella wasted a chance on the hour and then Peter Heler saw his shot from 25 yards palmed wide by Hackney.
As the pressure mounted on Leek at the back, a good ball from the left found Heler at the far post but he failed to beat Hackney who was well placed to make the save.
In the 71st minute, a good clearing header by Matt Bradbury was pumped back in but Kinsella shot wide from 8 yards out.
With Stafford piling forward looking for the equaliser, they were caught on the break again in the 88th minute when trialist Josh Croft went down the left flank to fire an inch perfect cross in for Steve Brannan.
The stand-in striker seemed destined to score with only the keeper to beat but his header back across the face of goal flew narrowly wide of the opposite post.
On the stroke of full-time, Stafford came close to snatching a draw but when the ball was played over the top, Keiron O’Connell blasted wide from close range.
* At the pre-season friendly against Stafford Rangers, Leek Town chairman Andy Wain (pictured second from right) presented a cheque for £200 to Douglas Macmillan Hospice representative Dennis Vickers. The money was raised at a recent memorial match for former Blues skipper Chris McMullen, who died from cancer last year. McMullen skippered the Blues 1990 FA Trophy Final team. Also pictured (from left) are former Blues boss Peter Ward, Steve Norris (who played alongside McMullen in the Wembley final) and Blues’ new general manager Jamie Cullerton.