Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division South
Leek Town 0 Rainworth Miners Welfare 1
BLUES lost their first home game of the season when they welcomed bogey team Rainworth to Harrison Park on Saturday.
The visitors were fortunate to take all three points, with a smash and grab raid in the final minute of normal time.
Blues have met the Ravens seven times over the last few seasons – but only won once.
But the hosts could count themselves unlucky after creating a host of second half chances on a difficult surface.
They also hit the post in the opening half and had penalty appeals turned down in each half.
Blues’ boss Lee Casswell said afterwards: “I thought we played better than Tuesday (against Romulus) but we got nothing out of the game.
“It’s the first time we’ve said it this season, but we have to be more clinical in front of goal and put the ball in the back of the net.
“I’m not going to blame the pitch because our groundsmen have worked hard on it during all the bad weather and we created enough chances to have taken the points.
“Anyway it’s over, it’s gone and we now switch our attention to the Trophy game at Witton on Tuesday, followed by the trip to Brigg on Saturday.”
Casswell went into the game making one change to his starting line-up, with new signing Ryan Brown drafted in at the expence of Niall McGuire, who was relegated the bench.
Rainworth relied heavily on their two long throw experts to get the ball into the box but the Blues’ defence was relatively untroubled by the tactic.
Blues’ first attack of note came in the 16th minute when Shelley played a superb ball wide to John Johnson who took on the visitors’ defence – but his progress was halted by a last-ditch tackle.
Wrens’ keeper James Martin had to deal with dangerous crosses from Jordan Johnson and John Johnston as Blues looked for an opening, after appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears.
Johnston got on the end of a fine forward ball from Sam Hall in the 32nd minute and went wide of the keeper before turning inside the box to set up Matt Bell, whose shot was deflected for a corner.
When the cross came in, Martin punched Andy Kinsey’s on-target header only as far as Shelley, who drove in a thunderous shot that cannoned back off the upright before being cleared.
Four minutes later, a long throw by Keiron Walker found the head of Jamie Clarke – but Ben Chapman was wellplaced to make the save.
Leek hadn’t played well during the opening half but after the break, they gradually began to get a grip on the clinging surface.
Chapman went down to save a Mark Dudley effort from distance in the 48th minute, then fielded another two long throws into his box before Matt Bell had a shot blocked following a quicklytaken free kick.
In the 59th minute, Johnston won the ball wide on the right but after turning his marker, he lifted his shot way over the crossbar. On the hour, Leek put a good move together down the right – but the ball was cleared to Hall, who shot narrowly wide of the upright.
Rainworth were enjoying their fair share of possession but Blues defended well, although Saunders headed wide under pressure in the 67th minute.
Leek should have taken the lead in the 69th minute but after John Johnston and Dan Smith combined to set up Shelley, his shot from close range was cleared off the line.
Rainworth responded just a minute later with Ball working his way down the right before squaring to James Cullingworth, who got a shot on target but Chapman saved with his legs.
After that scare, Leek began to pressurise the visiting defence and in the 74th minute, John Johnston weaved his way through the Wrens’ defence – only for his last touch let him down.
Two minutes later, Blues pushed forward again but when the loud appeals for handling inside the box settled, the referee waved away the appeals.
In the 79th minute, Kinsey held the ball up well and worked his way infield to get a shot on target – but the keeper got down at the foot of his near post to make the save.
Blues pushed the visitors back into their own half and in the 82nd minute, Bell hoisted a free kick to the back post.
Andy Bratt headed the ball back in but Shelley scuffed his shot wide.
Blues had battled hard in the final third of the game but their hard work counted for nothing when Longstaffe cruelly netted the late, late winner.
Home defender Andy Bratt and Rainworth sub Ashley Longstaffe were chasing a high ball into the Leek half and Bratt got in front, only to be nudged from behind.
The nudge was just enough to cause Bratt to stand on the ball before stumbling to the deck but there was no whistle from the ref and Longstaffe was allowed to pounce on the loose ball before finding the far bottom corner.