Evo-Stik First Division South
Sheffield FC 1 Leek Town 2
AFTER two thrilling FA Trophy wins, against Brackley and Altrincham, the Blues returned to league action at Sheffield on Saturday.
Sheffield took the lead 10 minutes into the second half but Blues drew level with just seven minutes remaining, while super sub Dan Shelley netted the all-important winner on the stroke of full time.
So, Leek consolidated their position at the top of the table after doing the "double" over their hosts, albeit with a less than convincing performance.
Sheffield dominated much of the play without really testing Ben Chapman in goal while Leek huffed and puffed, trying to get into their stride, and it didn't really come off for them until Lee Casswell made three inspired substitutions during the second half.
Almost immediately, things began to go right for the Blues, who began making inroads in the final quarter of the pitch and both Leek goals came from goalmouth scrambles as the Sheffield defence sank into panic mode.
Blues had to endure three added minutes after Shelley's goal but the defence held out despite the inevitable late pressure from Sheffield.
It was a gritty performance by Lee Casswell's men but they deserved something out of the game on their second half performance, giving more credence to the view that it's potential champions who often win when they're not playing well.
Casswell went into the game making one enforced change, with new signing Glyn Cotton replacing the suspended Jordan Johnson. Caswell was joined in the stand by Andy Bratt, who was also sitting this one out due to suspension.
Leek had to endure sustained early pressure from the home side but Blues defended in depth, while Chapman claimed the corner when it came in.
Sheffield looked a decent side – big, strong and very mobile, but their final ball just wasn't good enough and Leek soaked up the pressure.
Blues put a good move together in the seventh minute when Cotton and Bell combined, leaving Sam Hall to cross into the box – but the ball was deflected wide.
A minute later, Bell crossed into the box for John Johnston, who out-jumped the home defenders – but his header lacked direction and the chance was lost.
Andrew Gascoigne intercepted a Blues' clearance in the ninth minute to get in a cross-shot but Chapman got his body behind the ball to make the save.
A minute later, Cotton almost got on the scoresheet but his shot was deflected into the keeper's arms.
Blues then won three corners in quick succession but all came to nothing, leaving Sheffield to hit Leek on the break, although a free kick from 22 yards out was headed wide of the target.
In the 26th minute, a great forward ball by Paul Donnelly was headed on by Johnston for Cotton, whose angled shot flew across the face of goal and wide of the back post.
Sheffield broke downfield in the 27th minute but the ambitious shot flew well wide of the far post.
Play continued to swing from end to end and on 28 minutes, Andy Kinsey and Johnston combined well – but the resulting shot fell wide of the upright.
Gascoigne tried his luck from distance in the 32nd minute but his shot was well wide and then Chapman had to go to ground to make a save following another Sheffield raid.
Leek should have taken the lead in the 42nd minute when Kinsey won the ball in the centre circle before bursting towards goal and then laying the ball into the path of Johnston, who went one-on-one with the keeper, only to slide the ball agonisingly wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Leek created another good chance when the ball was worked wide to Bell. He crossed into the box for Dicker to head down but the ball flew inches wide of the far post, where Dan Smith just failed to get a boot on it.
Sheffield piled forward after the break and it came as no surprise when they forged ahead as Zeph Thomas netted with a superb, dipping shot from the edge of the box.
Casswell immediately made his first change to the side, bringing on Dan Shelley, and when Johnston picked up an injury a few minutes later, that signalled another two changes, with Jon Sheldon and Tim Grice entering the fray.
Fresh legs and some pace began to pay off as Blues started to push Sheffield back into their own half, although the home side were still dangerous on the break.
Leek attacked in the 64th minute but Grice fired narrowly wide of the upright, while Kinsey had a shot blocked inside the 6-yard box.
Leek drew level in the 83rd minute when Donnelly drove a free kick deep into the Sheffield box and Dicker headed down for Smith to nip in and bundle the ball over the line.
Then, in the final minute of normal time, Leek took a dramatic lead when a quick free kick by Bell was played into the box and Shelley was on hand to knock the loose ball home.
After the game, a delighted Casswell said: "That was hard work, but it keeps us going and we are still top by four points.
"Football is not just about the 11 lads that start the game, as today's match demonstrates. The lads on the bench are just as vital and the three that went on in the second half won the game for us.
"After going behind, we might have settled for a point but credit to the lads for pushing Sheffield deeper and deeper to get the equaliser.
"Credit also goes to Andy Kinsey for his quick thinking that allowed Bell to take a quick free kick from which Shelley got the winner.
"After the game the lads celebrated in style with an overnight stay in Sheffield and it was no more than they deserved."
Sheffield: Poulter, Turner, Algar, Burrell, Cardwell, Ludlam, Stirrup, Gascoigne (Harrison 77), Thomas (Purkiss 83), Gregory, Woolley.
Leek Town: Chapman, Smith, Bell, Dicker, Donnelly, Hall, Danylyk, MaGuire (Shelley 56), Kinsey, Cotton (Grice 67), John Johnston (Sheldon 67). Subs not used: Husbands, Shelley, Swetnam.
Man-of-the-match: Ryan Dicker.