Belper 1sts 2 Leek 1sts 1
LEEK visited relegation-threatened Belper, whose form has improved since Christmas following several squad additions.
Leek had skipper Mark Brazier, Dan O'Neill and Toby Mueller returning but were without Ben White, who was serving a one-match suspension.
With a very strong downfield wind affecting play, Belper were able to take advantage and pressed Leek in the opening phase.
Leek struggled to cope with the bouncy, water-soaked pitch in this period and were unable to put together any worthwhile attacking moves, but defended well to deny Belper any clear chances.
Belper's Ebbage was green-carded after 12 minutes, and despite the home side pressing, Leek gathered some momentum.
Gough and Mueller each had a couple of chances, neither of which were converted.
It was Leek who forced the first penalty corner of the match after 22 minutes, from which Paul Dawson's flick was comfortably saved.
Although Belper had the territorial advantage in the first half, they were limited to several half-chances and Brazier was able to repel any shots that came his way.
In fact, it was Leek who had the best chance of the half when a Dawson shot from a second penalty corner was deflected off the line by the Belper defence.
Having kept a clean sheet, Leek began the second half in a confident mood, although this was quickly dispelled when a defensive error almost gave Belper the lead.
The home side were made to pay for their missed opportunity when a Dawson shot into the circle was partially blocked and the ball fell nicely for Mueller to reverse-stick Leek ahead.
However, Belper were level within three minutes after an attack, which resembled table tennis with the Leek defence, resulted in Ian McHugh converting from close range.
Belper were able to dominate the next phase and constantly pressured Leek when they were in possession.
Paul Nixon was badly fouled from behind by McHugh and although one umpire was playing advantage to Leek, a verbal exchange between players resulted in play being stopped.
To a somewhat surprised Leek team, both McHugh and Nixon received temporary suspensions, with the Belper player receiving the longer period.
This disruption affected Leek more than Belper and while both teams were reduced to 10 players, a hard shot into the Leek circle was deflected into the top corner of the net by Ben Walton to give the hosts a crucial advantage.
The match became scrappy in the last 10 minutes and Leek's mood was not improved when Nixon was given a second yellow card with five minutes remaining.
Nixon's second yellow means he misses the next match, against second-placed Bowdon.
Leek 3rds 1 West Bridgford 4
LEEK went into this fixture one place above West Bridgford, so this always going to be a close contest.
However, it was West Bridgford who dominated the first half and they took a 1-0 lead into half time.
After the break, Leek showed a bit more desire and levelled the score through Steven Birch.
However, West Bridgford restored their lead shortly afterwards by catching Leek on the counter.
As Leek pressed for another equaliser, West Bridgford exposed the gaps and added a further two goals.
Northampton 5ths 4 Leek 4ths 5
LEEK continued their impressive run of results to go nine points clear in second place.
They produced an outstanding second half display to make up for their abject first half.
The Moorlanders created a number of chances in the opening period but their finishing was poor throughout.
Coupled to this, the Leek tackling lacked any conviction and the passing – normally the team's strength – was often tame.
Northampton took advantage of this to score three soft goals, which were well executed but owed everything to Leek's poor form.
At 3-0 down, the penny started to drop and Leek eventually found a way through with a clever lofted pass in the D finding Pete Cordon, who volleyed home.
The young Leek side responded to some harsh words at half-time to show great character on the resumption.
Leek moved 4-3 in front after just 10 minutes of the second half, with Cordon adding his second, and Dan Mart and Callum Alcock finding the net from some great team moves.
The tackling was tenacious and the passing accurate and incisive, with Kieran Smith very impressive again in midfield.
Grubb, Lockett and Wheeldon in defence had also found a more balanced structure than in the first half.
Having done the hard work and got in front, Leek had a momentary lapse leading to a Northampton equaliser.
However, Leek created so many chances that it was inevitable Rob Lawley would score the winner, flicking the ball over the on-rushing keeper after good work from Cordon.
Leek held out with no alarms for the last seven minutes to take the game 5-4 and importantly, the younger members of the team showed that they can respond to adversity and criticism in a positive way.
Leek 7ths 2 Sutton Coldfield 7ths 3
HAVING previously won the away fixture earlier in the season, Leek had high hopes of doing the double over Sutton with home advantage.
With a full compliment of players, Leek's running and tireless work rate were in evidence throughout the game.
Elliot Hammonds, Dan White and Paul Brocklehurst ran midfield throughout the game, always trying to find gamekeeper-turned-poacher Jerry Watson at centre forward.
Leek's opener came after a well-worked move between Brocklehurst and Hammonds, finally ending up with Will Landon to slot the ball home for his fourth goal of the season.
Sutton did not have the run of play and spent long periods clearing their lines. However, with some pace up front, they were able to go ahead twice and force Leek to play catch up.
Leek's second goal was a well-taken effort by Tom Povey, curving the ball deftly into the far right of goal.
Leek dominated the second half and had many chances which unfortunately were often put wide.
Sutton clinched victory with a fortunate third goal after a defensive mix-up by Leek.
Special mention should be made of James Convey and Lucas Barrow who both showed maturity and bravery in equal measure in their defending, often robbing the Sutton forwards of the ball.
Leek Badgers 4 Stone Badgers 1
STONE put out an experienced and older side but were put to the sword by Leek as the Badgers played great hockey.
Stone struck first, in the first 10 minutes, with an easy goal that trickled across the line.
But Leek responded excellently, with great play leading to Burnett slapping home for 1-1 a few minutes later.
Thackstone then put Leek ahead with a tap-in not long afterwards.
Leek started the second half the way they finished the first, with an Astle pass straight for Hammonds on the post to fire in.
Thackstone then finely finished the game off with a great hit from the top of the D.
Leek 4ths 0 Matlock 1
LEEK resumed play after a two-week break against Matlock, in what was to prove to be a close match.
With most of the regular players available, Leek had spare players and agreed to lend Hannah Smith to Matlock to even up the sides.
She was replaced at centre back by the on-loan Kate Jones, who led well from the back.
Leek went into the game determined to get something and with Holly Cunningham and Florence Knight in the midfield along with Josie Glass and Molly Johnson, they soon settled and took the game to Matlock.
Unfortunately, Leek could not find the killer pass in the D and too often, they were found forcing their way in with their heads down, and not looking for that ultimate pass.
That said, they were always on top and Becky Bailey was reduced to being a spectator in goal for most of the half.
This was down to some excellent play from Shannon Frodsham, Lucy Mart and Abigayle Hall, who kept the experienced forwards under control for much of the game.
Leek did come close to breaking the deadlock but even from their solitary short corner of the half, Ange Lilley could not quite find the target.
The half-time talk consisted mainly of keeping up the team effort and looking for that killer pass in the D to break the deadlock.
Unfortunately, it was the visitors who finally broke through with an excellent finish from a scrappy build-up that gave Bailey no change in the Leek goal.
This did not deter the home side and even though they lost Lucy Mart to a bad finger injury, they were not in the mood to just give the game away.
As the game went on, Leek tried to push for the equaliser and came closest from another penalty corner that the usually-reliable Emily Boulton just missed on the far post.
Towards the end of the game, Leek lost their second player when Josie Glass had to rest what appeared to be a leg strain. However, the replacements of Phoebe and Charlotte Allen played some good hockey and never gave up the fight.