LEEK entertained mid-table rivals Wakefield in their final Now:Pensions Mens Hockey League of the season, knowing that a home win would move them up to fifth in the table.
With nearly a full squad available for the first time since the mid-season break, Leek began promisingly and were unlucky not to take the lead when Rich Cordon hit the inside of the post.
The Leek central midfield pairing of the Pauls, Nixon and Dawson, worked tirelessly to maintain a grip on the play.
Most of the Leek attacks were starting from a deep position, and whilst they played entertaining hockey, they did not threaten effectively again until the stroke of half-time, when Ben White blazed a shot wide.
As is usual with most of Leek's recent matches, most of the entertainment – both good and bad – came in the second half.
Almost straight after the re-start, Leek forced the match's first penalty corner, which forced a fine save.
Leek finally broke the deadlock in the 39th minute when Nixon and Dan O'Neil combined to find Toby Mueller, playing his final game for Leek before returning to Germany.
Mueller dribbled along the back line, past two defenders and the keeper, to put the ball into an open net.
This seemed to free Leek and they increased their lead four minutes later after forcing a penalty corner.
After the initial shot was saved, Nixon was on hand to force the ball over the line.
The match then became very open. O'Neill hit a reverse shot just wide before Keiran Bedford in the Leek goal – who had taken over from skipper Mark Brazier at half-time – made a fine save.
One of Leek's best moves of the match followed, culminating in a fine lob from White hitting the crossbar.
However, Wakefield then turned the tables and forced a penalty corner, which resulted in them reducing the arrears through Oliver Stoddart.
The final 20 minutes should have seen Leek capitalise but again, they failed to convert the chances their play deserved.
Dawson had two shots– one from a penalty corner – again well-saved by Kessie, while at the other end Bedford kept Leek's lead intact.
Leek were then reduced temporarily to 10 players by a yellow card for Rich Parker, which affected the flow of the Moorlanders' game.
They were made to pay dearly when, with four minutes remaining, Cordon was adjudged to have fouled badly enough to receive a yellow card and concede a penalty corner.
Stoddart found the roof of the net with his drag flick to give the visitors an equalising goal and a point.
This was harsh on Leek, but probably summed up the second half of the season – some excellent play, poor finishing, conceding goals against the run of play and – probably most crucially – an inability to play with 11 players on the pitch for 70 minutes.
Leek Men's 3XI 3 Cannock 3
ANY GAME between Leek and Cannock always proves to be a hotly-contested fixture, and this was no different.
Both teams had nothing to play for but straight from the opening whistle, you could sense that they wanted to claim the three points.
Cannock were the first to open the scoring but Josh Sherwani pulled Leek level going into half-time.
Cannock piled on the pressure in the second half and quickly added a further two goals.
Leek fought back, though, and Sherwani got his brace when he lashed the ball in with a first-time hit on the turn in spectacular style.
In the dying moments of the game, Leek were awarded a short corner, which was drilled in by top scorer Steven Birch to pull Leek level again.
Leek 5XI 1 Beeston 5XI 3
LEEK expected to face a much stronger Beeston 5th team than the one they beat easily at home earlier in the season – and they certainly did.
From the off, Beeston put Leek under considerable pressure and the defence and midfield worked very hard to keep Leek in the game.
It was no surprise, however, when Beeston took the lead after 15 minutes.
Leek responded well, though, and Lee Morgan scored his very first goal to draw the scores level.
Beeston piled forward and with injuries to Sean Finney and Andy Lowe, Leek had to dig very deep.
Jim Raynor gave his all in centre midfield but eventually Beeston scored again.
The second half saw Leek battle bravely but they could not get their passing game going and Beeston scored their third from a penalty corner after a great save from Neil Waterhouse.
Bridgnorth 5XI 1 Leek 6XI 4
LEEK went into their penultimate league game wanting to get back to the way they played at the beginning of the season – and a change in formation and style worked a treat.
Right from the start, the Moorlanders dominated play and pressed hard, giving their opposition no time at all.
It wasn't long before Leek took the lead with a good cross from Sokhal, which Spragg ran in at the near post to deftly lift the ball over the keeper and into the goal.
This spurred Leek into an even better period of play. The midfield of Hatcher, Hammond and Houston was moving the ball around well, and quick passing and great movement were key points.
Knott and Scriven provided the width and it was the latter who put Leek two goals ahead with a nice move from the right, beating two players and firing a reverse stick shot into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.
The defence of Arnold, Bedford and Gayes kept any Bridgnorth attack at bay, leaving keeper Knott with little to do.
The second half started much the same as the first, with Leek pressing hard and creating numerous chances, only to be thwarted by some good saves and bad luck.
Bridgnorth broke and from a good cross scored with a well-taken goal past Knott.
However, this pushed Leek into an even more dominant period of play.
It wasn't long before they won back their two-goal cushion from a short corner, which Spragg shimmied around the defender to fire into the corner.
Scriven went off injured to be replaced by man-of-the-match Tom Hatcher's dad, Mark.
Good play from Houston from a free hit released Spragg on top of the D and he secured his second hat-trick in two weeks.
Leek 7XI 0 Stone 4XI 4
WITH several players either not available or promoted to higher teams, Leek were going to struggle from the start.
The young players all performed well but shape and passing discipline deserted Leek.
Dan White again ran his socks off in midfield and man-of- the-match Tony Cummins, in goal, saved Leek from a heavy defeat.
Leek's young players should not be downhearted by the result, however.
In the second half, they threatened the Stone goal several times and had spells of very effective and skilful build-up play.
This week sees the last game of the season, away to Streetly
Leek 2XI 0 Stafford 1XI 4
LEEK knew they would be in for a challenging game and Stafford were determined to score early.
They succeeded – twice – while Leek were still settling down.
Marking was quickly amended in the defence of Sarah Brindley, Nikki Hambleton and Alex Binks, which allowed Leek to keep Stafford at bay for the rest of the first half.
Leek won multiple short corners, thanks to Kim Owen, Lucy Lee and Kirsty Sales, and Kate Jones was unlucky not to score.
Leek started the first 20 minutes of the second half as the better team, with fantastic play from Nikki Lockett, Hattie Barnes, Sammi Cope and Adele Latham.
After a dubious decision, Stafford broke away, leading to a two-on-one with Rhiannon Bedford which resulted in the third goal, despite the best efforts of Alex Binks.
Bedford made several saves to keep Leek in with a fighting chance, but Stafford scored a great goal across the D from a short corner.
Leek tired but were able to contain Stafford from extending their lead and were happy to finish the season well clear of the relegation zone.
Leek 3XI 3 Dudley 2XI 0
LEEK finished the season on a massive high.
The team came together for the last game and gave it their all for this convincing win.
Possession was kept throughout the game, and quick, short passes kept Dudley on their toes.
Lydia Whittaker was a goal shy of a hat-trick, scoring two excellent goals, while Carla Critchlow smashed one in from the right post.
Kim Sheldon ran rings around Dudley along with midfielders Kelly Downward, Jess Walsh and Charlotte Hudson, who all ran relentlessly.
Defenders Helen Early, Helen Hudson, Karen Smith and player-of-the-match Caroline Stone all had a brilliant game, fighting for the ball and leaving no chance of goal opportunities for Dudley.
Keeper Hannah Bolton made some cracking saves, including a cheeky dive, and even ventured out of her comfort zone to meet the ball.
Rosie Doble-Ober, playing sweeper, was indestructible, covering every part of the pitch.
A club spokesman said: "Everyone played with such spirit and should all be proud to finish the season the way they did."
Stafford 5XI 1 Leek 4XI 0
LEEK travelled to local rivals Stafford for their last game of the season, knowing that a win or draw would give them a well-deserved seventh place.
However, Leek were destined not to get the result they wanted.
As usual, the Moorlanders were forced to shuffle the line-up based on availabilities.
Leek looked to take the game to Stafford as soon as the match began. The defence of Frodsham, Smith and Johnson held firm and gave Mart the chance to shine again in the sweeper role again.
This meant that Hall moved into centre midfield again with Cunningham.
Despite this early pressure, Leek could not get the goal they needed and even when the dependable duo of Boulton and Lilley had short corners, they could not convert, due to some excellent last-ditch defending from the home side.
As the half went on, Bailey was called upon to keep Leek in the game and, as usual, she was up for the challenge and made some good saves.
Leek also came more into the game with Johnson and Hulme giving plenty of width to the game – but Leek could not find the goal they needed.
To their credit, the Moorlanders tried everything in the second half, but even when Allen and Riley were introduced, they could not get enough passing together to really threaten the Stafford goal.
Late in the half, Stafford eventually broke through and despite a good save from Bailey, they managed to force the second shot home to give them victory.
The player-of-the-match was Lucy Mart for another excellent performance – although several of her team-mates challenged for the honour.