"POOR defending cost us" admitted manager Lee Casswell after Leek Town's charge up the First Division South table came to an abrupt halt at Carlton on Saturday. The Millers ran in three goals in a devastating first-half spell of just eight spells. Tim Grice sandwiched a goal in between Carlton's first two and Blues went on to dominate the second half. Matt Haddrell gave the away side hope on 73 minutes but the equaliser failed to arrived for a side who hit the woodwork no fewer than three times.
Casswell said: "I was really disappointed with the result and the manner in which we defended in the opening 20 minutes or so. Going 3-1 down inside 20 minutes gave us a lot to do but after that we played really well and were the better side.
"Poor defending cost us dearly. We spoke to George (Melling) and Michael (Thomas) during half time. We were far better in the second half and almost pulled it off.
"Now we will start again to put another run together starting with the League Cup game at Trafford on Tuesday (last night) where we will field a strong side because we want to do well in the competition."
Casswell went into the game - which kicked off in atrocious conditions - with the same starting line-up that won handsomely at home to Hucknall four days earlier. Leek were the first to show, putting a good move together that saw Dan Shelley play the ball wide to Tom Urwin who found Grice only for the keeper to block his shot.
The Millers responded when a free-kick was headed clear but only as far as Josh Thornton who lifted his shot over the cross-bar. In the 8th minute the hosts went close once again. Ruben Wiggins-Thomas headed down for Sam MacVicar who lifted his shot over from a good position.
Blues were guilty of some sloppy defending just four minutes later to gift Carlton the opener. A simple ball over the top found Wiggins-Thomas free on goal and he rounded Daniel Lloyd-Weston to drill home from a tight angle.
A Michael Thomas’s clearance was headed on Tim Grice who fired wide of the far post before the visitors drew level on 16 minutes. Urwin and Danny Smith combined down the left with the latter providing the low cross which Grice slammed into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
The Blues celebrations lasted just one minute. Jordan Vilums' run went unchecked and he crossed into the box for Sam MacVicar to drive a rising shot into the roof of the net. It got worse for the away side in the 20th minute when Luke Smithson lashed home.
Grice almost pulled one back in the 23rd minute after being teed up by Urwin but was twice denied by the home keeper. Kearney had to be alert again just 60 seconds later to snuff out anther promising move.
Grice then rattled the Carlton crossbar before Tim Sanders crossed for Matt Haddrell who headed straight at the keeper. Blues went on to win an unproductive series of corners and free-kicks before they found the woodwork once again in the 42nd minute. Dan Shelley crossed and this time it was Haddrell whose header clipped the crossbar. Kearney arched his back just a minute later to superbly tip over the bar from Shelley and before Haddrell shot wide with the final kick of the first half.
The visitors continue to threaten after the break. Kearney blocked a Sanders shot. A mistake by the Carlton defence saw Grice fire wide of the far post. A Sanders free-kick then found Michael Thomas whose shot was blocked while Grice's follow-up met with the same outcome.
Urwin cut in from the left in the 59th minute but shot inches wide. Carlton won three corners in quick succession before Blues won another free kick in the 68th minute. But when the clearance fell to Thomas he snatched at the shot which cleared the crossbar.
In the 73rd minute Blues were on the attack again and a thunderous angled shot from Sanders thudded into the woodwork before being cleared. Leek’s pressure paid off just one minute later when a high ball into the Carlton box saw Haddrell rise highest to loop a clever header over both his marker and the keeper.
Blues could sense an equaliser and Grice went close again in the 82nd minute when his volley on the turn flew narrowly wide of the far post. In the dying minutes Blues escaped the offside flag. The ball was worked square for substitute Ricky Bridge who drove a shot wide three minutes in what proved Leek's last chance to salvage a point.