England Hockey League
Leek 1XI 5 Sheffield Hallam 1XI 3
ATTACK-MINDED Leek ended table-topping Sheffield Hallam's four match winning streak with a thrilling 5-3 victory on Saturday.
Faced with a side who had averaged more than three goals per game Leek's management and senior players opted to fight fire with fire. And in an open game the early exchanges demonstrated that both sides offered attacking threat and the ability to create space.
Ben White drove hard behind the Sheffield defence in a move straight from Thursday training to earn an early penalty corner. The set play failed to provide a textbook finish - but White was on hand to finish from close range and give Leek a sixth minute advantage.
The hosts immediately grew in confidence and looked for a second but Sheffield showed plenty of steel on the counter-attack and claimed a penalty corner of their own. Corner specialist Phil Roper put the chance away on 34 minutes and the game was all square.
Sheffield suddenly began to enjoy the better of the exchanges and pushed forward. Stalwart defender Jon Harper then received a green card followed by a yellow in quick succession which left home supporters and Leek players alike bemused. With the visitors on top Brazier made a series of smart saves to keep out a succession of Sheffield corners. But he was powerless to prevent Mike Shaw firing home to give the Yorkshire outfit a 2-1 advantage at half time.
Leek survived the remaining sin-bin period and after returning to a full contingent of players set out to change the game in the second half. This subsequent period of 10 minutes showed the real difference between the sides as Leek demonstrated unwavering belief while the visitors Sheffield faltered.
A loose ball bobbled around the Sheffield circle and somehow ended up in the corner of the net. A vociferous protest led to a sin-binning for a Sheffield player and Leek had momentum and the numerical advantage in their favour.
The hosts attacked with flair and pace which earned a corner. The O’Neil/Nixon switch routine caught Sheffield flat-footed and the home side were in front once again. Further protests from Sheffield led to another player being sent to the sin-bin and Leek were even further in the ascendency.
Sheffield looked to keep possession in a bid to run down time and get their players back. But Leek refused to rest on their slender advantage as Peter Sekula urged the players forward to win the ball and attack. Possession was turned over numerous times and chances for the Moorlanders both arrived and went begging. The relentless pressure continued and led to another penalty corner. Paul Dawson continued his fine form from set plays and scored again to give Leek a 4-2 lead.
With their full quota restored Sheffield rallied once more and from a counter-attack secured a penalty corner. A less pacey strike fooled the Leek defence and suddenly their was just one goal between the side. Elliot White then created three chances to put the game beyond Sheffield but was unable to find the killer blow following some sublime skills.
However, it was White who won the decisive penalty corner which ended Sheffield's challenge - and prompted the umpire to reduce the undisciplined Sheffield to 10 men once again. Paul Nixon stepped up to put away the penalty corner to complete a thrilling home victory. Leek coach Kev Heath said: "Sheffield will no doubt have a large part to play in the championship race and Leek have shown that they can score goals against anybody in a very even league."
On Sunday Leek travel to Manchester to take on new league leaders Bowdon.