LATE GOAL ECSTACY...
The high end of season drama continued at Harrison Park on Saturday with Blues still in with an outside chance of making the play-offs providing they beat Shepshed and one of either Sheffield or Belper slip up reports Mike Cope.
As the drama unfolded, Blues were leading 3-0 with just 12 minutes remaining when news filtered through that Belper were being held to a draw by New Mills leaving Leek to find two more goals to reach the play-offs.
Tim Grice netted a fourth to complete a memorable hat-trick and time was running out when Dan Cope produced a piece of magic to net the all-important fifth just three minutes from normal time.
News then filtered through that Belper had drawn and Leek were through after points and goal difference failed to separate the two sides.
The celebrations began after some quick calculations revealed that Blues had pipped Belper on goals scored.
After the game Blues’ boss Lee Casswell said, “Well we didn’t think it would pan out like that – the players were absolutely magnificent.
“It was a fantastic day for the club but it’s not over yet with two more games possible in the play-offs.
“We’ll be up against good sides in the semi and possible final but I think we are good enough now to win promotion.
“I’ve never experienced anything like the scenes at Harrison Park after the game – it was very emotional and there were one or two tears shed after the final whistle.
“I don’t normally single out players – they were all magnificent on the day - but special mention must go to Tim Grice for his hat trick and also to Ben Chapman with that penalty save but local lad Dan Cope set us on our way and then got the vital fifth goal to send us through – he-s a very clever player”, he added.
Casswell kept faith with the side that did so well at Belper earlier in the week but with Matt Haddrell in his more familiar up-front role with Tim Grice and Dan Cope in support.
Leek withstood some early pressure from Shepshed but came close to opening the scoring in the 13th minute when Matt Bell drove a 22-yard free kick over the crossbar.
A minute later Haddrell headed the ball on for Grice who made ground before crossing low into the box but Cope’s shot was blocked as was the follow-up effort from Ricky Bridge.
In the 16th minute Leek won two free kicks in quick succession and from the second Tim Sanders won a corner that was headed on by Cope for Haddrell who looped a header into the keeper’s arms.
Three minutes later Sanders played another free kick to Haddrell at the far post and the big striker turned his marker to get in a shot that was cleared off the line.
Haddrell saw another effort tipped round the upright by the keeper in the 23rd minute and when the corner came in Grice headed over the crossbar.
Shepshed then enjoyed a ten minute spell without troubling Ben Chapman in the Leek goal but Blues calmed the nerves when they took the lead in the 38th minute.
Cope swapped passes with Haddrell before bursting into the box to sting the keeper’s hands with his first shot but the ball fell kindly and Cope nipped in to lash the loose ball home.
In added time Leek came close to extending their lead when Sanders and Anthony Danylyk combined to set up Grice who drove wide of the target.
Shepshed manager Chris White, the former Leek midfielder, replaced himself during the break and sent on young winger Rob Mulonga whilst Blues remained unchanged.
Within three minutes of the restart Sanders whipped a corner in to the box and Haddrell headed on for Cope but his looping, angled shot clipped the crossbar.
In the 54th minute Blues put a lovely five-man move together but Grice’s shot was well covered by the keeper.
However, Grice wasn’t to be denied and he was in the right place at the right time when Sanders’ low cross-shot was missed by the visitor’s defence leaving Grice to tap the ball over the line and double the lead.
On the hour mark Cope collected a ball from the right to play it through for Grice who miss-hit his shot wide.
In the 67th minute Sanders hit a free kick into the box that was headed out to Danylyk but his teasing cross was claimed by the keeper.
Two minutes later Grice netted his second when a free kick was played up to him on the edge of the box where he turned past his marker to smash a superb shot into the bottom corner,
Sheffield and Belper were both winning at this stage and in the 73rd minute Grice set Cope up but his shot was cleared off the line as the nerves set in again.
Disaster struck in the 75th minute when Matt Bradbury was adjudged to have brought down Mulonga inside the box but Chapman went the right way to superbly save Tom Maddison’s penalty kick.
Three minutes later Grice completed his hat-trick when he cut in from the right to lash the ball home.
News then filtered through that Sheffield were still winning but Belper had conceded an equaliser.
Instructions then went out from the Blues’ dug-out that they needed another goal to reach the play-offs.
Leek piled forward throwing caution to the wind and in the 79th minute Cope set up Grice but the dragged his shot across the face of goal.
Five minutes from time Shepshed striker Steve Chaplin saw his shot well covered by Chapman and from the clearance Blues’ sub Oliver Edwards delayed a shot from the edge of the box and the chance was lost.
However, the all-important fifth goal arrived in the 87th minute when Cope ran down the middle at the Shepshed defence before lifting a superb shot over the keeper into the back of the net – and the roof fell in as they say.
With the game in added time, news that Belper had only managed a draw came through and at the final whistle the celebrations began.
Leek: Chapman, Sanders, Bell, Guthrie, Danylyk (Edwards 84), Bradbury, Grice, Bridge (Nixon 53), Haddrell, Cope, Woolliscroft. Unused sub: Millar, Turner, Mellor.
Shepshed: Martin, Sturgess, Z Jenkins, White (Mulonga 45), Screaton, Hore, Martin, Maddison, Chaplin, Simmonds (J Jenkins 69), O’Connoe. Unused subs: Krasniqi, Brewer.
Cards: Cope - yellow
Star man: Ash Woolliscroft.