Burton were unbeaten away from home this season in the league, so Leek’s decisive win at Esterchem Park shows just how far the Moorlanders have come since Ian Gittens and Chris Mudd took over coaching duties some 5 years ago.
The manner of the win was no less impressive as Leek matched Burton in every phase of the game except the scrum and indeed in kicking, defence and discipline, let alone outscoring the visitors by 2 tries to 1, the Moorlanders were better.
Leek welcomed back Luke Granger to hooker, Luke Staton to No.8, Ad Nettel to the flank, Ian Harris to scrum half and Nick Palmer to the wing as the home side took to the field on a still cold day with underfoot conditions not too bad at all in front of 250 spectators.
Leek had a 4th minute chance to open the scoring when Burton were penalised for offside at the ruck, but Gary McDermott’s long range effort missed and on 11 minutes a similar effort from Burton, as Leek’s scrum was penalised, fell short.
Leek’s scrum was under pressure from the bigger Burton 8 and the home side couldn’t get any front foot ball as the opening quarter ended with an injury to a Burton prop and to Jack Newton Taylor who limped off with a twisted ankle. Still, in open play, it was a good game and Leek were giving as good as they received.
On 24 minutes, Burton won another penalty, but the kick strayed dead in goal and then on 29 minutes Leek won a penalty for offside. The kick was in front of the posts and McDermott made no mistake as Leek took a 3-0 lead.
On 33 minutes, aerial ping pong resulted in Burton’s full back retrieving his own kick in Leek’s half and then a deft chip into Leek’s 22 had the defence conceding a 5 metre scrum. Leek’s defensive scrum had just enough disruption on it to make Burton play the ball out, but Leek were then penalised for not releasing in the tackle. The penalty attempt from Burton missed and then Luke Hardern came on for Ed Harrison on 35 minutes.
As the half reached stoppage time, Burton were pressing in Leek’s 22, but the Burton lock was then penalised in midfield. He was yellow carded as Liam McDermott left the field to ice the injury down.
This proved costly for Burton as Leek then went on to score 10 points in the remaining overtime in the first half.
From the lineout in Burton’s half following the penalty, Luke Granger made a break and 2 rucks later, the ball went blind and James Floyd sprinted in for the game’s opening try. McDermott converted and Leek were up to 10-0.
Leek had their tails up now and Granger was on the charge again into Burton’s 22. Burton were then penalised for offside and McDermott concluded the first half with a well taken penalty goal to leave Leek leading 13-0.
The 2nd half started fruitfully for Leek as Burton were penalised for obstruction at the kick off. McDermott’s attempt was good and at 16-0, Burton needed 3 scores to win from here.
The East Staffs men then upped their game and only a superb hold up over the line prevented a score on 42 minutes. The scrum on Leek’s 5 metre line allowed the Burton forwards to batter the Leek line and then a superb kick for the wing allowed him to gather and score in the right corner on 44 minutes. The conversion missed but at 16-5, it was game very much on.
3 minutes later though, it was Leek on the scoreboard again as they won a penalty for not releasing. Ian Harris took a quick tap and won another 10 metres from which point Gary McDermott slotted his 4th penalty to increase Leek’s lead to 19-5.
Back came Burton and on 51 minutes the forwards were held up over the Leek line. The scrum followed and then a penalty. A quick tap and a try looked on, but a forward pass was given and Burton’s chance had gone.
The next 20 minutes saw both sets of forwards trying to dominate each other but Leek were just as strong as their opponents and gradually Leek were getting on top as Burton tried to create the space.
On 77 minutes Ed Harrison was yellow carded for offside as Leek took a team yellow and then Tom Sims came off injured. Still Leek pressed and as they dropped the ball on the Burton 22, a kick through saw Ian Harris retrieve the ball in midfield. He was then caught on the ground and Burton suffered another yellow card as Leek’s scrum half took a knock on 82 minutes.
The game was stretched now and still Leek were coming forward. They turned over a ball midway in Burton’s half on 88 minutes and Liam McDermott chipped the ball down the line. Ian Harris retrieved it, set up a couple of rucks, sucked the Burton defence in and then good passing along the line gave James Floyd a one on one and he duly stepped inside to score a fine try. The conversion hit the post from McDermott, but Leek had ended the game in fine style and closed out the game at 24-5.
The win sets up a semi-final tie with Lichfield at Esterchem Park. The game has to be played before March 31st, 2014.
The other semi-final is between Longton and Walsall.
Leek’s nonstop competitive league and cup action through December is set to continue into January 2014 as Stafford visit Esterchem Park on January 4th in the return league fixture.
On January 11th, Leek travel to Tamworth before entertaining Wolverhampton on January 18th.