With Christmas coming as well, the Moorlanders were surprised to learn the game was on as the snow fell in Leek on Saturday morning after a hard frost.
Nevertheless a Leek side of promise in the backs and lacking 3 of their top players in the forwards, including skipper Luke Hardern, produced a very good performance against
a side that went 2nd in the league after this match.
Rob McDermott, Will Graham and Tom Scragg were the back 3 with Nick Palmer and Gary McDermott in the centre. Sam Hunt and Ollie drew were at half back.
Lee Williams and Bobby and Ed Cheadle made up the front row with Andy Thompson joining Ben Barlow at lock in the absence of Luke Harden.
Jake Bainbridge’s versatility came in again as the sometime prop and flanker started at No.8 with George Hunt and returning veteran Luke Granger on the flanks.
Ryan Day, Matt Leadingham and Nick Thompson were on the bench.
Spartans pitch slopes downfield and the home side elected to defend it in the first half, so Leek knew they had to score points in this half to have a chance themselves of defending the slope in the 2nd half.
So, it was an early blow on 4 minutes when Nick Palmer gave away a penalty for a deliberate knock on in front of the posts and the Spartans 10 duly slotted the goal to give them an early 3-0 lead.
Leek then started to retain possession and make good territory for the next 15 minutes and on 21 minutes, a lineout 10 metres from the Spartans line produced a catch and drive and then a series of rucks near the goal line before Lee Williams crashed over for a try.
Gary McDermott converted and Leek took the lead at 3-7.
From the kick-off though Leek were penalised for in at side of the ruck but the penalty attempt was pulled wide and thereafter it was all Leek for the remainder of the half as they tried to convert a number of penalties into tries from lineouts.
Will Graham came close on 30 minutes with a sprint down the left wing but put a foot in touch. In good positions, Leek were then penalised for stupid errors as their urgency to score lost them discipline.
Then as the half closed with Leek winning another penalty in the Spartans 22, George Hunt was yellow carded for a stamping, he knew nothing about.
Then as the 8th minute of stoppage time was being played the Spartans 6 was shown a yellow card and McDermott converted the penalty to extend the Moorlanders lead to 3-10 as the half ended.
The 2nd half started with Leek defending well as the slope didn’t appear to give either side a material advantage at that stage, but on 55 minutes, Leek was penalised for not releasing in the tackle and the lineout catch and drive saw the Spartans forwards crash over for the score.
The conversion from the right was missed but at 8-10, it looked like a difficult ask to hold the lead for Leek for the next 25 minutes.
However, despite numerous promising opportunities, the Spartans backs contrived to make too many mistakes and Leek’s defence was generally very good and it looked increasingly likely Leek could hold on and on 77 minutes, a break in the centre by Gary McDermott, had quick ball right and a great chance for a try in the corner but a knock on prevented what looked like a golden chance to put the game out of reach for the home side.
Then disaster struck as Spartans piled pressure on after a couple of penalty awards. In the 85th minute, a Spartans penalty on the right of the goal was coolly converted to hand them a last minute lead at 11-10.
Still from the urgent kick off, Leek won the ball and then lost it and then Spartans knocked on. From the scrum Spartans were penalised and Gary McDermott had a last kick of the match to win the game for Leek. From 40 metres, the kick was pulled inches wide and the spoils went to the home side.
There was nothing between the sides really on a cold, dark afternoon where both sides gave a good display of open rugby.
Leek will look back on this with satisfaction as few sides have taken points here.
Andy Thompson played superbly at lock and skipper for the day, Ed Cheadle led by example.
Leek took away a losing bonus point but dropped to 6th as Tamworth beat Kidderminster. Veseyans beat Crewe, so Spartans moved to 2nd.
Next league game is on January 6th when Leek entertain Veseyans in the first of the return matches. On January 13th, Leek travel to Walsall before the big cup day against Droitwich at EsterChem Park on January 20th
Happy Christmas to all club members and friends and see you all on Boxing Day morning for the annual 3rds v Veterans match. Anyone bringing kit can play, in this end of year bash. Please arrive around 10am.
Author John McDermott