Firstly, many older members, VPs, sponsors and friends of the club enjoyed the pre match buffet before witnessing a hard fought match at F Ball Park with the Moorlanders coming out on top for the first time against their Warwickshire visitors.
Spartans were still trying to remove the last vestige of doubt surrounding relegation fears this season and a victory would have secured that and even a losing bonus point would probably have sufficed, but in the end, a dogged Leek performance ensured that Spartans will have to go to their last game against Aston Old Eds to complete the job.
147 spectators watched as Leek kicked off with the cool breeze slightly behind them in the 1st half, but it was the visitors who started strongly and it was clear that they were going to use their big forwards to control the ball and make ground before releasing their backs.
On 3 minutes they took the lead with a penalty for offside midway in Leek’s half in front of the posts and the scrum half made no mistake with the accurate kick as Spartans led 3-0.
On 8 minutes, Leek were level when they too won a penalty, after the ball was moved quickly right and left, catching the backs offside. Jake Green’s unerring left boot brought Leek level at 3 all.
5 minutes later and Green kicked delightfully into the corner from his own 22, but Spartans’ lineout was solid and they cleared.
On 20 minutes, Leek’s backs made a quick break from the back of a ruck and Spartans backs were caught offside again on their own 5 metre line in the right hand corner. Leek kicked for the 5 metre lineout from which they caught and drove for the line. Spartans forwards dropped the maul and Leek had another penalty. This time they tapped it and drove for the ruck. Another Spartan offence for slowing the ball saw the referee lose patience with infringements close to the try line and the tight head prop was yellow carded and Leek decided to give Green another penalty attempt which he duly despatched to give Leek the lead for the first time at 6-3.
Still these setbacks didn’t stop the adventure and commitment from the visitors and the won a penalty on 24 minutes as Leek slowed the ball at the ruck. The attempt hit the post and Andy McFadden cleaned up. The clearance kick didn’t find touch, but the good chase out by the Leek backs saw them infringe again and the Spartans scrum half tried to kick for the corner, but his kick went dead instead and allowed Leek to clear.
Leek’s scrum had been under pressure all game as the bigger scrum allowed the clever No8 to pick up ball when he wanted, but Leek’s back row made it difficult and Spartans found it hard to get any flow to their game in critical parts of the field.
As the yellow carded prop came back on, it was a measure of the Spartans determination that Leek couldn’t score any points, but on 32 minutes, after a steal in the tackle, Leek won another penalty for not releasing at the next tackle and Green’s attempt from the Spartans 10 metre line sailed through the uprights to extend the Leek lead to 9-3.
The half ended with both sides attacking from their respective strengths but defences were in command and no further score was recorded.
Half time Leek 9-3 Spartans
The 2nd half continued as the first with defences generally on top but on 50 minutes a great break by the Spartans outside centre saw him get into the Leek 22 before George Hunt stole the ball from him and Leek cleared.
A minute later and a maul by the Spartans pack from half way moved 10 metres forward before it was dropped illegally and Tom Sims found himself yellow carded for the offence. When he came back on the field Spartans hadn’t taken advantage of the man over and then on 71 minutes the decisive moment in the game came when a Jake Green kick found space over the right wing and into the Spartans 22. The full back and wing combined to get out of the 22, but in the tackle, Joe Newton Taylor stole the ball and set up a ruck. Quick ball to the back ensued and another 2 quick rucks in centre field on the Spartans 22 left the defence struggling and when the Leek forwards entered the fray, they set up a maul on the 22 and drove the defence over the line for another Jason Milner try under the posts. Green converted and at 16-3 with 9 minutes remaining, it looked like the game was won and lost.
2 minutes later however, Spartans had a great chance denied them when with what looked like a clear overlap, the referee blew for the safety of an outstretched Nick Palmer on the ground, as he ran past him. The frustration of the visitors was all too evident and it clearly wasn’t going to be their day as Jake Green added a further 3 points with the last action of the game when he converted a penalty from 40 metres for a holding on offence.
A very tough battle had been won for Leek to record their 13th win of the league season. It kept them in 4th place as Bridgnorth beat Stafford and Tamworth won a close match against Burntwood.
Next week, Leek travels to Tamworth for the last league game and Bridgnorth travels to 6th place Moseley Oak whereupon 3rd, 4th and 5th places will be decided.