Several changes to the Leek side were on hand after the 2 week Christmas break as Luke Hardern returned at No8 with Simon Drew starting at open side and Luke Staton at blindside.
Tom Sims and Ed Harrison were at lock. Luke Grainger was back at hooker with John Brookes and Bobby Cheadle at prop.
Dan Needham and Gary McDermott were at half back. Liam McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centre as James Floyd returned to the wing with jack Newton taylor and Sam Hunt making up the back 3.
Jason Milner, Rob McDermott and Andy McFadden were on the bench.
On a grey, still day the match kicked off with Leek out of the starting blocks quickly and applying plenty of pressure. At a 5th minute scrum on Stoke’s 5 metre line, the Leek forwards won a penalty as the Stoke forwards prevented the drive illegally but the penalty was reversed st Jack Taylor was penalised for over rucking.
3 minutes later and Stoke won a penalty and kicked to Leek’s 22. Leek was caught offside on their own 10 metre line and the Stoke wing duly converted to open the scoring at 0-3.
2 minutes later and another Stoke penalty for not releasing allowed Stoke to double their lead to 0-6.
From the kick-off, Luke Staton was lucky not to receive a yellow card for a tackle in the air and then on 20 minutes a Bobby Cheadle high tackle gave the Stoke kicker his 3rd attempt at goal, but this one fell wide and short.
Leek needed to get a grip of their discipline and concentrate on retaining possession as they still enjoyed plenty of the ball and territory and on 28 minutes Gary McDermott’s clever kick towards the Stoke goal line had a hurried clearance finding McDermott again. He launched a counter attack from halfway inside the Stoke half as Leek’s forwards finally held onto the ball and drove at the heart of the Stoke defence. Good patience and retention made the hard yards pay off as Ed Harrison crashed over for the opening try of the game. McDermott’s good conversion followed and Leek had taken the lead at 7-6.
On 31 minutes, Leek won a penalty for offside and another 10 metres for appeal. The lineout gave Leek the chance for another a score and Stoke’s defence held the strong Leek challenge. Leek was patient though and as the ball came out of the last ruck the backs had the chance 10 metres out but a kick for the corner was easily marked by the Stoke wing and he cleared but only to his own 22 metre. The lineout then developed into a maul and Leek won a penalty for in at the side and Gary McDermott increased leek’s lead to 10-6 on 34 minutes.
Leek needed to maintain their approach and not concede any penalties to take a lead into half time and although they managed not to give a penalty away a flowing Stoke back’s move down the left on 41 minutes saw a great tackle by Sam Hunt prevent a score but the support was good and the Stoke scrum half darted under the posts to score the visitors first try. The conversion was easy and the half ended disappointingly for leek at 10-13.
The 2nd half opened brightly for the Moorlanders as they turned the ball over on their own 22 on 43 minutes. Slick hands on the left allowed Jack Newton Taylor to sprint 70 metres down the touchline and score a fabulous try. It was topped off superbly with a touchline conversion from McDermott to hand Leek the lead back at 17-13.
The remainder of the 2nd half was played almost entirely in the Leek half as Stoke began to enjoy almost all the possession and territory with Leek bravely turning over the ball at crucial times. Despite Luke Granger being yellow carded in the 55th minute and Stoke spurning an easy 3 points, the Leek 15 was restored on 67 minutes with the lead still intact.
Stoke threw everything at Leek but the defence was tremendous with Simon Drew having a storming game and the backs preventing any major breaks through their lines. As time ticked away and added time was being played Leek found themselves in possession on half way. Their ruck was overturned. Stoke then won a penalty midway between the 22 and half way. A quick tap and break saw Leek offend within 10 metres. This time the penalty was on the Leek 22 and the last play saw a quick break right for the wing to score in the corner. The conversion missed and Stoke had, in the end, stolen the game with the last play.
Leek’s heroic defence in the 2nd half nearly denied Stoke a win and although the result was incredibly hard to take, the Leek squad can take many positives from the match.
Another bonus point was added to the Leek points total although they drop to 9th place.
This Saturday, Leek is travelling to Stratford on Avon to play a side which is definitely improving as the season progresses and confirmed with a stunning away win at Kenilworth this Saturday.
The squad is travelling by coach this Saturday. If you want to support the team and travel, please meet at 1015 at the clubhouse.