By Chris Gibbs
Leek edge the Boxing Day derby with late winner
After three weeks kicking our heels waiting for the winter to thaw, we finally got back in action on Boxing Day with a north Staffordshire derby against high-flying Leek.
Unfortunately, the enforced lay-off courtesy of the sub-zero temperatures for much of December, didn’t work to our advantage as a late tap-in from Tom Carr handed all three points to our promotion-chasing rivals.
Robin made two changes from the side that lost narrowly at home to Workington at the start of the month with Ethan Vale and Jack van der Laan coming back into the starting XI –Connor Russo and Kyle Stubbs dropping to the bench.
This was a typical Boxing Day derby in many respects. It wasn’t necessarily a great spectacle but there was very little to separate the sides. Joe Slinn tipped over an early strike from Tim Grice but we had a golden chance of our own when Callum Lovatt headed a great chance wide.
It was nip and tuck right up to the break but then disaster struck. A set-piece broke to former ‘Castle player and Leek skipper Marc Grocott, who got off as pure a strike as you’re likely to see but which was straight at Joe Slinn. However, Slinn couldn’t handle the pace of the hit and pushed it over his line to give our Moorlands visitors a half-time 1-0 lead.
The second half continued in much the same vein with both teams giving full commitment but with neither goalkeeper being unduly tested.
It seemed that the turning point had arrived in the 73rd minute when Leek’s no.9 Tim Grice wastefully fired over having checked onto his right foot to get a shot off, as five minutes later referee David Critchlow pointed to the spot for handball and Jack van der Laan thumped home the resulting spot-kick.
A draw would have been about right on the day but there was one more twist to come. Leek attacked down the right, the ball travelled all the way across our six-yard box and Tom Carr tapped home at the back post to keep Leek’s promotion challenge very much on track.
It’s no win in five for Castle but this performance was very encouraging – something that Robin was keen and right to allude to in his post-match interview.
To see Robin's post-match interview, click here!
We now move on to Kidsgrove in January…