LEEK TOWN 6
ROCESTER'S hopes of lifting the Don Hill Memorial Trophy were dashed by a top-class display from Northern Premier League Division One title hopefuls Leek Town at Hillsfield.
The visitors took an early lead through Tim Grice, who went on to complete his hat-trick, and despite the Romans' commendable efforts the gulf between the two sides was evident, with a scintillating spell from Leek immediately after the interval proving decisive.
Allwyn Thompson could have put the Romans ahead on five minutes when he went one-on-one with Leek keeper Ben Chapman but he failed to hit the target.
It was the visitors who struck twice in quick succession.
Romans keeper Richard Froggatt (pictured) did well to stop Grice's initial shot, but was unable to prevent the Leek man stroking home the follow-up on seven minutes.
Four minutes later the visitors added a second when the linesman's flag was overruled allowing Sam Hall to break clear and finish.
Leek could have added a third on 17 minutes when a neat reverse ball from Matt Bell played in Mitch Husbands but the striker blazed over at the near post.
Rocester pulled a goal back on 20 minutes when Chapman flapped at a dangerous free kick into the box by Thompson, palming the ball out to Ward who headed home.
A good spell for the Romans ensued and Dan Brown almost created a goal when he held the ball up well under pressure before turning and driving an inviting ball into the box which was hacked clear by Karl Espley.
However, the visitors proved they were a threat on the break with Grice hitting the post and Romans skipper Carl Allen making a brave block on a shot by Hall.
Only a superlative stop from Chapman denied Brown the equaliser when the striker's shot took a deflection which looked to have wrong-footed the keeper but he somehow changed direction to hold the ball at full stretch.
However, having worked hard to stay in touch with the visitors at the break, some sloppy defending by the Romans allowed Grice to net from close range a minute before the half-time whistle.
Worse was to come for Rocester, as the introduction of former Crewe Alexandra player Dan Shelley proved Leek had the capacity to step up a gear. Shelley was involved in a slick move five minutes after the interval which ended with Grice rounding Froggatt for his hat-trick.
Shelley then got on the score sheet himself, taking a touch to control the ball 25-yards out before unleashing an unstoppable shot which fizzed home inside Froggatt's right-hand post.
Shelley grabbed his second of the game, timing his run to perfection to defy the offside trap, taking the ball past the exposed Froggatt before knocking it home.
The Romans had been shaken by the turn of events, but Ward had an effort which forced a corner, while Aaron Dillon's shot from distance almost caught out Leek keeper Bradley Moorhead.
Leek's free-flowing forward line continued to create chances, with Grice dragging a shot across the face of goal and Bell blazing over the bar.
The Romans tightened things up at the back with Dillon having come on at full-back and Richard Foster joining Dan Wain in the centre.
Wain did well to out-muscle Darren Baker, while Froggatt made an excellent save to tip over Bell's free-kick.
GOALS: Ward 20 (Romans) Grice 7, 44, 51, Hall 11, Shelley 59, 63 (Leek)
ROMANS: Froggatt, Nutt, Beardsley, Brannan, Allen, Wain, Ward, Upton, Grocott, Brown, Thompson, Subs used: Riddell, Dillon, Foster, Bullock.
LEEK: Chapman, Smith, Jackson, Espley, Chadwick, Hall, Donnelly, Maguire, Grice, Husbands, Bell, Subs used: Kinsey, Thomson, Shelley, Baker, Moorhead.
REFEREE: P Stonier (Stoke on Trent)