FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Saturday 3rd September 2016
Ten man Brakes produced their worst performance of the season so far as they were dumped out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by Midland League Highgate United.
A clearly frustrated Connor Gudger was shown a second yellow card late on, presumably for dissent, but the tie was already long gone despite Jack Edwards heading a well taken consolation as the hosts had already netted three of their own.
This tie provided a throwback to the kind of challenge Brakes faced on a weekly basis back in the Midland Combination days, when Highgate were regular opponents for three seasons. The hosts had even thrown in several new faces to add to the authenticity but Leamington were for some reason simply not up to the task, while their opponents were very clearly ‘up for the cup.’
Rob Thompson-Brown saw an early shot blocked on the edge of the area, while Ahmed Obeng laced a shot high over the bar from outside the box. Tony Breeden made the decision to change his boots after an early slip while making a clearance, and Obeng miscued a header from Lee Moore’s right wing cross, then snatching at a shot after the ball was returned to him as he tried to play in Ryan Rowe, but the effort was straightforward enough for Gate keeper Brendan Bunn.
The game was scrappy in the first 25 minutes with a myriad of offside decisions against both sides and passes going astray, but the hosts were looking to get at their higher ranked visitors at every opportunity and came close when Tom Lacey’s cross deflected off Gudger and looped just over the bar.
Highgate were handed the chance to go in front when the nippy McCauley Manning used the bounce of the ball to get the wrong side of Gudger on the left, tearing into the box before being sent flying under a challenge. Lei Brown stepped up and sent Breeden the wrong way, placing the ball low to his left. Those among the travelling support who were present at the pre season fixture at The Coppice took solace in the fact that Brakes had gone a goal behind before coming back to win reasonably comfortably, but it became increasingly evident that this was not going to be the case here.
Moore did well to hook in a first time effort from the right wing that Bunn held under his crossbar, while Brown hooked a shot over the bar from between two Leamington defenders on the edge of the box. Gudger then miscued a defensive header, letting in Isaac Jagroop for a shot that was deflected behind for a corner.
Aaron Brown earned himself a booking for bringing down Obeng in full flight, and Thompson-Brown came closest to a leveller when his free kick whistled just past the angle of post and bar, before his volley from a good position unfortunately struck Gudger and flew behind.
Rowe had a great chance to at least test Bunn early in the second half but was unable to get the ball out from under his feet, mis-kicking from 6 yards out. Darren Pond was then denied as he tried to head past Bunn just inside the box, the keeper being fouled by his own player Connor Mooney.
The tie slipped further away from Leamington eight minutes into the second half when they were made to look decidedly foolish by a very cute free kick routine from Highgate, the ball appearing to be passed low behind the defensive wall by former Brakes midfielder Josh Hawker. Manning was first to react and slid it into the centre where it was scrambled home by Scott Turner in the six yard box.
Just past the hour Thompson-Brown finally forced Bunn into a proper save, the young keeper flying to his left to keep out a stinging volley. It was to get worse for Leamington however, Brown heading in Hawker’s right wing corner from close range to put Highgate almost out of sight.
There were half hearted shouts for a penalty when Pond appeared to be pulled down in the box but in truth Leamington simply weren’t doing anywhere near enough to put their hosts under pressure that might have made them crack. Rowe held the ball up well for Thompson-Brown to fire in a shot that was deflected behind, and Edwards did manage to pull a goal back with 20 minutes or so remaining when his looping header from Thompson-Brown’s cross found the far corner, but Brakes quickly needed another if they were claw their way back into this game, and other than a brief scramble where Thompson-Brown and Pond both had shots blocked, it never looked likely to materialise.
Edwards headed well over from a corner, Jamie Hood was livid with himself as he headed straight into the arms of Bunn and Gudger summed up the collective frustration of all connected with Leamington when was ordered off after two late bookings, leaving Highgate to celebrate a deserved victory.
While promotion is the prime objective this season the club and supporters have been crying out for another cup run ever since Brakes gloriously returned to the competition with a run to the 1st Round proper in 2005, but they have not even come close to a repeat since then. This was probably the most embarrassing of all the early exits, not because of the opposition but the nature of the defeat, which was so out of character to what has gone before it so far this season. It is to be hoped that a return to league action next Saturday will see the team back to their old selves again. With Weymouth the visitors they will certainly need to to be.
Highgate United: Brendan Bunn, Tom Lacey, Nathan Pulisciano, James Loney, Scott Turner, Aaron Brown, Connor Mooney, Josh Hawker ©, Isaac Jagroop (12 Sam Smith, 85), McCauley Manning, Lei Brown.
Subs not used: 14 Jak Jeys, 15 Declan Attenborrow, 16 Victor Bonazebi, 17 Nathan Corry, 18 Reece Mitchell, 19 Karl King.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Ben George, Connor Gudger, Darren Pond, Jamie Hood, James Mace (14 Rob Elvins, 73), Lee Moore (12 Joe Magunda, 54), Jack Edwards, Ryan Rowe, Rob Thompson-Brown, Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 15 Tom James, 16 Ryan Quinn, 17 Charlie Fitzmaurice, 18 Martyn Naylor, 19 Lewis Gwilliams (GK).
Brakes Man of the Match: Rob Thompson-Brown.