Evostik Southern League Premier Division
Phillips 66 Community Stadium
Tuesday 25th October 2016
Paul Holleran admitted that for the first time this season his Leamington side had had to ‘win ‘ugly’ as Connor Gudger’s scrambled goal three minutes from time shattered visitors Cambridge City, who had belied their lowly position in the table by providing one of the toughest games of the season so far.
Brakes seemed to struggle with the added pressure of being league leaders and for long periods were unable to play in their usual confident style - a lot of which was down to Cambridge.
‘We were unable to keep hold of the ball and get it into good areas for long enough periods in the game,’ said Holleran. ‘I have to say it was one of the toughest games we have had here this season. They absolutely worked their socks off and denied us space to work in. Some of that was down to our quality. I said to the players that it is probably the first time we have had to win ugly, but i’ll take that. You’ve still got to show that character and stay in there.’
Hard work was certainly required during a first half in which Cambridge posed plenty of attacking threat and would have considered themselves unfortunate not have scored at least once.
Striker Tunde Adewunami had a busy first 45 minutes before fading in the second half, and he fired an early shot past the post after driving at the Brakes defence. Jack Edwards then drew a first save of the evening from City’s Enol Ordanez as he drove low towards the bottom corner from Ryan Rowe’s intelligent backheel on the edge of the box.
A dangerous cross from Joe Carden whistled across the six yard box to safety when a touch of any kind would have surely led to at least a chance for Cambridge, but Dan Gleeson’s men would have been kicking themselves when skipper Jon Kaye’s turn and shot from Adewunami’s cut back from the right was blocked by Jamie Hood, only for the loose ball to return to the striker a couple of yards out. It seemed a toe poke would give Cambridge the lead but James Mace had tracked back well and stabbed the ball clear before Adewunami had chance to connect.
The visitors were looking very lively, and spurned another opportunity when Carden robbed Richard Taundry on halfway, racing into the box down the left before blazing his shot over the bar.
Tony Breeden was forced into two two routine saves but Cambridge continued to pour forward whenever possible, and while Leamington were guilty of squandering possession once too often they were also being forced into errors as those in sky blue worked tirelessly to close them down.
An offside flag denied Rowe his thirteenth goal of the season as he slid in to convert a mis-hit shot from Ahmed Obeng, but in patches Leamington were starting to look more like the side which had started the season so well; Rob Thompson-Brown shooting wide after a well worked move. Rowe then dug a decent effort out on the turn after Taundry had won the ball back on the right wing, but Ordonez was equal to it.
The Spanish stopper could do little about Jack Edwards’ powerful header from Thompson-Brown’s left wing free kick, but he was saved by the frame of the goal as the ball cannoned back off the crossbar.
Cambridge saw a ‘goal’ of their own ruled out for offside before half time, the ball striking Dean Mason on the line from Adewunami’s shot, before Hood heroically blocked at least two shots from right back Ben Robinson.
Darren Pond was withdrawn as a precaution after coming off worst from a crunching challenge he made during the first half, Joe Magunda coming on to replace him. Ordonez parried a shot from Obeng, who struggled to get the ball out from under his feet and generate enough power to trouble the keeper. Rowe took a tumble as he went for the loose ball but the penalty shouts were louder from the terraces than the pitch.
Rowe saw a low curling effort saved by Ordonez, while City substitute Giovany Lopes crashed wastefully over the bar after some neat footwork bamboozled both Hood and Mace.
Kaye blocked Mace’s goalbound header on the line from a Taundry corner kick, while Obeng saw another shot blocked and Erkan Okay bravely blocked from Hood.
The winning goal won’t be up there with the strikes of the season, but it could still prove just as important. It came about thanks to a barnstorming run from halfway by substitute Nathan Olukanmi. The Cambridge defence simply could not get the ball from him as he tore down the right before cutting the ball back into the box for Edwards to strike towards goal. Ordonez stood up well to make a good save, producing an equally fine effort to block the follow up which was leathered in by Baker-Richardson, but Gudger was there to pick up the loose ball and ram it into the net off the unfortunate Jack Utteridge, sparking scenes of delight on and off the pitch.
Harsh on Cambridge it may have been, but as Leamington know from recent experiences in the Conference North, when you are at the wrong end of the table good fortune is often in short supply. Another well worn football saying is that winning when not playing particularly well is the sign of a good team. Grinding out results such as this one will certainly go a long towards helping Brakes in their ultimate aim of returning to Step 2 next season.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Darren Pond (12 Joe Magunda, 46), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Jack Edwards, Ryan Rowe (15 Nathan Olukanmi, 73), Rob Thompson-Brown (16 Ben George, 73), Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 14 Tom James, 17 Ryan Quinn.
Cambridge City: Enol Ordanez, Ben Robinson, Charlie Day (14 Charlie Woolfe, 88), Harry Norman, Jordan Williams, Jack Utteridge, Dean Mason, Jon Kaye ©, Tunde Adewunami (15 Giovany Lopes, 64), Erkan Okay (12 Cemal Ramadan, 89), Joe Carden.
Subs not used: 16 Manuel Ramires, 17 Paul Cooper.
Referee: Mr Richard Price
Assistant Referees: Ms Jade Prince & Mr Dan Clenton
Brakes Man of the Match: Nathan Olukanmi