Evostik Southern League Premier Division
Phillips 66 Community Stadium
Saturday 3rd December 2016
In a strange twist of fate, Leamington lost their unbeaten home record in the Southern League Premier Division to the side that had last beaten them 19 games previously. Hitchin Town had been the last side to win at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium back at the beginning of February, the goalscorer that day being Callum Donnelly. This time it was his brother Brett who took the plaudits as his brace secured the points, but his subsequent sending off for two bookings very nearly saw three points turn into one as Leamington finally began to wake up in the closing stages.
Brakes had started the game in lively enough fashion, Ryan Rowe getting in behind the Hitchin defence and forcing Michael Johnson to save with his legs but the visitors began to take control, and were ahead on the half hour when striker Donnelly crashed home a header from close range following a peach of a ball in from the right by Kane Smith.
Tony Breeden was then forced to paw a fiercely struck free kick from all of 35 yards by Ben Walster over the bar. Liam Brooks struck the upright with a header as the visitors began to turn up the heat, while another shot was rattled in from the left edge of the penalty area that Breeden did well to push away.
Having received a half time rocket from Paul Holleran it was inevitable that Leamington would improve in the second half and they came close to levelling things up when Ahmed Obeng almost stabbed home from close range only to be denied by a great challenge from Smith, who poked the ball behind for a corner.
Jack Edwards headed over from a corner but Brakes were stunned when they suddenly found themselves two goals behind, the Donnelly brothers combining to put Hitchin in dreamland.
Walster tested Breeden with another well struck free kick, and Robbie Burns saw a shot cleared off the line as the visitors regained the ascendancy once more, but Donnelly paid the price for an earlier booking picked up for celebrating with the travelling fans behind the goal when he was penalised again for a high boot to the face of Jamie Hood. Both bookings could be viewed as a little harsh but the Referee made his decisions and Hitchin were down to ten men. Worst was to follow as Courtney Baker-Richardson headed his tenth goal of the season past the advancing Johnson from the resulting free kick taken by substitute Richard Taundry.
This set up a rousing finale as Leamington finally began to have a real go at their opponents. James Mace laced a low drive into the arms of Johnson from distance, while Nathan Olukanmi sped down the right and fired in a cross that a stretching Baker-Richardson could only just get a toe on to.
Hitchin’s defence was superb as Olukanmi forced a blocked clearance back to Rob Thompson-Brown, whose shot was well blocked for a corner. Hood then nodded on a free kick for Edwards to head against the post. The midfielder came close to marking his 100th start for the club with a goal as he connected hard with Baker-Richardson’s left wing cross, only for Callum Donnelly to make a fantastic goal saving challenge.
There was real hope that Brakes could snatch what would in truth have been an undeserved point when 7 minutes of added time were signalled, and there were further opportunities, Canaries skipper Dan Webb deflecting Taundry’s piledriver just past the post, while Breeden booted the frame of the goal in frustration after pushing up for a corner and heading across goal and inches wide.
So the unbeaten home sequence is at an end, and while it came at the hands of a team that will surely be up there in contention at the end of the season there is still much to be positive about. Other results still see Brakes with a cushion, and if they can bounce back from this setback and continue to pick up points during the final month of 2016 then the New Year will be set up for a real push towards the finish line.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Ben George (17 Richard Taundry, 64), Connor Gudger, Callum Gittings (15 Nathan Olukanmi, 76), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Jack Edwards, Ryan Rowe (12 Joe Magunda, 64), Rob Thompson-Brown, Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 14 Tom James, 16 Ryan Quinn.
Hitchin Town: Michael Johnson, Kane Smith, Ben Walster, Josh Bickerstaff, Dan Webb ©, Lewis Rolfe, Liam Brooks, Callum Donnelly, Brett Donnelly, Robbie Burns, Lucas Kirkpatrick.
Subs not used: 12 Will Wright, 15 Connor Clarke, 17 Mason Spence.
Referee: Mr Phil Hardisty
Assistant Referees: Mr Tom Wainman & Mr Charlie Dickens