Evostik Southern League Premier Division
Phillips 66 Community Stadium
Saturday 7th January 2017

Brakes produced a vastly improved performance in an entertaining clash with fellow promotion chasers Chippenham Town at a misty Phillips 66 Community Stadium, with Paul Holleran noting encouraging signs of a return to their early season swagger.

The festive period is rarely a fruitful one for Leamington and 2016 had been no different, a disappointing draw with Stratford followed up by an undeserved defeat with the last kick of the game at Banbury, but in the this contest they looked much more like their old selves as they took on one of their rivals for the Southern League crown.

Chippenham frustrated their hosts early on with some well timed blocks, skipper Greg Tindle denying Callum Gittings a shot at goal after he had worked himself into a good position, while players and fans alike were left frustrated when Referee Ed Pidduck brought play back for a free kick after Courtney Baker-Richardson had kept his feet to stumble clear of two challenges down the right for a run at goal. Joe Magunda then saw a shot blocked as the ball pinged around the Chippenham penalty area from the resulting dead ball.

An inch perfect first time ball forward from Richard Taundry saw Richard Gregory shape to shoot only for Rhys Baggridge to intercept with a well timed block before the ball had left his boot. Baker-Richardson then set up Ahmed Obeng as he nodded down Taundry’s cross, but the striker’s shot lacked the purchase to trouble Chippenham’s former Frome Town keeper Darren Chitty.

The visitors had gone close when Taundry had cleared away from the goal line as the ball ricocheted around the Leamington box, but the Bluebirds took the lead in their next attack from Obeng’s shot. The ball was fired in from the left, returned back into the six yard box from the right and that man David Pratt, who had scored the winner when the two sides had met back in August, was on hand to steer home from close range.

Magunda thundered a header wide from a free kick as Leamington continued to play with their heads, moving the ball around smartly at times. Connor Gudger raced into space down the left, moving the ball square for Obeng, who helped it on for Baker-Richardson to drive a shot across goal and wide. The same player was left wondering how he hadn’t levelled things up in the final action of the first half when his powerful goalbound header was diverted away by a fantastic reaction save from Chitty.

Edwards’ downward header from a corner was saved early in the second half, but the goal that Leamington’s play deserved arrived when Chitty could only parry a stinging low drive from Edwards, Gudger picking up the loose ball and digging out a perfect cross from the touchline that Baker-Richardson simply could not miss, nodding in from almost on the goal line.

Unfortunately Brakes were unable to build on that and find a winner, but the game continued to be an entertaining one. Gregory was well off target with a free kick, while Matt Smith launched an ambitious effort towards Breeden’s goal from just inside the Leamington half which dropped onto the roof of the net.

Further efforts from Edwards and Gittings were saved by Chitty, while Taundry was set up for a vicious drive the rippled the side netting. Breeden was only called into action once more, but it was an important save as he dived at the feet of Chippenham striker Pratt to prevent another potential last kick of the game calamity.

Both managers were happy to accept the end result, Paul Holleran saying ‘Our first half performance was probably the freshest we’ve looked for maybe six weeks. There were signs of our early season form where we really bopped the ball about. We were getting players on the ball in the right areas, and if it wasn’t for some very good goalkeeping and poor finishing we’d have been ahead at half time, but Chippenham are a very resilient team and they are always good games. The two boys up top, if you give them half a chance they will stick it away, which is what David Pratt has done. It was a little bit harsh that because I thought we played well but we got in at half time, sorted ourselves out and got ourselves going again, and I thought we showed tremendous character, we were intense in our play and didn’t let it affect us. I thought the way we moved the ball around in the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, stretched them and got the goal, prior to that we had some really good passages of play. We probably didn’t get the goals our play deserved but I was delighted that we got back into the game. We’d have loved to have won it. Chippenham deserved a point for a good away performance, and it was a good away performance, but from our point of view if we were a little more clinical in the final third we could have gone on and won the game. I was delighted with individual performances, some of the work we’ve been trying to do over Christmas, I could see it happening on the pitch. Getting Darren Pond back on the pitch was important to us, and I thought the levels of individuals after the Christmas period I could see there, so delighted with that. There’s a long long way to go, lots of points to play for, but certainly with the little breathers we can have in between games to recover and work on things, it will hold us in good stead, so I was pleased with that today.’

Chippenham boss Mark Collier was also pleased with his side’s performance. ‘It was a tough game, two good sides having a go at other other. We knew that they would have the lion’s share of possession but I thought our two centre backs were immense with the onslaught they had, throwing balls into the box. We came to try and hit them on the break and we got the goal so we were chuffed about that, but we always knew that they would get another chance. They did and they stuck it away and you fear the worst at that particular time, but I thought after that we settled the game down again and Leamington didn’t really go on from there so I would imagine they would be a little bit disappointed that they didn’t maintain their momentum. We had a couple more chances, could have got one right at the death there. I’m sure the teams in and around us will be chuffed that it was a draw here but we have to look at the bigger scheme of things, it’s a valuable point. Certainly neither side deserved to lose the game.’

Attendance: 498

Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Jack Edwards, Joe Magunda, James Mace, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Callum Gittings, Richard Gregory (15 Ryan Rowe, 77), Rob Thompson-Brown, Ahmed Obeng (16 Darren Pond, 83).

Subs not used: 12 Ben George, 14 Tom James, 17 Nathan Olukanmi.

Chippenham Town: Darren Chitty, Dan Bowman, Nuno Felix, Gary Horgan, Greg Tindle ©, Rhys Baggridge, Alex Ferguson (15 Michael Pook, 77), Matt Smith, David Pratt, Andy Sandell, Matt Jones.

Subs not used: 12 Jon Beeden, 14 Mario Mateus, 16 Will Richards, 17 James Rae.

Referee: Mr Ed Pidduck

Assistant Referees: Mr Paul Tyler & Mr Tom Kidd

Brakes Man of the Match: Joe Magunda.

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