Evostik Southern League Premier Division
Top Field, Hitchin,
Saturday 25th March 2017
Brakes slipped further behind the relentless pace of leaders Chippenham Town with this goalless draw at third placed Hitchin, but remain in with a chance of snatching that priceless automatic promotion spot despite being written off by the doom and gloom merchants.
It was a match they tried desperately hard to win, but defences were king in what turned out to be disappointing fare for a an important top five clash. A win for either side would have been critical for the others chances of pegging back the Bluebirds, but both were forced to settle for a point which neither really wanted.
A healthy Brakes support made the journey down to Hertfordshire, making their usual racket in an attempt to spur their team on, met with only the occasional jeer in reply from the strangely muted home crowd.
A short corner from the right nearly paid dividends for the hosts in the opening exchanges as a shot was cleared away from the Leamington goal, but this was as close as they would get until almost the end of the game.
Ahmed Obeng’s off target effort from a half clearance by Lewis Rolfe was the first at goal for Brakes before they then picked up what looked a couple of soft bookings, first for Rob Thompson-Brown and then for Callum Gittings, while Brett Donnelly was somewhat fortunate not to pick up a yellow card before he eventually did shortly afterwards, along with Joe Magunda, as the game threatened to boil over. The constant squawking at the officials by the home players to try and force decisions was a throwback to the Midland Alliance days, when it seemed to be an almost weekly occurrence.
Thompson-Brown had a great chance to get a shot in just before half time when the ball found its way out to him in space on the left side of the penalty area after Obeng’s initial shot was blocked, but he swiped at the ball and it rolled harmlessly wide.
The game continued to fragment with countless stoppages but there was far more football played in the second half, and Leamington came close as they carved out several decent opportunities.
Gittings’ strong run towards the Hitchin box was halted by a foul but the ball ran nicely for substitute Richard Gregory, who should probably have got his shot away first time but chose to take it inside a defender and was hustled off the ball.
Jack Edwards then glanced a header across goal and just past the far post from Thompson-Brown’s left wing corner, and he was handed another opportunity as substitute Kurtis Revan superbly flicked the ball into his path from Richard Taundry’s pass, but his first time drive was deflected behind for a corner.
Revan then provided the chance of the game for Leamington when he robbed Jay Dowie by the right touchline before delivering a pinpoint cross for Gregory, who held his head in his hands as he nodded agonisingly wide.
Edwards almost forced Dowie into another mistake inside the box, the ball being hurriedly cleared as Gregory closed in.
Tony Breeden was forced into his first save of the game as injury time approached, pushing a powerful shot behind from Jonny McNamara. Both keepers were largely redundant all afternoon, a testament to the efforts of those in front of them.
Despite the challenges of both Leamington and Hitchin now being written off in some quarters, there is still plenty of football to be played in the final month of the season, and neither side will be giving up until it is mathematically impossible.
Hitchin Town: Michael Johnson, Kane Smith, Ben Walster, Jay Dowie, Lewis Rolfe, Will Wright, Jonny McNamara, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Brett Donnelly © (14 Mason Spence, 62), Robbie Burns, Matt Lench (12 Liam Brooks, 90+3).
Subs not used: 13 Martin Bennett (GK), 15 Callum Donnelly, 16 Conor Clarke.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Darren Pond, Jamie Hood, Joe Magunda, Courtney Baker-Richardson (17 Kurtis Revan 72), Callum Gittings, Ahmed Obeng (14 Richard Gregory, 57), Jack Edwards, Rob Thompson-Brown (15 Jordan Goddard, 84).
Subs not used: 12 James Mace, 16 Tom James.
Referee: Mr W Cartmel
Assistant Referees: Mr J Scott & Mr C Snuggs
Brakes Man of the Match: Callum Gittings.