Vanarama National League North
Phillips 66 Community Stadium
Tuesday 26th December 2017
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that the final match of 2017 turned out to be a dramatic one. After all, this has been a pretty special year in the history of Leamington Football Club, with countless twists and turns. We were served up with more of the same here, a sometimes drab Boxing Day fixture which looked promising at the interval took a turn for the worse in the second half but came to a glorious conclusion right a the death as Paul Holleran’s side showed their battling qualities and never say die attitude once more to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.
Brackley arrived at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium in second place in the Vanarama National League North table, and over the course of the afternoon it was not difficult to see why they occupy such a lofty position. They were probably the best side Brakes have faced so far this season, which made the late leveller feel like a winner to those of a gold and black persuasion watching on.
Glenn Walker struck the roof of the Harbury Lane End terrace early on as Kevin Wilkin’s men bossed the opening exchanges, another effort flashing across goal and wide of the far post soon after.
Junior English headed Leamington’s first chance over the bar from an offside position after Richard Taundry had clipped a free kick into the box. The versatile utility man then fired over after his initial touch had come back to him on the edge of the box.
The free scoring Aaron Williams attempted an ambitious effort from just inside the Leamington half as Brackley cleared out of defence, the striker seeing Tony Breeden off his line, but the Brakes skipper was alert to the danger and claimed the ball comfortably on the edge of his box.
Jack Edwards forced Danny Lewis into his first save of the game when his flick on from Taundry’s throw into the box forced the Saints keeper to hurriedly push the ball over his crossbar. Colby Bishop headed on to the roof of the net from the resulting corner.
Alex Gudger headed straight at Breeden from a Brackley free kick but Williams spurned their best chance of the half when he connected with a ball to the far post but failed to even work Breeden, firing first time into the side netting.
The visitors would rue their profligacy in front of goal as they fell behind a minute before half time. Some neat play down the right ended with Kieran Dunbar crossing for the back peddling Bishop to arc a powerful header over Lewis into the far corner.
The visitors took their time emerging from the dressing room but wasted little time getting back into the match, Walker levelling things up within two minutes of the restart with a skidding low free kick that Breeden got both hands to but could only help into the net. Not for the first time in the game the award of the dead ball was slightly contentious, and salt was rubbed into the wound as Brackley took full advantage.
The Saints began to turn up the heat and won a battle by the corner flag on the right, the ball being flashed across the goalmouth with nobody on hand to turn it in.
A looping clearance almost created an opening for Leamington as it was deflected back towards the Brackley goal, Lewis getting there just ahead of Bishop on the edge of his penalty area.
Matt Lowe took responsibility for another free kick a similar distance from goal to the one that had led to the equaliser, curling it over the wall but just wide of the upright. Williams then latched on to a high ball forward, beating Jamie Hood and forcing a good save from Breeden down at his near post.
Brakes had already lost Taundry to injury but were to suffer further in this contest, as Bishop went down in the Brackley half and stayed down, eventually being stretchered off with what looked to be a knee injury. Jack Edwards would also be forced off later on with a recurrence of the problem that sidelined him for over a month.
Brackley had the ball in the net through a header at the far post from a right wing cross but this was disallowed. The visitors soon completed the turnaround however, capitalising on Leamington giving away possession in their own half. Lowe powered towards the box and his shot deflected through to Williams, who finished past Breeden from close range.
The game was very nearly put out of Leamington’s reach when Williams homed in on goal again, his first effort was blocked by Breeden, the second by Hood on the line, who then cleared another away as the ball came back at him.
Brakes suddenly seemed to realise they still had a chance, and the home support were awoken from their slumber by a fantastic challenge from Connor Gudger as Brackley threatened to break clear up the left once more.
A superb turn by Gareth Dean midway through the Leamington half saw the Brackley midfielder power towards goal before crashing a shot just over the bar. However, with English pushing forward to add his presence to the attack Holleran’s men sensed there was still something in this game for them. Substitute Kurtis Revan was the instigator as he danced past several challenges into the Brackley penalty area, his attempted cross being blocked out for a corner on the right. Hood met Dunbar’s delivery with a thumping header which looked to be nestling in the back of the net until Lewis somehow arched his back to pull off a tremendous save, deflecting the ball over the bar to surely win the game for his side.
Thirty seconds later he was picking the ball out of the net as the Leamington players and home support celebrated wildly, Shane Byrne having headed the ball into his own goal as Hood headed on the corner. On the balance of second half play it was totally undeserved but overall it was a credit to Holleran’s team that they hung in there, stayed in the game and when they got a chance, they made it count. The Brackley players argued that there had been a foul, but these decisions usually even themselves out over the course of a game, and they had been the beneficiaries earlier in the afternoon.
Although disappointed with his side’s performance in the period immediately after half time, Paul Holleran felt his side earned their point purely for refusing to give up. ‘You look at the team Brackley have on and off the pitch and they’re full of experience, they know how to win promotion from this league, and when they get their strongest eleven on the pitch they are the best side in it. In the first half the players did everything we asked of them, and sometimes we managed to break out and play a bit of football as well, scoring a great goal. Our achilles heel is between 45 and 60 minutes, we didn’t start right again, we got punished and we were on the back foot. One thing I always say to the players though is try and stay in the game, we had a good little spell. We pushed Junior up there with Kurtis, we stretched them a little bit, had some good dead balls in from both sides, and in the end we got our reward. They’ll be disappointed they didn’t put us to bed, we’re disappointed with the way we started the second half, but I think for what we put into the game we deserved to get something out of it.’
‘Obviously the really disappointing thing today is the injuries we’ve picked up, Richard Taundry, Colby Bishop’s knee isn’t looking very good at the moment so we’ll have to let that settle down. Jack Edwards has had a recurrence of his hip flexor problem, but that’s how it is in this division, it takes it out of you. Apart from a couple of mistakes the players have been excellent in the last two fixtures.’
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry (12 James Mace, 63), Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Jamie Hood, Junior English, Kieran Dunbar, Callum Gittings, Colby Bishop (15 Kurtis Revan, 71), Jack Edwards (14 Liam Canavan, 81), Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 16 Joe Magunda, 17 Stefan Moore.
Brackley Town: Danny Lewis, Ellis Myles, Alex Gudger, Shane Byrne, Luke Graham, Gareth Dean ©, Connor Franklin, James Armson, Matt Lowe (16 Jamie Lucas, 88), Aaron Williams, Glenn Walker.
Subs not used: 12 Steve Diggin, 14 Andy Brown, 15 Ben Tilney, 17 Khris Oti.
Referee: Mr James Oldham
Assistant Referees: Mr Ryan Haynes & Mr James King
Brakes Man of the Match: Kieran Dunbar