Brakes are back in the title shake-up
Brakes breathed new life into the Southern League Premier Division title race with a well-deserved victory over leaders Poole Town on Saturday, writes Paul Okey.
The margin of victory flattered the visitors who looked a pale shadow of the side that had swept all before them to open up a 12-point gap at the summit before Christmas.
And, should Leamington win their game in hand, they will be just three points behind the floundering Dolphins as the promotion race builds to a dramatic finale.
The arrival of Sam Austin has been the catalyst to Leamington’s rejuvenation and the Burton Albion loanee was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch as Brakes racked up their sixth win in seven.
The midfielder was the first to show, curling in an effort which Poole keeper Nick Hutchings made a meal of before gathering at the second attempt.
An ambitious strike from Joe Magunda was always going high and wide, while a period of Poole pressure resulted in Jamie Whisken drilling a shot wide of the far post.
Austin’s pace and trickery was already causing the visiting defence some anxious moments and the youngster was off-target with an another effort after his initial cross had been half-cleared.
Jack Edwards’ clever back-header from Richard Taundry’s long throw forced Hutchings into a smart tip-over and the former Walsall man was again the provider for another Edwards effort, with the header this time failing to trouble the Town keeper.
Tony Breeden was forced into his first meaningful action of the half when Steve Devlin released Will Spetch on the left, getting down well to parry the attacker’s shot despite a slight deflection off Jamie Hood.
The towering Michael Walker then got his shot all wrong after being afforded time on the edge of the Leamington box.
Walker was quickly into the action at the other end, putting just enough pressure on Ben Mackey to force the striker to shoot wide after he had bullied his way through the Poole backline.
A quick Taundry free-kick then caught Poole unawares but after racing into the box, Austin could only shoot straight at Hutchings.
As the half drew to a close, a defensive mix-up presented Courtney Baker-Richardson with a sight of goal but he rather snatched at his chance and the save was comfortable for Hutchings.
Magunda did not return for the second half after suffering a knee injury, with James Fry replacing him.
However, it was still the home side who remained on the front foot, Mackey testing Hutchings with a well-struck effort just two minutes in.
Ten minutes later, the hosts were ahead. Lee Moore picked up the ball on the edge of the box and sent in a shot which gained a crucial intervention from the standing foot of Mackey to wrongfoot Hutchings.
Mackey may have known little about the contact but there was no arguing it was his goal and that the opener was richly deserved.
And it was the home side who continued to look the more likely to add to their tally, with Connor George firing wastefully over and Mackey’s inviting ball from the byeline just begging to be converted.
Baker-Richardson was off-target on the half-volley before Moore missed a glorious chance to put Brakes out of sight.
Mackey held the ball up well before releasing Atkins, whose cross into the box cut out Hutchings and left Moore with an open goal from six yards out. However, it was the right-midfielder who ended up in the net with the ball hitting the top of the Harbury Lane End stand.
A Gudger back-header caused a few hearts to flutter as Breeden raced out of his goal, but the keeper reacted well to claim the ball at full stretch, while Lewis Tallack scooped a free-kick over the bar from close range, although the flag was already up for offside.
Mackey then showed good skill to beat Tallack and advance into the area but his shot was straight at Hutchings.
Breeden was at full-stretch to keep out a Devlin shot, with the save made even more impressive by Hood’s wild swing at the thin air just yards from his keeper.
With play entering five minutes of injury time, Poole pushed Hutchings up for a corner in the hope of salvaging something from the game.
However, the dead ball was well defended by the hosts, allowing Breeden to release Austin as Hutchings raced to get back into his goal. The midfielder nutmegged Tallack before advancing on the backpedalling keeper, but he was unable to claim the goal his performance merited, with his tired shot comfortably pouched by a grateful Hutchings.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Magunda (James Fry, 46), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Lee Moore, Jack Edwards, Ben Mackey (Ben George, 90), Courtney Baker-Richardson (Ross Oulton, 86), Sam Austin. Subs not used: Jamie Tank, Eddie Caviezel-Cox.
Poole Town: Nick Hutchings, Lewis Tallack, Lewis Lindsay, Michael Walker, Jamie Whisken, Carl Pettifer (Ashan Holgate, 69), Luke Burbidge, Steve Devlin, Tony Lee (Abdulai Baggie, 81), Marvin Brooks, Will Spetch (Luke Roberts, 78). Subs not used: Jamie Gleeson, Jack Dickson.