Leamington began life after Josh March with a tame home defeat to Altrincham, writes Paul Okey.
The announcement in the build-up to the game that the prolific striker would be leaving Brakes to join a Football League club led to a subdued atmosphere on the terraces for the first home fixture of 2020 and that spilled out on to the pitch as the home side proved distinctly second best for the majority of the fixture.
However, credit must go to the visitors who Paul Holleran felt were the most impressive side to visit the Phillips 66 Community Stadium this term.
“It’s probably the first time in a long time where we’ve probably been starved of the ball really, and I think a lot of that is down to them,” admitted the Brakes boss.
“ It’s alright me saying this, that and the other but I think from our point of view you’ve got to look at it and say you’re going to have times like that in this league.
“They are probably one of the few sides that have done it to us here this season - they are definitely the best side we’ve come across here this season.”
The home side had an early shout for a penalty after a fiercely struck effort from Callum Gittings struck a defender in the box but it was the visitors who exerted an early grip on the game.
In the eighth minute a well-worked move down the right led to Andrew White heading on to the inside of the post and follow-up shots from Shaun Densmore and Max Harrop were both blocked.
Tobias Mullarkey then put a free header from the resultant corner wide.
For all their possession, Altrincham were struggling to create clearcut chances and Jake Weaver was not forced into his first save until the 21st minute, producing an instinctive block to deny Jordan Hulme after a third corner in quick succession.
A Stephan Morley shot from distance was a long way from threatening the target, while a tame Callum Maycock effort was easily dealt with by Anthony Thompson in the visitors’ goal as Brakes belatedly gained a foothold in the game.
An acrobatic effort from Harrop was unable to add the gloss to another well-crafted Altrincham move and as half-time approached Thomas Hannigan was unable to find the target with his head after being picked out by a left-wing corner.
A Josh Hancock snapshot was well off target three minutes into the second half and despite the impressive Harrop departing seconds later, replacement Thomas Peers ensured the visitors retained their momentum.
Hulme wriggled his way through a couple of challenges in the box before being denied by the body of Weaver and Edwards then wasted Brakes’ best opportunity of the afternoon, directing his header wide of the target after being picked out by Morley.
The Brakes left-back was then in the right place at the other end to cut out a dangerous ball along the six-yard box as the Robins once again cut open the home defence.
The visitors were deservedly in front in the 56th minute, however, with an overload down the right allowing Josh Hancock to sweep home Densmore’s pull-back.
It was almost 2-0 less than 60 seconds later, with Hancock inches away from getting on the end of an inviting ball into the six-yard box from Peers.
A Maycock shot elicited forlorn handball cries as Brakes tried to fashion a response and Jack Lane then took matters into his own hands, advancing forward before sending a shot across the face of goal.
A stinging effort from Densmore was parried at close range by Weaver as Altrincham worked another overlap and with 20 minutes remaining Holleran brought on Jordan Murphy and Connor Taylor in place of Gittings and Dexter Walters.
The duo’s introduction pepped up Brakes’ attacking options as more space became available but Taylor was unable to get decent purchase on his shot after patient build-up from the home side worked an opening.
A searching ball from Kaiman Anderson picked out Joe Clarke but with the angle against him he could only find the side netting, while at the other end, it needed a superb last-ditch intervention from Lane to deny what looked a certain second for Alty.
Murphy’s wayward injury-time effort was the cue for the Altrincham fans to raise the volume even higher, while the home faithful will now be eagerly awaiting news on the next striker to appear on Leamington’s Football League production line.
Brakes: Jake Weaver, Junior English, Stephan Morley, Callum Maycock, James Mace, Jack Lane, Callum Gittings (Jordan Murphy, 69), Joe Clarke, Kaiman Anderson (Kieran Dunbar, 86), Jack Edwards, Dexter Walters (Connor Taylor, 69). Subs not used: Josh Martin, Josh Allen.
Altrincham: Anthony Thompson, Shaun Densmore (Connor Hampson,76), Andrew White, Tobias Mullarkey, Thomas Hannigan, Jake Moult, John Johnston, Simon Richman, Jordan Hulme (Luke Wall, 86), Josh Hancock, Max Harrop (Thomas Peers, 48). Subs not used: Glen Walker, Joel Torrance.