It was a long time coming after several postponements but this FA Trophy first round replay was certainly worth the wait, even if the result did not go Leamington’s way, writes Paul Okey.
Thanks to the sterling work of staff and volunteers, Brakes and Altrincham eventually got the tie on at the sixth time of asking, with the hosts producing a display which belied the two-division gulf between the sides.
Indeed, had Ben Mackey made more of a catalogue of scoring chances then Brakes’ progress would have been assured long before the end of normal time.
The striker did eventually find the back of the net in the dying seconds of the 90. But, even after the equaliser, the striker still wasted a gilt-edged chance to prevent extra-time, spooning the ball over the bar from close range when it looked easier to score.
More chances came his way in the additional 30 minutes but it was to be Altrincham’s Michael Rankine who spared his side’s blushes, producing a superb finish to add to his earlier penalty.
The New Windmill pitch had passed an early-morning inspection, with a couple of heavily sanded areas in the corners the only remnants of the drainage problems which had dogged the fixture.
Altrincham kicked off down the slope and were ahead inside four minutes.
The muscular Rankine got in front of Jamie Hood as the two raced into the box and a shove sent the striker tumbling to the floor.
Referee Richard Martin had no hesitation in awarding the penalty and Rankine picked himself up to send Breeden the wrong way from the spot.
James Lawrie nearly embarrassed Breeden with an audacious 45-yard effort which had the keeper frantically backpedalling to claim while at the other end, Mackey produced his first shot of a busy afternoon, but it was well off target.
Measured build-up play on the right from the home side led to a cross from Ben George which was confidently claimed by Tim Deasy and it was from more smart play on the right flank in the 19th minute that Brakes should have got back on level terms.
Lee Moore advanced down the wing and beat his marker to swing over a cross which cut out Deasy and was begging to be headed home by Mackey at the far post. However, from no more than three yards out, Mackey rattled the crossbar.
Sloppy defending from Leamington allowed Lawrie to flash a shot across the face of Breeden’s goal, while the home keeper comfortably dealt with a Jordan Sinnott effort.
Leamington were showing no signs of being overawed by their more illustrious opponents, with the visitors resorting to a series of niggly fouls to stop their progress.
Moore, who was at the heart of most of Leamington’s best moments, curled a free-kick from one such foul straight into the arms of Deasy as the pressure mounted.
Brakes then looked to have a cast-iron penalty shout after Hood was bundled over in the box by Rankine as he waited for a high ball to come down. But despite the challenge bearing more than a passing resemblance to the one which yielded a penalty for Altrincham, referee Martin waved away appeals.
Mackey then miscued a shot from the centre of goal after a corner, with Lee Chilton’s follow up drawing a fine block from Ginaluca Havern.
Hood then flashed a header inches wide of the post from Richard Taundry’s free-kick as Altrincham took a far from convincing 1-0 lead into the break.
Jack Edwards was unable to direct a header on target in the opening skirmishes of the second half before Mackey was denied by a point-blank save from Deasy after getting his head to a Taundry free-kick.
Taundry’s dipping volley was straight at Deasy, while in a rare Altrincham attack, Ryan Crowther’s shot was deflected wide.
A clever backheel from Edwards then gave Mackey another sight of goal, but Deasy spread himself well to save with his legs.
Simon Richman looked destined to make it 2-0 to the visitors, racing through on goal after Brakes switched off in midfield. However, Ben George made a superb last-ditch challenge to deflect his shot for a corner from which Havern headed straight at Breeden.
An ill-advised excursion brought Breeden a yellow card for a foul on James Lawrie by the touchline and minutes later Crowther jinked his way into the box, only to fire wastefully over.
It proved Crowther’s last involvement as he was replaced by Sam Heathcote, while Brakes boss Paul Holleran made a double switch, with Moore and Connor Gudger replaced by Ross Oulton and Rob Ogleby.
Leamington remained full of belief and it was one-way traffic in the final ten minutes, with Jamie Tank dragging a shot wide before Mackey almost produced a stunning 25-yarder which Deasy was relieved to parry on to the roof of the net.
The pressure finally told in the 90th-minute when Mackey got in front of Deasy to head home after Taundry’s corner had been helped on by Edwards.
It was no more than Brakes deserved and, with Altrincham on the back foot, they sensed a winner could be found in normal time.
Ogleby shipped the ball wide to Chilton in space on the left and the winger advanced before sliding the ball into the six-yard box. A flick from Ogleby helped the ball on to Mackey but he could only scoop the ball over the bar under pressure from Deasy.
Mackey was then denied again by a superb stop from Deasy, with the assistant referee’s flag this time sparing the striker’s blushes.
As the match entered extra-time, Mackey remained a key figure, reacting first after Oulton’s shot had been parried by Deasy. But again his luck was out as he diverted the rebound wide.
Rankine then showed his opposite number just how it is done, producing a superb first touch to take Heathcote’s ball in his stride and then advancing across the pitch before arcing a shot over the out-of-position Breeden and into the net.
The Altrincham celebrations were more of relief than anything else, but the goal did have the effect of lifting them for the remainder of the first period, with Rankine having another shot deflected for a corner.
Sinnott’s weak effort was easy for Breeden before Mackey again spurned a fantastic chance for Leamington, rounding Deasy only to take an extra touch which allowed the covering Havern to get back and block his shot on the line.
With time running out, there was a last chance for Mackey, but he could only stab the ball wide after a scramble in the box.
And while the final whistle signalled the end of Brakes’ epic FA Trophy adventure, with pride restored following a difficult few weeks in the league, there are renewed signs that Brakes’ on-pitch problems can now also be consigned to history.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Ben George (James Fry, 108), Connor Gudger (Rob Ogleby, 74), Joe Magunda, Jamie Hood, Jamie Tank, Lee Moore (Ross Oulton, 74), Richard Taundry, Ben Mackey, Jack Edwards, Lee Chilton. Subs not used: Will Green, Rob Ogleby, Eddie Caviezel-Cox.
Altrincham: Tim Deasy, Jordan Sinnott, Luca Havern , Scott Leather, Adam Griffin, Jake Moult, Simon Richman, Josh O’Keefe (Damian Reeves, 114), James Lawrie, Ryan Crowther (Sam Heathcote, 71), Michael Rankine. Subs not used: Callum Williams, George Bowerman, Rhain Davis.