Brakes' unbeaten run is Donn and dusted
Leamington's long unbeaten home league record, which stretched back to February, was ended by the side who last tasted victory at the Phillips 66, writes Paul Okey.
Brett Donnelly did the damage in more ways than one, scoring twice and providing a robust presence up front for the streetwise visitors.
Jamie Hood came off second best to the wily striker on more than one occasion and it was a boot to the face of the centre-back from Donnelly which provided Brakes with an undeserved route back into the game, with a second yellow seeing the visitors reduced to ten men and Courtney Baker-Richardson heading home from the resultant free-kick.
However, despite a rousing finish from the home side and more than eight minutes of injury time, Town held on for a deserved win to reignite their title hopes.
Hood received an early booked after clipping the heels of Callum Donnelly as he raced on to an incisive pass on the edge of the box but it was a rare moment of anxiety for the home side in a promising start.
A neat build-up down the left allowed Ryan Rowe to get in behind the Hitchin defence and keeper Michael Johnson had to be alert to save with his legs.
Baker-Richardson was bravely in to win a header but could not direct his effort on target.
Liam Brooks was then booked after a succession of full-blooded challenges in the centre of the park threatened to spill over.
Hitchin may have picked up the yellow card but it was Brakes who were disrupted by the increasingly niggly nature of the game and, with Robbie Burns finding space in between the defence and midfield, the visitors were beginning to take a stranglehold on proceedings.
They gained their reward in the 30th minute, with Brett Donnelly heading home from close range after being picked out by Kane Smith.
Brakes were wobbling and Breeden was forced to tip over a superbly struck 35-yard free-kick from Ben Walster, with most in the ground expecting the defender to stand up a cross.
The hosts had a lucky escape when Liam Brooks hit the angle with a header and when the ball was returned in by Lucas Fitzpatrick, Breeden was forced into a superb reaction save after a clever close-range deflection from Brett Donnelly.
Jack Edwards was well off target with a header from a corner in the 55th minute and Ahmed Obeng was denied by a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Smith as he looked to poke the ball in at the far post.
However, any hopes that Brakes could salvage something from the game looked to have evaporated in the 64th minute when Brett Donnelly doubled his, and Hitchin’s tally, coolly dinking the ball over Breeden after spinning off Ben George and being picked out by his brother Callum.
Walster showed his earlier free-kick had been no fluke with another ferocious hit which forced Breeden to tip it over for a corner and Burns was unlucky to clip Kirkpatrick’s short corner just over the bar.
Paul Holleran threw on Richard Taundry and Joe Magunda in a bid to gain a foothold in midfield but Hitchin remained in the ascendancy and Breeden pulled off a superb point-blank save to keep out Burns’ effort after the ball had fallen to him in the six-yard box.
The introduction of Nathan Olukanmi was Holleran’s final throw of the dice but it was the departure of Donnelly which was to have a major bearing on the closing stages.
The striker, who is in his fourth spell at Top Field, had already been harshly booked for the celebration of his first goal and had enjoyed the wrath of the home fans all afternoon.
And he was to cement his pantomime villain status when he inadvertently caught Hood with a stray boot as a high ball dropped behind him.
Pushing and shoving ensued after Hood hit the deck and when order was restored Donnelly was already half-way back to the dressing room.
Instant retribution was inflicted as Baker-Richardson beat Johnson to the punch to head Taundry’s free-kick into an unguarded net.
With just under ten minutes of normal time remaining, Leamington sensed they could still get something out of the game and James Mace tried his luck with an effort from distance, while Baker-Richardson, at full stretch, could only get a toe-end on to Obeng’s cross.
It was one-way traffic now and Josh Bickerstaff produced a fine block to deny Baker-Richardson, who then hit the base of the post with a header from a Taundry free-kick.
Baker-Richardson’s cut-back from the byeline then looked to have set Edwards up for a goal on his 100th start for the club, but his shot was deflected away from goal by another heroic Hitchin block.
Mace headed over from a corner and luck appeared to be on Brakes’ side when another corner was indicated. However, when the ball came out to Taundry his fierce shot was deflected away from goal by Dan Webb.
There was to be one final chance for the home side but Breeden was unable to provide the dramatic denouement, heading narrowly wide from Thompson-Brown’s right-wing corner.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Ben George (Richard Taundry, 64), Connor Gudger, Callum Gittings (Nathan Olukanmi, 76), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Jack Edwards, Ryan Rowe (Joe Magunda, 64), Rob Thompson-Brown, Ahmed Obeng. Subs not used: Tom James, Ryan Quinn.
Hitchin Town: Michael Johnson, Kane Smith, Ben Walster, Josh Bickerstaff, Dan Webb, Lewis Rolfe, Liam Brooks (Michael King, 85), Callum Donnelly (Matt Lench, 80), Brett Donnelly, Robbie Burns, Lucas Kirkpatrick. Subs not used: Will Wright, Connor Clarke, Mason Spence.