Leamington make their point to make the play-offs
Brakes face a semi-final trip to Redditch United on Wednesday night after securing their play-off place with a scrappy goalless draw at home to Hungerford, writes Paul Okey.
Needing a point to make certain of finishing in the Southern Premier League’s top five, Leamington were put under early pressure when Kettering, one of the two teams who could still overhaul them, raced into a 3-1 lead at Dorchester Town.
It could have been worse for Paul Holleran’s side had Hungerford’s Stefan Brown opted to go for goal after being released on the edge of the home box. However, instead of taking on Tony Breeden, he opted to square the ball across goal and it was behind the supporting attacker.
Lee Moore had a shot blocked in the ninth minute after Jack Edwards had won the first of a succession of aerial battles and a minute later the hosts had a confident shout for a penalty turned down when Daniel Dubidat appeared to be upended in the box after taking advantage of indecision in the Hungerford back line.
Town keeper Paul Strudley was fortunate to get a wrist to a Sam Austin free-kick which flew dangerously across the face of goal, with Lee Moore firing over after the ball was bundled out to the edge of the box.
Moore was then guilty of a heavy second touch after he had been slipped through by Edwards, with Strudley exposed.
At the other end, Garyn Preen was allowed too much space on the edge of the box but dragged his shot wide, while Brown was unable to direct his effort on an empty goal after a Breeden clearance had been charged down just outside the area.
More good work from Edwards then set up a second sight of goal for Moore but again his control let him down.
Five minutes from the break, Leamington were denied a second penalty when Scott Rees landed hand first on the ball after a Breeden free-kick had caused chaos in the visitors’ box but again referee Guy Stretton ignored the impassioned pleas of the home players and fans.
Connor Gudger had the first sight of goal after the break, firing wide on the half-volley after a bout of head tennis in the Town box, while Austin whistled a shot just over the bar after Edwards had shown good strength in midfield.
Hungerford boss Bobby Wilkinson made a triple substitution on the hour-mark, introducing Harry Goodger, Nat Jarvis and James Rusby and a minute later Breeden was forced to make his first save of the afternoon, getting down well to claw away a far-post header from the visitors’ captain Matt Day following a corner.
Rhys Tyler sent an ambitious 45-yard effort over the bar and there was a rare anxious moment when Jamie Hood took an air shot at a corner to allow the ball to make it into the six-yard box, but by and large the home side were coping comfortably with what the in-form visitors could throw at them.
Leamington were in no rush to find a winning goal, with throw-ins and goal kicks taken at a pedestrian pace but as the game entered the final 15 minutes, it was they who looked the most likely to break the deadlock.
Austin was finding more space and some neat skill on the left wing took him past his marker and to the byeline, but Gittings lost his footing as he connected with the cut-back.
Dubidat was twice off-target with acrobatic efforts and Gittings had a chance to ease the home nerves when put through on goal only to send his shot straight at Strudley.
However, despite a lengthy period of injury-time, Brakes never looked like relaxing their grip on their precious point.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Halsall (Rob Elvins, 68), James Mace, Jamie Hood, Lee Moore (Ben George, 73), Callum Gittings, Danny Dibidat (Ben Mackey, 85), Jack Edwards, Sam Austin. Subs not used: Courtney Baker-Richardson, Rob Ogleby.
Hungerford: Paul Strudley, Gary Horgan, Rhys Tyler, Mike Jones, Matt Day, Scott Rees, James Clark, Ian Herring (James Rusby, 60), Stefan Brown (Nat Jarvis, 60), Mark Draycott (Harry Goodger, 60), Garyn Preen. Subs not used: Diak John, Jon Boardman.