Leamington turned their recent form upside down as they earned a hard-working and deserved three points on their first visit to the splendid Broadhurst Park home of FC United of Manchester, writes Paul Edwards.
Paul Holleran made changes to his starting line-up following Bank Holiday Monday’s defeat to AFC Telford United, with Junior English moving into defence to cover for the suspended Jamie Hood, while James Mace returned alongside him. Telford loanee Kieran Dunbar went straight in for his debut and Stefan Moore was handed a first start of the season.
Ahmed Obeng set up debutant Dunbar for an early shot that was miscued over the bar before Rob Thompson-Brown lashed a low drive towards goal after winning a meaty challenge with Nathan Lowe on the left, the ball was easily gathered by FC keeper Lloyd Allinson, however.
Michael Connor headed over the bar from the home side’s first corner.
Thompson-Brown received a booking for a challenge on Lowe, who then curled in a low free-kick which evaded everyone in a packed penalty area to float wide of the far post.
The opening half was not a great spectacle, with neither side able to assert any authority.
Leamington were well organised and appeared happy to let their hosts try and break them down, attempting to break quickly when regaining possession. On one such occasion, Callum Gittings received the ball in space 25 yards out, driving low into the arms of Allinson.
Things began to pick up towards the end of the half, Connor McCarthy crashing in a decent effort that Tony Breeden held under his bar, while Dunbar fired in a well-struck free-kick from distance into the arms of Allinson after Moore had been fouled.
FC United almost broke through seconds before the half-time whistle but a header from a well-placed free-kick was directed tamely into Breeden’s hands.
The game could only improve, and it certainly did that in the second half.
Some neat footwork from Obeng inside the penalty area in the opening minutes saw Allinson gather his shot at the second attempt, while Lowe drove a powerful effort just over the bar for United.
The clearest opportunity for either side came when Connor played in Gilchrist on the left, who beat Breeden with his shot but not the far post, the ball pinging back into play to Leamington’s relief.
Dunbar bludgeoned his way through the FC United backline to play Obeng in down the right but his ball in from the byline missed everyone in blue.
Brakes then stunned their hosts by taking the lead in the 70th minute, Connor Gudger’s vicious low drive from the left saw diverted past Allinson by Gittings to the delight of the travelling support stationed behind the goal.
Substitute Tom Greaves almost benefited from Joe Magunda’s block inside the box but his second effort found the side netting.
The same player then took a touch too many 20 yards out when a first-time shot might have caused Breeden more problems.
There were more problems for the home side 13 minutes from time, however, when substitute Colby Bishop pounced on Allinson’s initial save from Gudger’s free-kick to slam home his first goal for the club from close range.
Obeng almost got through with Bishop in support as Leamington looked to kill the game off but his attempted pass was blocked.
Steve Irwin blasted a shot over as the hosts desperately looked for a way back into the game, which they found with seven minutes to go when a right-wing cross was cushioned back for Scott Kay to sidefoot a first-time volley firmly past Breeden and into the net.
Brakes were hanging on a little now but English was a colossus at the back, making some superb defensive clearances.
Leamington had a chance to snatch a third in time added on, Gittings playing in substitute Kurtis Revan on the right, but he blazed a powerful drive over the bar.
Brakes boss Holleran was delighted that his side showed the character to bounce back from the worst run of results in the club’s recent history, saying: “We’ve been too easy to play against in the last two games.
“We’ve had a few problems with personnel, we’re not quite there with that yet.
“This is a difficult league to be having to rebuild in and fill holes.
“Because of the schedule one or two players are having to be patched up a bit, but today’s performance was about big hearts, lots of effort and, because we’re not two down after 20 minutes you get a foothold in the game, and when it opens up you can see we’re a threat with the pace we’ve got in the side.
“We got back to basics, looked a lot more solid, and when the game allowed we played some good football.
“It was a much improved performance and a win keeps us in that pack. We’re not drifting away but we need to keep improving and we will look to do that.”
FC United of Manchester: Lloyd Allinson, Danny Brady, Danny Wisdom, Scott Kay, Jordan Fagbola, Matthew Hughes, James Hooper (Tom Greaves, 71), Nathan Lowe, Jason Gilchrist (Joel Senior, 71) Michael Connor (Steve Irwin, 56), Connor McCarthy. Subs not used: Joel Logan, Zac Corbett.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Clark, Junior English, James Mace, Rob Thompson-Brown (Joe Magunda, 62), Kieran Dunbar, Stefan Moore (Colby Bishop, 74), Callum Gittings, Ahmed Obeng (Kurtis Revan, 81). Subs not used: Liam Canavan, Milan Butterfield.