Vanarama National League North
Phillips 66 Community Stadium
Tuesday 5th September 2017
Not for the first time this season Brakes were left scratching their heads at how they came away from a game with nothing as they slipped to an agonising late defeat at the hands of an Alfreton Town side who, by their own supporters’ admission, were not at their best.
Collectively Leamington produced their best display of the season so far. In the first half particularly their play was full energy, invention, determination and at times sparkle, the effects of the win at FC United of Manchester were there for all to see. Football really can be a cruel mistress sometimes though, and the manner in which all three of the visitors goals were conceded only served to reinforce the point that every slip, trip or loss of concentration will be punished at this level.
With Milan Butterfield having returned to parent club Walsall following the end of his loan spell Paul Holleran made just one change to his starting line up from Saturday, bringing Jack Edwards in for his debut having returned to the club from Solihull Moors 24 hours earlier. AFC Telford loanee Kieran Dunbar made his home debut having looked lively in Saturday’s win.
The game got off to a very lively start, Brakes seeing shots blocked before Dunbar fired wide, while the visitors’ Billy Priestley headed a cross just wide of the upright.
Leamington hit the front on 12 minutes following a super passage of play, the ball being zipped around the wet turf before Dunbar split the Alfreton defence with a fine ball through for Obeng down the right channel. He cut into the penalty area and was brought down by Priestley for a penalty. With regular taker Rob Thompson-Brown watching on from the substitutes bench, skipper Tony Breeden took responsibility and opted for power, smashing his kick past Chris Elliot into the net.
The visitors were level with their first serious attack 8 minutes later however, former Forest and Notts County striker Craig Westcarr cracking a powerful first time effort in off the bar as Brakes desperately tried to clear their lines.
Westcarr then almost played in strike partner Chris Sharp clear but he was denied by a fine tackle from Junior English.
It took just three minutes for Leamington to restore their advantage. With Alfreton similarly failing to clear their lines from Dunbar’s right wing corner the ball dropped perfectly for Stefan Moore to slam his first goal of the season powerfully into the bottom corner.
Having barely had time to be unsettled by the equaliser, Brakes set about putting their visitors under more pressure. The rising confidence levels and tireless work ethic were there for all to see, and the crowd responded in turn. Richard Taundry highlighted the determination of those in Gold and Black with a full bloodied challenge on Cieron Keane.
Alfreton gave further notice that the game was far from over though, Adam Smith picking the ball up on the right and working Breeden with a well struck shot. Brendan Daniels then sent an ambitious 35 yard free kick just past the post.
Smith fired a long range daisy cutter into the arms of Breeden when a pass to the unmarked Sharp or Westcarr would surely have caused Leamington more problems.
Obeng and Taundry combined once more for the latter to set the livewire Callum Gittings free down the right, his firm cross to the far post was met by Dunbar, who was just unable to get the ball out from under his feet as it squirmed behind.
Alfreton drew level for a second time right on 45 minutes, the grounded Luke Shiels somehow smuggling the ball over the line from close range after a defensive nightmare for Leamington, who protested that Junior English had been fouled in the build up.
Moore almost restored the lead once more in time added on, his shot lacked the power to beat Elliot as he fell.
The ball was then bundled over the bar by the Reds before an entertaining first half drew to a close.
Given the effort put in during the first half it was perhaps inevitable that the pace of the game would slow a little after the interval. Both sides received a booking apiece before Edwards headed against the bar from Obeng’s cross, the raised offside flag ready to snuff out any potential celebration.
Bradley Wood came close at the other end with a vicious first time drive from a half clearance that whistled just over the bar.
Both sides rang the changes, and a long defensive clearance from Breeden turned into a great ball for Colby Bishop, who turned his defender on the edge of the box and found Obeng on the far side, who was dispossessed before he had chance to shoot.
James Mace denied Daniels with a superb defensive header to concede a corner, from which Shiels powered in a header that was acrobatically held by Breeden, who was then forced into a superb double save as he charged off his line to deny Craig Disley before leaping to his feet to deny Daniels on the follow up. Edwards then stabbed in a low drive that appeared to take Elliot by surprise somewhat, but he held onto the ball well.
Alfreton were beginning to turn the screw a little as the game moved into the final ten minutes, but Bishop came mightily close for Leamington when he held off his marker on the edge of the box before turning to lash just past the upright.
With the way previous results had gone this season there seemed almost an inevitability about a third Alfreton goal, and sure enough it came two minutes from time, Tom Platt crashing it high into the net after another bout of pinball in the Leamington box.
‘There’s a familiar pattern developing in our home games,’ Holleran lamented after the game. ‘I think first half was as well as we’ve played at home. We scored two, had a couple more good chances, against a team that is full of experience and quality so I was really pleased with that part of our game, but yet again, we’re one up, we don’t deal with a bread and butter ball in our box. We have two or three chances to clear it, and then pass it straight to their centre forward who makes it 1-1. We then work hard and get the second goal, have a great move that could have seen us get a third. Their second goal was a bit dubious, I think everyone in the ground has seen the foul on Junior English, apart from the man that mattered. The team are taking a few knocks at the moment. Some of it has been of our own doing, some of it has been unlucky, so we could have done without that.’
‘Second half we haven’t quite hit the same levels, you start to think we’ll take the point, but it’s like taking one step forward and two steps back after Saturday. It’s clear that a few of the players are struggling with the schedule. These are testing times, but we will keep working hard to get things right.’
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke (16 Joe Magunda, 67), Junior English, James Mace, Kieran Dunbar, Callum Gittings, Stefan Moore (12 Colby Bishop, 67), Jack Edwards, Ahmed Obeng (14 Rob Thompson-Brown, 79).
Subs not used: 15 Kurtis Revan, 17 Liam Canavan.
Alfreton Town: Chris Elliot, Sam Topliss (15 Craig Disley, 60), Cieron Keane, Tom Platt, Luke Shiels ©, Billy Priestley, Bradley Wood, Adam Smith (12 Ryan Jennings, 67), Chris Sharp (16 Ricardo German, 60), Craig Westcarr, Brendan Daniels.
Subs not used: 14 Brody Robertson, 17 Tom Allan.
Referee: Mr Simon Mather
Assistant Referees: Mr Alex Grey & Mr Andrew Ellis
Brakes Man of the Match: Kieran Dunbar.