Vanarama National League North
Moor Lane Stadium, Salford
Saturday 7th October 2017
On a miserable wet afternoon in Greater Manchester Brakes pulled off a stunning victory at the home of title chasers Salford City to send out a message to the rest of the National League North that they are not in the division simply to make up the numbers.
With only one league defeat (on the opening day at home to Darlington) all season, level on points with Harrogate Town at the top of the table and with only seven goals conceded in their twelve previous games, this was arguably Leamington’s toughest assignment of the season so far, but instead of succumbing to what most of the Non League fraternity expected to be a routine victory for the hosts, Paul Holleran’s side embraced the challenge, weathered the fierce early pressure and then rocked Salford back on their heels by taking the lead.
The early exchanges illustrated just why Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley’s men are considered one of the front runners for promotion as they pinned Leamington back with waves of menacing attacks. Josh Askew fired in the first shot of the afternoon as Joe Magunda lost his footing on the edge of the box, the ball deflecting through to Tony Breeden.
Michael Nottingham then fizzed a dangerous ball in from the right that just evaded the stretching Askew at the far post.
Mike Phenix was proving to be a real nuisance to the Brakes backline and almost provided the opening goal in comical fashion. His shot towards the near post from the right was cut out by the sliding Junior English, who seemed to move in slow motion towards goal, the ball striking at least three parts of his body before Breeden snatched it up on the line.
English was well positioned once more to thwart Salford in their next foray forward, superbly hooking another well struck effort from Phenix away from the line after the ball had rebounded back to him.
Rob Thompson-Brown registered Leamington’s opening effort at goal, his low strike always curving just wide of the target, while a rehearsed corner routine ended with Jack Redshaw ballooning a shot high over the bar for the home side.
Having survived the Salford onslaught Leamington were then handed the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot on 19 minutes when former Boston United defender Carl Piergianni was adjudged to have impeded Jack Edwards. After the protestations had died down, Thompson-Brown stepped up and crashed the spot kick low into the bottom left hand corner, keeper Max Crocombe diving the right way but failing to keep it out.
Salford were immediately back on the offensive, Ibou Touray lashing in a good effort from outside the box that forced an unorthodox save from Breeden as he punched the ball clear. It took ten minutes before the hosts were back on level terms however and it was a somewhat fortuitous goal, as Lois Maynard fired in a hopeful effort that was neatly deflected into the far corner past Breeden by the predatory Phenix.
The Brakes skipper was back to his brilliant best in this game, pushing away a piledriver from Askew before pulling off what is becoming something of a trademark save for him, Redshaw arrowing in a powerful strike that looked destined for the bottom corner, only for Breeden to stretch out an arm right at the last second to divert it away.
An all action first half was brought to a close in tremendous fashion with two minutes remaining. Stefan Moore was fouled just outside the box, presenting a decent opportunity for a strike at goal from the resulting free kick. Step up Connor Gudger, who curled an absolutely delightful effort over the wall and in off the post to restore Leamington’s lead at a crucial time.
Unfortunately something sparked an unsightly melee as the teams made their way off the pitch at half time, which apparently resulted in one of the Salford management team being sent from the bench, and Junior English receiving a booking.
The belief and confidence gained from the two first half goals clearly galvanised the players, and roared on by a large and delighted travelling support that barely paused for breath during the 90 minutes they began the second half on the front foot, Jack Edwards just unable to wrap his boot around Thompson-Brown’s left wing cross at the far post. Moore then dragged a shot wide when a square pass to Joe Clarke might have been a better option.
Back came Salford, Touray driving a powerful effort across goal and wide as the home support bayed for a penalty after seeing something in the previous passage of play. Phenix then received a booking for throwing himself to the turf in search of a penalty before Breeden was forced to push a close range effort from Touray behind for a corner, from which Phenix headed home Anthony Dudley’s delivery to drag his side level once more.
This was now a real test of character for Leamington. Thoughts wandered back to the home defeats against Stockport and Alfreton in similar circumstances, but this was different. There seemed to be a collective resolve, both on and off the pitch, that this game was simply not going to slip away. Crocombe and Piergianni almost contrived to let in Revan as the Ammies’ keeper slipped while preparing to make a routine clearance. Salford then came close again, Breeden having to make another vital save.
The skipper was certainly earning his corn, producing another top drawer stop to deny Phenix a hat trick as he pounced on a loose pass forward to thunder a shot across goal that Breeden dived full length to paw away.
Brakes then went mightily close themselves, Kurtis Revan stabbing into the path of fellow substitute Calum Gittings, who cut inside and crashed in a low drive that was deflected inches past the post. Moments later there was absolute bedlam as Salford failed to defend the corner, Revan bundling in from almost on the line to spark delirious celebrations in the away end.
The home side looked a spent force now and could have conceded a fourth as Dunbar and Gittings broke from midfield to go two on two, only for Crocombe to pull off a fine save from Dunbar’s shot.
Brakes saw out the remaining minutes to secure a victory which not many gave them a chance of achieving prior to kick off.
Paul Holleran was rightly proud of his players afterwards, saying ‘We’re delighted with the game from our point of view. When we had to sit and dig in we did that, and when we needed to be expansive and brave, we were. I told the players if you just sit in against Salford you’ll get beat, but we did try and play higher and press higher, and keep their better players away from our goal. To do that you’ve got to work extremely hard, and the players were fantastic today.
‘It was a great game. I think at 2-2, 99.9% of this country, who would have been looking at the Sky Super Six, would have expected Leamington to lose this game. And I think I probably just need to leave it there!’
Salford City: Max Crocombe, Michael Nottingham, Ibou Touray, Scot Burton (12 Gus Mafuta, 78), Carl Piergianni, Liam Hogan ©, Anthony Dudley (15 Mark Shelton, 67), Lois Maynard, Mike Phenix, Jack Redshaw, Josh Askew (17 Mani Dieseruvwe. 56).
Subs not used: 14 Dom McHale, 16 Jake Beesley.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, James Mace, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Jamie Hood, Junior English, Kieran Dunbar (12 Richard Taundry, 90), Joe Magunda, Stefan Moore (15 Kurtis Revan, 68), Jack Edwards, Rob Thompson-Brown (14 Callum Gittings, 79).
Subs not used: 16 Liam Canavan, 17 Ahmed Obeng.
Referee: Mr Benjamin Speedie
Assistant Referees: Mr Liam Corrigan & Mr Carl Rooney
Brakes Man of the Match: Every player who stepped onto the pitch wearing blue was outstanding today.