Vanarama National League North
St James Park
Monday 1st January 2018
Brakes stood up to another Brackley barrage and emerged with a point and a lot of credit from another battling, enterprising display that kicked off 2018 in promising fashion. The fact that they were only eventually pegged back by a contentious penalty decision says a great deal about their performance, but Brackley, still unbeaten at home this season, will also probably feel aggrieved that they only took two points from the back to back clashes.
The unfortunate injury to Colby Bishop which has sadly sidelined him for the rest of the season saw Paul Holleran hand a first start in over two months to player/coach Stefan Moore.
A midday downpour put the match in doubt for a short time, but with the weather improving and the ground staff at St James Park working on the affected areas, kick off was put back fifteen minutes and the New Years Day crowd of 522 were treated to what was at times an absorbing contest.
Similar to the Boxing Day clash it was the Saints who were on top in the opening exchanges. Glenn Walker and Matt Lowe were both wide of the target with shots while skipper Gareth Dean crashed a dangerous ball across goal that ended up going out for a throw in on the far side.
Tony Breeden fielded a hopeful effort from distance from Ellis Myles before holding another effort from Lowe that deflected through to him. Connor Gudger then cleared a shot from Aaron Williams away from the goal line before Richard Taundry deflected another effort from the same player onto the bar for a corner.
Leamington had few chances to get forward in the opening twenty minutes or so, moves breaking down in midfield as possession was squandered too easily, but the tireless running and industry of Ahmed Obeng began to pose problems for the Brackley defence, and he won a free kick on the left side of the penalty area. Kieran Dunbar’s initial take deflected straight back to him, the second effort finding Moore, whose turn and shot was deflected behind for a corner.
The veteran striker was always going to be a little ring rusty having not featured since the York City home game on October 14th, but he came close when getting to the ball ahead of Connor Franklin as both players fell to the ground challenging on the left just outside the box. Moore’s attempted chip over Danny Lewis drifted past the far post.
Plenty of hard work was being put in to contain the Brackley threat, Jamie Hood sticking close to Williams as he probed for another opening, a very well timed challenge preventing the shot from leaving his boot. More good work from Obeng then set up Jack Edwards for a shot that flew high and wide. The midfielder was on target with his next effort though, a low drive set up by good hold play from Moore that was comfortable for Lewis.
Just as they had done six days previously, Brakes stunned their high flying opponents by taking the lead just before half time. Moore was allowed to run unchallenged up the left before exchanging passes with Obeng and firing in a shot after an initial block that looked to present a routine save for Lewis, only for the ball to squirm under his body and trickle into the net.
Brackley piled on the pressure in a bid to force a swift response, Dean firing wide before Alex Gudger was denied by a good stop from Breeden, two more shots being blocked before the ball was ballooned over the stand behind the goal.
Gudger came close again early in the second half when his headed effort was cleared off the line by Junior English. The travelling support set themselves up for a nail biting 45 minutes but Leamington looked threatening when they were able to counter attack, which they found far more opportunities to do than they had done in the first half, and the game swung from end to end.
The home side were again doing the majority of the pressing but Dunbar’s pace got him clear of the chasing defenders and he was thwarted at the last by a block tackle from Lewis. Good possession in and around the Brackley box then resulted in a cross that was only half cleared, Joe Clarke firing in a shot that was deflected through to Lewis by Obeng.
Kurtis Revan replaced goalscorer Moore just past the hour mark and immediately got himself involved, winning the ball in the centre circle and driving forward, exchanging passes with Dunbar before dragging his shot across goal and wide. His pace then almost got him in on goal ahead of Gudger, who managed to get the ball back to his goalkeeper to clear.
The Saints had certainly had plenty of chances to grab a goal, but were handed a route back into the game with just under fifteen minutes remaining when Clarke was penalised as a shot was blasted at his arm at point blank range, Referee Amy Fearn deciding that this was deserving of a penalty award. After a few minutes of understandable protests from the Leamington players, Williams stepped up to send Breeden the wrong way, drilling low into the bottom left hand corner of goal.
Walker drove inches over the bar as Brackley continued to pour forward in search of a late winner. Things became a little heated as questionable decisions went against the visitors in the closing stages, Hood and Brackley substitute Lee Ndlovu going into the Referees’ notebook, but Leamington kept their composure to claim another well earned point.
The manager was pleased with the way his side had performed in the second half particularly, saying ‘We were disappointed with the first half, although we came in 1-0 up we never really got a foothold in the game. We’re all well aware of how good Brackley are, the way they play, they’ve got good players and good options from the bench. We’ve had to patch a few up today and move one or two around, and obviously the state of the pitch has made things harder, so I was really pleased with the second half because as well as showing all the grit and determination that we showed in the first half we were better with and without the ball, which I expected us to be. They do push a lot into forward positions which leaves space, and we utilised it better.’
‘The goal itself is a little disappointing when you think that for the second game running we have defended resolutely, got some great blocks in, some great last ditch tackles. We were brave. I’ll have to look at it again. I’m not even sure it was in the box, I’m not sure how Joe Clarke can get out of the way of it, but on the balance of the game we have to be delighted with the point. We’ve had to withstand a lot of pressure, probably more so than in any other away game this year, but football is about different qualities, and what is important when you’re going away to one of the best sides in the league is that you can stay in the game, you can work hard, you can frustrate them and defend well. I was pleased that second half we carried a bit more of a threat ourselves and caused them some problems.’
Brackley Town: Danny Lewis, Ellis Myles, Connor Franklin, Shane Byrne, Alex Gudger, Gareth Dean ©, Glenn Walker, James Armson, Andy Brown (14 Lee Ndlovu, 71), Aaron Williams, Matt Lowe.
Subs not used: 12 Steve Diggin, 15 Ben Tilney, 16 Jamie Lucas, 17 Khris Oti.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Jamie Hood, Junior English, Kieran Dunbar (16 Liam Canavan, 72), Callum Gittings, Stefan Moore (15 Kurtis Revan, 62), Jack Edwards (14 Joe Magunda, 55), Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 12 James Mace, 17 Matt Hill.
Referee: Amy Fearn
Assistant Referees: Gareth Davies & Oliver Mackey
Brakes Man of the Match: Jamie Hood.