Brakes slipped further behind the relentless pace of leaders Chippenham Town with this goalless draw at third-placed Hitchin, but remain in with a chance of snatching the priceless automatic promotion spot, writes Paul Edwards.
It was a match they tried desperately hard to win, but defences were king in what turned out to be disappointing fare for a top-five clash, with Chippenham’s 3-1 win at home to Merthyr further adding to the sense of anti-climax.
A healthy Brakes support made the journey down to Hertfordshire and made their usual racket in an attempt to spur their team on, meeting the occasional jeer in reply from a strangely muted home crowd.
A short corner from the right nearly paid dividends for the hosts in the opening exchanges as a shot was cleared away from the Leamington goal, but this was as close as they would get until the dying stages.
Ahmed Obeng’s off target effort from a half-clearance by Lewis Rolfe was the first attempt at goal for Brakes before they then picked up a couple of soft bookings, first for Rob Thompson-Brown and then for Callum Gittings.
Brett Donnelly was fortunate not to pick up a yellow card before the referee’s patience ran out shortly after, while Tony Breeden also went into the book as the game threatened to boil over, the constant squawking to the officials by the home players an unseemly throwback to Midland Alliance days, when it seemed to be an almost weekly occurrence.
Thompson-Brown had a great chance to get a shot in just before half-time when the ball found its way out to him in space on the left side of the penalty area after Obeng’s initial shot was blocked, but he swiped at the ball and it rolled harmlessly wide.
The game continued to fragment with countless stoppages but there was far more football played in the second half and Leamington came close as they carved out several decent opportunities.
Gittings’ strong run towards the Hitchin box was halted by a foul but the ball ran nicely for substitute Richard Gregory who, rather than shoot first time, chose to take it inside a defender and was hustled off the ball.
Jack Edwards then glanced a header across goal and just past the far post from Thompson-Brown’s left-wing corner. He was handed another opportunity as substitute Kurtis Revan superbly flicked the ball into his path from Richard Taundry’s pass, but his first-time drive was deflected behind for a corner.
Revan then provided the chance of the game for Leamington when he robbed Jay Dowie by the right touchline before delivering a pinpoint cross for Gregory, who held his head in his hands as he nodded agonisingly wide.
Edwards almost forced Dowie into another mistake inside the box, the ball being hurriedly cleared as Gregory closed in.
Both keepers were largely redundant all afternoon, a testament to the efforts of those in front of them.
However, Breeden was forced into his first save of the game as injury-time approached, pushing a powerful shot behind from Jonny McNamara.
Hitchin Town: Michael Johnson, Kane Smith, Ben Walster, Jay Dowie, Lewis Rolfe, Will Wright, Jonny McNamara, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Brett Donnelly (Mason Spence, 62), Robbie Burns, Matt Lench (Liam Brooks, 90+3). Subs not used: Martin Bennett, Callum Donnelly, Conor Clarke.
BRAKES: Tony Breeden, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Darren Pond, Jamie Hood, Joe Magunda, Courtney Baker-Richardson (Kurtis Revan 72), Callum Gittings, Ahmed Obeng (Richard Gregory, 57), Jack Edwards, Rob Thompson-Brown (Jordan Goddard, 84). Subs not used: James Mace, Tom James.