Leamington marked Paul Holleran’s 500th competitive game in charge with a home victory last night to move up to fourth in the fledgling National League North table, writes Paul Okey.
Holleran’s fantastic achievement was recognised with a presentation on the pitch ahead of kick-off and goals from Jack Lane and Jordan Murphy and a man-of-the-match performance from Jake Weaver ensured a night of celebration did not fall flat.
Kaiman Anderson for Cieron Keane was the only change from Saturday’s draw at Kidderminster with Jack Edwards retaining the captain’s armband despite his sending off at Aggborough.
The sides felt each other out in a cagey opening with Glen Walker’s wayward volley the only chance of note before Brakes broke the deadlock in the 17th minute.
The home side had already looked a threat with high balls into the box and Joe Clarke’s delivery was well won by Edwards whose header back into a central position was nodded home by Lane from point-blank range.
The concession sparked Brackley into life and they were well on top for a 15-minute spell.
However, despite them bossing possession, Weaver remained relatively untroubled.
Shep Murombedzi ballooned a shot over before Weaver made his only save of note, flinging himself to his right to beat out a well-struck effort from Shane Byrne.
A cross-shot from Walker was well-claimed by Weaver, while Lee Ndlovu twice dragged shots wide as the hosts found themselves penned in.
A jinking run from the lively Byrne then ended with the venom being taken out of his strike by a deflection.
Callum Gittings put a tame effort wide of the near post at the other end and by the time Carl Baker fired a shot well over the home bar, the Brackley pressure looked to be fizzling out.
As it was, it was Brakes who had the best chance of the closing stages of the half with Edwards unable to guide his instinctive header inside the post after Josh March had won James Mace’s well-flighted cross.
Brackley stepped up the pace after the restart and it needed a miraculous save from Weaver to maintain Brakes’ advantage inside the opening two minutes. Byrne’s corner was allowed to escape the players on the near post and Ndlovu looked to only have to make a connection to draw his side level. However, his stooping header was somehow clawed off the line by Weaver, with a follow-up header gratefully claimed by the on-loan keeper.
A Walker free-kick from the edge of the box was straight into the midriff of Weaver before Brakes wasted a gilt-edged chance to double their advantage.
Edwards picked out Anderson on the left and the summer signing advanced down the flank before sending in a cross which Gittings, arriving unmarked at pace, could only guide over the crossbar from eight yards out.
Clarke went into the book for protesting the award of a free-kick against him and Weaver was relived to see Baker’s resultant dead ball slide past his right-hand post.
The visitors made a double substitution in a bid to get back on level terms, with Tiendai Daire and James Armson introduced in place of Baker and defender Kelvin Langmead.
However, the changes seemed to unsettle the visitors and it was Brakes who were now looking the more threatening side.
In the 65th minute, a ball in from the right picked out March in the box who produced a neat turn to earn himself a pocket of space. But, with perhaps more time than he realised, he directed his shot straight at keeper Danny Lewis.
Edwards’ deft header from a Connor Gudger cross then slide agonisingly past the far post.
The home side did not have long to rue the miss though, with Murphy making it 2-0 just 60 seconds later, cutting in from the right and drilling a shot inside Lewis’ near post.
A good block denied March as Brakes looked to make the game safe, while Weaver was relieved to gather a shot from Byrne after good work from Ndlovu had teed him up on the edge of the home box.
Weaver was then down superbly to deny Ndlovu after the muscular forward had cut inside the last defender. The shot looked beyond Brakes’ new number one but he produced a strong hand to keep the ball out and was then alert enough to clear the loose ball from danger.
Weaver then had the final say, pouching a Byrne free-kick in the dying seconds of added time.
However, despite an outstanding performance from Weaver, he knows it will be his manager who gets all the plaudits on a night that will live long in the memory for all those that have shared in his journey to the magic 500.
Here’s to the next 500!