Brakes snatched FA Cup victory right at the death against dogged Midland League opponents Westfields just as a replay began to look inevitable, writes Paul Edwards.
Long-serving manager Sean Edwards led his team to the first round proper last season before they were knocked out in a replay by Leamington’s National League North rivals Curzon Ashton, gaining national recognition for some memorable giantkilling along the way,
And despite Brakes not always being at their best in this contest they certainly showed far more effort and endeavour than they had done in the desperate capitulation at Highgate United last year, finding their cutting edge when it mattered to pick up a first win in the competition since beating Wroxham in 2014.
The healthy travelling contingent in a crowd of 365 were heartened by the way their team opened proceedings and although they did little with their spells of possession, it was evident that they were not about to make things easy for their hosts.
However, it was Westfields who gained the first sight of goal as play approached the 15-minute mark, Richard Greaves firing a tame effort into the arms of Tony Breeden.
Matter became slightly more serious in their next attack, however, Breeden bundling the striker over inside the box for a clear penalty. The Brakes skipper redeemed himself immediately, diving low to his left to hold a poorly struck spot-kick from Craig Jones.
Callum Gittings cracked a low drive past the upright as Leamington looked to make the most of their good fortune, while James Mace hit the top of the bar with an attempted cross from the right after Kieran Dunbar had played him clear with a fine pass.
Westfields began to put their higher-ranked opponents under pressure as they quickly got over the penalty miss but there were no chances to be had, with Breeden enjoying a rare quiet afternoon after his penalty save.
Stefan Moore sent a shot into the side netting on the turn following a half-cleared corner and was the victim of one of a number of bewildering decisions from the officials when he clearly won the ball in a one-on-one with Westfields keeper Kieron Blackburn just before half-time, only to be penalised for a foul.
Joe Clarke drove wide from distance early in the second half before Paul Holleran made the changes that would ultimately win the tie for his side, introducing Ahmed Obeng and Colby Bishop to provide more thrust going forward.
Obeng almost made an immediate impact, driving in a shot from the edge of the box that was deflected behind for a corner, from which Jamie Hood thumped in a header that deflected off a Westfields defender and on to the crossbar.
The closest the home side came to a sight of goal in the second half came when substitute Adeki Kingsford almost broke clear, but his shot was deflected through to Breeden.
Connor Gudger and the recalled Rob Thompson-Brown were linking up well on the left and having driven a shot well over after an exchange of passes earlier on, Gudger delivered an inviting ball right across the face of goal that went to waste.
Defender Kane Kahaki then calmly sidefooted a dangerous ball to the far post from Clarke inches wide of his own goal, Hood heading wide from the resulting corner.
Dunbar rose to head Mace’s right-wing cross well over the bar, while Obeng drove a shot wastefully off-target from the same side when he had better options in the box.
Thompson-Brown then sent a well-struck half-volley over the bar from a half-cleared free-kick.
Leamington certainly looked the more likely to score in the closing stages, and just when time looked to be ticking away from them the breakthrough arrived. After his initial free-kick from the left wing had been blocked, Dunbar’s brilliant ball back into the six-yard box was powerfully headed into the roof of the net by Bishop.
The striker then helped to make the game safe deep into injury time after he was fouled by Matt Sysum, the Westfields centre back trudging slowly off the pitch having received a red card.
Thompson-Brown stepped up to the penalty spot and the travelling support were able to raucously celebrate a win in the famous old competition when Blackburn was unable to keep the ball out,
Westfields: Kieron Blackburn, Kane Kahaki, Sam Plane, Phil Glover, Matt Sysum, Matt Reeve, Craig Jones, Aidan Thomas (Lewis Platt, 84), Richard Greaves ( Adeji Kingsford, 62), Ben Miller (Dan Folan, 70), Alex Hainault. Subs not used: Carlos Morera, Hayden Turner, John Hopkins.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, James Mace, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Junior English, Jamie Hood, Kieran Dunbar, Callum Gittings (Joe Magunda, 86), Stefan Moore (Colby Bishop, 68), Jack Edwards (Ahmed Obeng, 66), Rob Thompson-Brown. Subs not used: Charley Edge, Kurtis Revan, Richard Taundry, Liam Canavan.