Brakes picked up a welcome three points on a sweltering afternoon at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium as they put old foes Kettering Town to the sword after soaking up some early pressure, writes Paul Edwards.
No doubt mindful of the challenge of two games in three days Paul Holleran made three changes to the eleven that started at York, bringing in George Carline for his debut while Kieran Dunbar made his long awaited return after seven months on the sidelines.
Gift Mussa stepped into central midfield to make his first start for the club, while James Mace and Callum Gittings dropped to the bench, with Jordan Murphy and Junior English sitting out the first and second games of their respective suspensions. Elliot Hodge, who played nine times for Leamington towards the end of last season, lined up for the opposition.
The opening ten minutes or so were uneventful until Poppies debutant Alex Nimley’s pace got him in on the left, his cross-shot finding its way to the far post where Connor Kennedy’s shot was deflected away from the Leamington goal line for a corner.
Taken by Hodge on the left, Michael Richens was left unmarked at the far post but could only direct his header across goal and over the bar. Another corner won on the opposite side saw Hodge find the head of Nimley, whose glancing effort flew wide of the upright.
Brakes emerged from Kettring’s spell of pressure as Josh March won a free kick 20 yards out, Gary Stohrer the first man into the Referees notebook. Connor Gudger stepped up and curled a low strike just beyond the dive of Paul White but the ball crashed back off the base of the post.
Gudger’s under hit back pass almost played Leamington into trouble, the left back grateful for Jake Weaver’s quick witted instincts to dart to the edge of his box to clear.
March’s ability to get himself between defender and ball and draw the foul was causing the Kettering defence problems, Luke Graham giving away the free kick which Gudger whipped low into the box, the ball evading Dunbar at the far post.
March looked to have given himself an opportunity to hand his side the lead in the 26th minute when he sprinted on to Kaiman Anderson’s intelligent through ball, drawing the foul from keeper White, but his low strike from the penalty spot crashed back off the left hand post.
Joe Skarz took a quick free kick from just inside his own half that almost caught Leamington out as Kennedy just failed to connect inside the box, but Leamington bounced back from the penalty miss by taking the lead eight minutes before half time.
Mussa did superbly to chase a ball out to the right, winning a free kick from Dunbar delivered a perfect cross to the far post where Jack Edwards looped his header over the backpeddaling White into the net.
Less than three minutes passed before Brakes doubled their lead, Dunbar and Carline moving the ball into the box on the right, Kettering skipper Richens making no protest at all as he tripped the debutant for another penalty. Unperturbed by his earlier miss March collected the ball straight away and blasted a rising drive into the net to the delight of the Harbury Lane End.
There was concern as the whistle went for half time as Meikle and Gudger came together on the left touchline, the Brakes player staying down for several minutes but thankfully walking to the dressing room unassisted, but after a brief fitness test prior to the second half commencing he was replaced by James Mace.
Leamington increased their hold on the game as March grabbed his second of the afternoon two minutes into the second half, snaffling up a real strikers chance from close in as Edwards headed a long throw towards goal.
Strangely this seemed to spark the away support into noisily getting behind their team, and Daniel Nti won a free kick in a good position some twenty yards from goal, second half substitute Ben Milnes driving the dead ball against the defensive wall.
The heat was clearly having an effect on both sides and the pace of the game, but the visitors gamely attempted to haul themselves back into proceedings, Meikle’s swirling right wing cross needing to be pushed over the bar by Weaver.
The visitors began to exert some real pressure, Nti smashing the ball off the underside of the bar and Nimley ballooning the loose ball well over - a real chance to reduce the deficit wasted.
Good work from Carline in the penalty area saw the ball fall to March, his swift turn and rising drive pushed over the bar well by White.
With both sides introducing substitutes in the energy sapping conditions Brakes were doing well to contain and frustrate the visitors as the minutes ticked by.
There was a late chance for a Leamington fourth when March collected a clearance and found substitute Ravi Shamsi, who stretched his legs with a driving run the edge of the box and a powerful effort which White could only parry, March appearing to be brought down for what he believed was the clearest penalty shout of the afternoon.
Kettering did pull a goal back with practically the final kick of the game as they won a corner when Nti was afforded too much time to control and drive low into the bottom corner, but Brakes collected a well earned victory ahead of a tough trip to Telford on Monday.