Ten-man Brakes produced their worst performance of the season as they were dumped out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by Midland League Highgate United, writes Paul Edwards.
A clearly frustrated Connor Gudger was shown a second yellow card late on, presumably for dissent, but the tie was already long gone despite Jack Edwards heading a well-taken reply for the visitors.
This tie provided a throwback to the kind of challenge Brakes faced on a weekly basis back in the Midland Combination days, when Highgate were regular opponents for three seasons.
The hosts had even thrown in several new faces to add to the authenticity but Leamington were simply not up to the task, while their opponents were very clearly ‘up for the cup’.
Rob Thompson-Brown had an early shot blocked on the edge of the area, while Ahmed Obeng laced a shot high over the bar from outside the box.
Tony Breeden changed his boots after an early slip while making a clearance and Obeng miscued a header from Lee Moore’s right-wing cross.
Obeng then snatched at a shot after the ball was returned to him after he tried to play in Ryan Rowe, but the effort was straightforward enough for Gate keeper Brendan Bunn.
The game was scrappy in the first 25 minutes with myriad offside decisions against both sides and passes going astray, but the hosts were looking to get at their higher-ranked visitors at every opportunity and came close when Tom Lacey’s cross deflected off Gudger and looped just over the bar.
Highgate were handed the chance to go in front when the nippy McCauley Manning used the bounce of the ball to get the wrong side of Gudger on the left, tearing into the box before being sent flying under a challenge. Lei Brown stepped up and sent Breeden the wrong way, placing the ball low to his left.
Those among the travelling support who were present at the pre-season fixture at The Coppice took solace in the fact Brakes had gone a goal behind before coming back to win reasonably comfortably, but it became evident this was not going to be the case here.
Moore did well to hook in a first-time effort from the right wing that Bunn held under his crossbar, while Brown hooked a shot over from between two Leamington defenders on the edge of the box. Gudger then miscued a defensive header, letting in Isaac Jagroop for a shot that was deflected for a corner.
Aaron Brown earned himself a booking for bringing down Obeng in full flight and Thompson-Brown came closest to a leveller when his free-kick whistled just past the angle of post and bar, before his volley from a good position unfortunately struck Gudger and flew behind.
Rowe had a great chance to at least test Bunn early in the second half but was unable to get the ball out from under his feet, mis-kicking from six yards.
Darren Pond was then denied as he tried to head past Bunn just inside the box.
The tie slipped further away from Leamington eight minutes into the second half when they were made to look decidedly foolish by a very cute free-kick routine. Former Brakes midfielder Josh Hawker slipped in a pass behind the defensive wall and Manning was the first to react, sliding the ball into the centre where it was scrambled home by Scott Turner.
Just past the hour, Thompson-Brown finally forced Bunn into a proper save, the young keeper flying to his left to keep out a stinging volley. It was to get worse for Leamington, however, Brown heading in Hawker’s right-wing corner from close range.
There were half-hearted shouts for a penalty when Pond appeared to be pulled down in the box but in truth Leamington simply were not doing anywhere near enough to put their hosts under pressure.
Rowe held the ball up well for Thompson-Brown to fire in a shot that was deflected behind and Edwards did manage to pull a goal back with 20 minutes or so remaining when his looping header from Thompson-Brown’s cross found the far corner.
Brakes quickly needed another if they were claw their way back into the game but other than a brief scramble where Thompson-Brown and Pond both had shots blocked, it never looked likely to materialise.
Edwards headed well over from a corner and Jamie Hood was livid with himself as he headed straight into the arms of Bunn.
Gudger then summed up the collective frustration of all connected with Leamington when was ordered off after two late bookings.