Brakes returned from their long trip north with a very well-earned point and a first clean sheet of the season as they frustrated their illustrious hosts with a battling team performance and came very close to snatching a win at the death, writes Paul Edwards.
While Quakers’ manager Martin Gray made four changes in response to his side’s 4-1 defeat at Chorley on Tuesday evening, Paul Holleran made just one change, bringing in Colchester United loanee Charley Edge for his debut in place of Ahmed Obeng, who was unavailable.
Milan Butterfield was named on the bench in place of the injured Liam Canavan in the final match of his loan spell from Walsall.
In the opening exchanges it was all Darlington, Leamington not helping themselves by regularly giving the ball straight back to their hosts when they lost possession.
The only attempt at goal for the home side in the opening ten minutes, however, was a low free-kick from Josh Gillies that dropped just past the post.
Brakes then responded with one of their own when Kieran Dunbar was brought down on the right, Edge arcing the ball into a crowded penalty area for Junior English to glance a header wide of the target.
The versatile English, employed in central defence in the absence of the suspended Jamie Hood, was then pressed into action at the other end, making a sprawling challenge to deny David Syers as he looked to drive the ball towards goal from the right.
The pressure continued as Terence Galbraith played a free-kick into the box from the right, his centre-back partner Dominic Collins directing a header towards goal that was well held by Breeden.
A half-chance then came and went for Brakes as the ball was played in from the right. Stefan Moore was probably not expecting to receive it as Darlington striker Nathan Cartman challenged and he stabbed his shot wide.
Gillies then fired another dangerous ball to the far post where Mark Beck looked certain to head Darlington into the lead only for the ball to strike the post, ricochet off Breeden and Beck and out of play. Syers then glanced another effort just over the bar from James Caton’s cross.
Both sides were forced into a change on the half-hour, Richard Taundry being replaced by Joe Magunda having been struggling with a knock pre-match, while Jack Vaulks replaced Dominic Collins, who had struggled after being clattered early on.
Despite the almost constant pressure from the hosts, Leamington were generally dealing with their threat but they were being made to work very hard to do so. They ensured a goalless end to the first half as they continued to dig in and frustrate their hosts.
There was an excellent chance for Moore to create something in the second half when Leamington broke quickly from a Darlington corner, Jack Edwards sending the ball long down the left for the striker to chase but he was dispossessed by substitute Leon Scott as he tried to cut into the area.
He was then presented with an even better opportunity in the next attack as Edge looped the ball into the far post but he could only steer his effort high and wide when it looked easier to hit the target.
Despite the hosts still having most of the pressure Leamington saw another opportunity pass them by, Edwards driving one just over from distance after a defender’s clearance had struck substitute Kurtis Revan.
Darlington’s clearest opportunity came when Cartman latched on to a high ball into the box, controlling the ball superbly, but he was unable to hook it past Breeden, who snuffed out the danger.
A fantastic free-kick from the left from Dunbar saw English thunder a header inches over the bar but in the closing stages with the home support starting to get restless their team’s play became more frantic, Scott saw a shot blocked in a desperate defensive action from Brakes before Tony Breeden got down well to a long range shot from Gillies.
Revan almost forced a winner for Leamington when he chased a poor first touch to the byline before somehow squeezing between two markers and firing in a shot which ricocheted between two defenders and the keeper before being cleared.
Callum Gittings then got clear down the left and fired in a deflected cross that Dunbar headed high over the bar from close range, holding his head in his hands as he realised the magnitude of the chance.
There was still time for another break, Dunbar crossing from the right for Gittings to head down and into the arms of keeper Adam Bartlett but both teams were forced to settle for a point.
Darlington: Adam Bartlett, Thomas Portas (Leon Scott, 55), David Ferguson, Phillip Turnbull, Dominic Collins (Jack Vaulks, 30), Terence Galbraith, Joshua Gillies, David Syers, Mark Beck, Nathan Cartman, James Caton (Harvey Saunders, 62). Subs not used: Stephen Thompson, Edward Wilczynski.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Richard Taundry (Joe Magunda, 30), Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Junior English, James Mace, Kieran Dunbar, Callum Gittings, Stefan Moore (Colby Bishop, 76), Jack Edwards, Charley Edge (Kurtis Revan, 64). Subs not used: Milan Butterfield, Rob Thompson-Brown.