Champions show class as Brakes' race is run
After the euphoria of York, there was something of an after the Lord Mayor's show feel to this game as Leamington were put to the sword by the National League North champions, writes Paul Okey.
A match that for so long looked like it would define both side’s seasons ended up being a dead rubber and although there was a definite dropping off in Brakes’ performance levels, that should not take anything away from a clinical performance from the visitors.
Salford arrived at the Phillips 66 in numbers, many of them kitted out in fancy dress, and were given a guard of honour as they stepped out on to the pitch by the home side.
However, any idea that the hosts were going to roll over for the champions were quickly dispelled as Kurtis Revan showed a clean pair of heels to burst clear, only to be felled by a crude challenge by Scott Burton. The Salford player was the last man but with Revan’s run taking him wide, he escaped with a yellow.
There was an understandable lack of intensity in the opening exchanges, with both sides having achieved their objectives for the season, and it came as something of a surprise when Salford broke the deadlock in the 19th minute.
Anthony Dudley’s run from deep was picked out by a clipped passed over the top and he rolled the ball beyond Tony Breeden and into the net despite the despairing lunge of the backtracking Junior English on the line.
Leamington looked to respond and a Jack Edwards header was cleared from under the bar by Danny Livesey. Matt Dodd picked up the pieces and pulled the ball back to Kieran Dunbar whose shot was headed away from danger by Burton.
Burton was then involved at the other end, drifting unmolested through the midfield before curling a shot just past the far post with the outside of his boot.
Salford were building up a head of steam and despite there still being the majority of the match to play, it already felt like there was no way back for Brakes when they scored their second in the 38th minute.
With Edwards lying prone in the centre circle after a 50-50 challenge, Leamington switched off and Mike Phenix took full advantage, drifting inside English before producing an emphatic finish which left Breeden grasping thin air.
The home skipper got much more purchase on the ball the next time he was called into action, however, tipping a fierce drive from Dudley around the post as half-time approached.
Salford showed no signs of easy up after the interval and Burton skied a shot in the opening minute after Dudley had been unable to take a pass into his stride inside the box.
Three minutes in, they made it 3-0. With Connor Gudger off the field being treated, Ben Beesley took advantage of the space left on the right-hand side to get to the byeline and whip in a cross which was slammed home by Phenix from close range.
Breeden did well to delay Phenix after the striker had nipped in ahead of him to take possession, eventually grasping the cross-cum shot after retaking his position on the goal-line.
With Salford in control, Paul Holleran looked to stem the flow by introducing Richard Taundry and Joe Magunda in place of Revan and Dodd, with Edwards dropping into the centre-back position and English moving up front.
Callum Gittings worked a shot that at least gave Ammies keeper Max Crocombe some involvement in the game before Salford added their fourth, Dudley drilling the ball past Breeden and into the far corner of the net.
Dudley had a chance to complete his hat-trick in the 70th minute but dragged his shot across the face of goal with his weaker left foot.
The impressive Richie Allen then fired over.
Magunda came close to bagging a consolation for the hosts, heading over a Gittings corner when well placed and then flashing a header inches past the near post from a Gudger free-kick.
There was a memorable moment for under-18 player Shay Nicholson who was introduced for his debut for the final ten minutes.
However, while for him the closing stages will have been all too short, his team-mates were crying out for the final whistle as Salford piled forward in search of a fifth.
Ibou Touray’s shot from distance drew a flying parry from Breeden and Dudley was unable to get over his follow-up shot.
A Dudley header at the far-post drew a point-blank save from Breeden who was then relieved to see a cross-shot from Salford substitute Emmanuel Ogunrindi hit the crossbar.
So it finished at 4-0 but as both sides soaked up the applause of their fans at the final whistle it was not on this game that Leamington were judged but on their work in the previous 41.
And the fact that they will line up next season as a Conference North side once more, meant the acclaim was widespread and the plaudits richly deserved.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Junior English, Connor Gudger, Callum Gittings, Jamie Hood, James Mace, Matt Dodd (Joe Magunda, 56), Kieran Dunbar (Shay Nicholson, 79), Kurtis Revan (Richard Taundry, 56), Jack Edwards, Ahmed Obeng. Subs not used: Liam Canavan, Stefan Moore.
Salford City: Max Crocombe, Jake Beesley, Ibou Touray, Scott Burton, Danny Livesey, Liam Hogan (Alex Doyle, 57), Richie Allen, Mark Shelton, Mike Phenix (Tom Walker, 64), Anthony Dudley, Joshua Askew (Emmanuel Ogunrindi, 57). Subs not used: Nick Haughton, Jack Redshaw.