New signing Richard Taundry was only on the field for just over half an hour but that was more than enough time to show that, in the 27-year-old, Leamington may just have found their saviour, writes Paul Okey.
Lacking a talisman since the suspension of striker Danny Newton, Brakes were starting to look rudderless just as their relegation rivals showed signs of life.
However, former Walsall skipper Taundry brought drive and composure to a Leamington performance which until then was high on endeavour and low on quality, enabling them to pick up the most precious of points.
Taundry’s passing was assured and proactive and his challenges fearless, while his long throws were an unexpected bonus as the hosts pressed for an unlikely winner in the closing stages.
A second goal did not come but the three-point turnaround which came about as a result of Nathan Hicks’ 87th-minute equaliser meant the four-point gap between the two sides remained, while keeping Leamington’s heads above water in what still promises to be a nervy end to the campaign.
It was looking so different before Taundry’s introduction, with Stalybridge comfortably holding on to their one-goal advantage, given to them by Chris Simm’s 38th-minute strike.
Latching on to a Jonny Maddison punch, Simm was given two bites of the cherry, scuffing the ball with his first swing of the boot before a sweet second connection saw the net bulge.
It was the visitors’ only shot of note in a half spoilt by a strong wind, with Leamington’s best effort being a long-range Jordan Goddard free-kick in injury time, which lacked conviction and was comfortably pouched by Ross Etheridge.
Ten minutes into the second half, Lee Moore had an opportunity to bring Brakes level when he raced on to a punt forward but, with Etheridge advancing, he put too much on his lob and it landed on the roof of the net.
Celtic could have been 2-0 up after Maddison misjudged a corner, but Matty Hughes was unable to direct his header into the open net from close range.
It was to prove the last scare for the home keeper as Stalybridge, desperate to hang on to their advantage, were pushed deeper and deeper by the hosts.
With Taundry directing operations from just in front of the back four, Leamington were enjoying the bulk of possession and Connor Gudger slid an effort past the near post after neat build-up play on the edge of the box.
Etheridge was motionless as Hicks drilled inches past an upright following a Taundry long throw, while Lee Chilton’s cross was spilled by the Celtic keeper, who was rescued by a covering defender as Brakes closed in on the loose ball.
The goal was definitely coming and it arrived from a well-worked move down the right involving substitute Bilal Yafai and Jordan Goddard. The ball was eventually slipped to Lee Moore and his pinpoint cross gave Hicks an easy tap-in from the centre of the six-yard box.
With the home fans sensing a winner, Brakes poured forward, with two goalmouth scrambles being punctuated by half-hearted penalty shouts for handball.
The clearest chance, though, fell to Delroy Gordon in the final minute of added time but he was unable to connect cleanly with the loose ball, allowing a defender to get his body in the way and Stalybridge to eventually clear the danger and claim a point.
And, while a draw did little to alleviate either sides’ drop fears, Taundry’s timely introduction meant it was Leamington who went away from the New Windmill the happier of the two.
Brakes: Jonny Maddison, James Mace, Connor Gudger, Joe Magunda (Bilal Yafai, 85), Jamie Tank, Delroy Gordon, Jordan Goddard, Jack Edwards (Nathan Hicks, 65), Lee Moore, Liam Truslove (Richard Taundry, 58), Lee Chilton. Subs not used:Josh Hawker, Lewis Fenney.
Stalybridge Celtic: Ross Etheridge, Stefan Galinski, Oliver Crowley, Matt Regan, Matty Hughes, Michael Potts (Jamie Allen, 78), Aidan Chippendale, Scott Kerr, Chris Simm (Alex Mudumi, 90), Michael Powell, Tom Bentham (Ben McKenna, 78), Subs not used: Paul Ennis, Josh Ollerenshaw.