HEMEL HEMPSTEAD 1 BRAKES 3
Brakes turned in their best performance of the season to stun league leaders Hemel Hempstead Town at Vauxhall Road in a match that was a superb advert for Southern League football, writes Paul Edwards.
The Tudors had stormed to the summit on the back of a goal-filled run but they came up against a resolute, well-drilled Leamington side who were dogged in defence and clinical going forward.
The lack of games recently had planted seeds of doubt in the minds of some of the travelling faithful and the team sheet saw Paul Holleran’s side line up with only one striker in Ricky Johnson. However, he received ample support from Lee Chilton, who was tucked in just behind, and James Husband and Matt Dodd on the wings.
Craig Owen slotted back into the side as though he had never been away, and the back four scrapped for every ball in the absence of skipper Jamie Hood, sometimes winning challenges they had no right to.
Hemel showed why they have hit the heights in the early exchanges, spraying the ball around and going close with a header which went just past the post, but Leamington created the first meaningful chance when Liam Daly’s header from a corner was blocked on the line.
Ricky Johnson was the first name into the referee’s notebook for a late challenge on keeper Mark Osborn and Hemel’s Charlie Mpi quickly followed him for crudely taking out Husband on the touchline. In between, Dave Pearce cut in from the right to curl a shot just past the post.
Both sides were providing real entertainment for the 477 inside Vauxhall Road and Brakes came agonisingly close to providing the goal the game deserved when a sweeping move ended with Johnson turning his marker before firing a shot against the bar. The ball was half-cleared to Owen, whose shot looked destined for the top corner only for Parsons to somehow get his head in the way and divert it behind.
The momentum was with the visiting side now, and backed raucously by a sizeable following, they moved in front in the 19th minute when Husband’s cross was inadvertently diverted over Osborn by the boot of Joe Bruce.
Leamington put themselves firmly in the driving seat by adding a second 15 minutes later. Husband did superbly again on the wing before lifting over another inviting cross which was finished first time by Johnson for his opening goal for the club.
Leamington were buoyant now, snapping into challenges in midfield and not allowing their opponents to settle.
They held the lead to half-time but Hemel came out and forced the issue in the early stages of the second half, grabbing a goal back when a clearance struck Owen and just evaded the dive of Cooper as it rolled into the corner of the net.
Brakes refused to be rattled and gradually settled back into their first-half rhythm, restoring their two-goal advantage six minutes later.
The goal was once again created from the wings, Dodd sending the ball in from the left and Johnson lifting it back across goal for the on-rushing Lee Chilton to head in off the underside of the bar.
The closing stages became a little scrappy, with Leamington holding together well as the Tudors searched in vain for a way back into the clash.
Substitute Victor Osobu made a nuisance of himself down the Hemel left, but was stopped in his tracks several times by fine tackles from Martyn Naylor and Joe Magunda.
Brakes almost added a fourth late on when Chilton tried to pick out the unmarked Tom Berwick, but Osborn was quickly off his line to gather.
Osobu had a shot deflected behind for a corner while Jordan Parkes’ hooked effort was easy for Cooper as Brakes hauled themselves up to second place with a healthy four games in hand on the leaders.
Hemel Hempstead Town: Mark Osborn, Danny May, Ryan Parsons, David King, Joe Bruce (Jack Nelly, 65), Peter Holmes, Charlie Mpi, Steve O’Leary (Victor Osobu, 57), Dave Pearce (Alex Campana, 57), Matt Nolan, Jordan Parkes. Subs not used: Kevin Ayodele, Sam Beagle.
Brakes: Niall Cooper, Martyn Naylor, Stephan Morley, Joe Magunda, James Mace, Liam Daly, Matt Dodd (Lee Moore, 86), Craig Owen, Ricky Johnson (Tom Berwick, 84), Lee Chilton, James Husband (Alex Taylor, 82). Subs not used: Sam Adkins, Dan Ward.