Two goals from Danny Newton threatened a memorable comeback for Leamington at Stockport County on Saturday but the visitors were ultimately left to rue a truly awful first-half display, writes Paul Okey.
Newton was the only player to emerge with any credit after an opening 45 minutes which saw Brakes lucky to escape with just a two-goal deficit.
A goal out of nothing in the 57th minute loosened Stockport’s grip on the game and it was no surprise when the striker added a second 12 minutes later.
However, any hopes Leamington had of making off with the three points evaporated four minutes later when Greg Wilkinson producing a stunning strike from 25 yards to nudge the Hatters back in front.
On a heavily sanded Edgeley Park pitch, still bearing the scars of Stockport’s FA Trophy replay with Wrexham 11 days previously, it was the home side who threatened first.
Less than 60 seconds were on the clock when Danny Glover picked up the pieces inside the Leamington box and broke through a couple of half-hearted challenges, only to be denied by the quick reactions of Atkins.
Lee Chilton sent an aimless shot well wide for the visitors and it was to prove their only effort of note for almost 40 minutes as Alan Lord’s side took control.
Neat play in midfield had Brakes chasing shadows and Atkins made a hash of Kristian Dennis’ 25-yard shot, pushing it back out for Jack Ryan to slot home the rebound.
A feature of the first half was Brakes’ vulnerability to a long ball down the middle and they needed Atkins to rush off his line to deny Ryan after the Hatter broke the offside trap.
Atkins’ handling was much more assured when Dennis again tested him from distance, while Ryan was unable to take Scott Duxbury’s cross in his stride with the Brakes back line again exposed.
It was one-way traffic and the hosts underlined their dominance with a second in the 26th minute.
The goal followed a Leamington corner - they had five to Stockport’s two in the first half - with Danny Hurst claiming well before launching a counter which ended with Dennis left in acres of space to calmly slot past the advancing Atkins.
Glover was given two bites of the cherry following more ineffectual Brakes defending, with his second effort straight into the midriff of Atkins.
For all the home side’s dominance, Brakes were unlucky not to be within a goal at the break, Hurst producing a stunning fingertip save to keep out Delroy Gordon’s header from a Stephan Morley free-kick.
Stockport remained in command after the restart, with Duxbury flashing a dangerous cross along the six-yard box and Glover just unable to direct his header under crossbar after being picked out by Wilkinson.
Stephen O’Halloran’s acrobatic effort was inches off target and such was the ease with which Stockport were controlling the game, Brakes’ opener came as a shock to everyone.
There looked little danger when Newton received the ball 25 yards out with his back to goal. However, neat footwork created the space for a shot which deceived Newton with the aid of a deflection.
Anxiety quickly worked its way from the terraces to the pitch and, having looked so assured, County were coughing up possession as Leamington harried and hassled.
Again it was Newton who dragged the visitors up by their scruff of their necks, bundling his way through two challenges and getting in a shot which Hurst half-blocked before instinctively stabbing the rebound past a retreating defender and into the net.
The visiting players, fans and coaching staff celebrated the most brazen use of a get-out-of- jail-free card but their joy was to last just four minutes.
Again Brakes allowed County too much space in midfield, with Dennis running through unmolested before laying the ball off to Wilkinson, whose unerring shot from outside the box proved too good for a full-stretch Atkins.
Newton was in no mood to relinquish his man-of-the-match claims without a fight, however, and got another sight of the County goal following a Morley cross, but Hurst was on hand to smother his hat-trick attempt.
Simon Forsdick and Matt Dodd were brought on in place of Chilton and James Fry as Brakes chased a third, but it proved in vain as Stockport made the scoreline more reflective of the game.
Atkins had already produced a superb save to deny Sharp after he had got the better of Langdon on the edge of the box.
However, there was little he could do when the ball was laid off to the substitute in the box by Dennis, with Sharp rifling home from ten yards.
Stockport County: Danny Hurst, Kyle Jacobs, Scott Duxbury, Chris Churchman, Mark Lees, Stephen O’Halloran, Richie Baker (Charlie Russell, 74), Danny Glover (Robert Lofthouse, 82), Jack Ryan (Chris Sharp, 59), Kristian Dennis, Greg Wilkinson. Subs not used: Ian Ormson, Jordan Fagbola.
Brakes: Ross Atkins, James Mace, Stephan Morley , Joe Magunda, Delroy Gordon, Dominic Langdon, Jordan Goddard, James Fry (Simon Forsdick, 82), Danny Newton, Nathan Hicks (Lee Moore, 66), Lee Chilton (Matt Dodd, 82). Subs not used: Lewis Fenney, Jack Edwards.