Brakes were dispatched from the FA Trophy in heartbreaking fashion, beaten in a penalty shootout after playing the whole of extra-time with ten men, writes Paul Edwards.
Leamington were without the cup-tied Joe Parker and Josh Martin, while Joe Clarke and Dexter Walters were sidelined by injury which left Paul Holleran with few options, though he bolstered his squad late on with the acquisition of Jack Storer.
The opening minutes had been played out almost exclusively in the hosts’ half but when they broke quickly they made the perfect start. Huddersfield Town loanee Kit Elliott gor the better of Callum Gittings on the right and drove to the touchline before swinging in an inviting cross which was met by an emphatic header from Lamar Reynolds which gave Jake Weaver no chance.
It was the worst possible start to the game, dimming the enthusiasm of the noisy travelling hordes briefly, and in truth Brakes never really got going in the first half.
Junior English fired in their first effort of the afternoon, a low drive directed straight at goalkeeper Chris Haigh and Brakes continued to enjoy plenty of possession but it was the home side who looked the more threatening. Reynolds went close again when he took on a pass from James Blanchfield inside the box before being denied by the legs of Weaver.
Kieran Dunbar raced into the box on the right after Connor Taylor won the ball strongly from a Concord defender but could only find the side netting with the angle narrowing, while Edwards had a shot blocked and was deemed to have handled the ball as it came back to him.
The Beachboys should have doubled their advantage when the Elliott-Reynolds combination carved out another opportunity in a similar position to the opener but this time the ball into the box was low and Reynolds blazed it high over the bar.
Edwards stole in unnoticed at the far post to meet Morley’s free-kick late in the half but was unable to get any power on his shot and it was blocked and cleared from danger by the Concord defence.
Taylor raised the spirits immediately as the second half kicked off as he set off on a mazy run into the penalty area from right, only to fire a tame shot at Haigh.
Weaver kept Leamington in touch as he bravely snatched the ball from the feet of Reynolds, while Jack Lane cleared away from goal as Concord threatened again before Stephan Morley stepped up on the hour-mark to level things up with an absolute thunderbolt. The ball dropped to him 20 yards from goal following a loose clearance and the left-back steadied himself before hitting a screaming left-footed volley that rocketed past the flailing Haigh and into the net to send the travelling support barmy.
Leamington tails were up now and Haigh was called into action as Callum Maycock did well to win back possession having lost the ball on the left, the cross finding Dunbar who connected with a goalbound first-time volley that was kept out by an acrobatic stop from the keeper.
English had been booked early in the second half, and as he received treatment in the centre circle having launched into a rash challenge on the busy Joel Nouble he knew what was coming, referee Matthew Russell waiting for him to get to his feet before sending him on the long walk to the dressing room.
Storer was introduced with just under ten minutes to play and showed plenty of endeavour and impressive touches but when he went in with Haigh to try and win a through pass and caught the goalkeeper in the face it looked like his debut would be a short one. Fortunately the referee recognised he was trying to win the ball and showed only a yellow card, much to the consternation of the furious Concord players.
Both sides had gilt-edged chances to win the game in normal time, Edwards ghosting in at the far post once more from a corner only to blaze his shot high over the bar. Nathan Carlyle then spun to curl in a shot with the last kick of the game that was saved superbly by Weaver with the home fans already mid-celebration.
Concord began extra-time in much the same fashion they had kicked off the game and took the lead again five minutes in. Weaver came to the edge of his box and won the ball with a firm challenge but Brakes just could not get it to safety and it was picked up by Blanchfield who calmly lifted it over despairing blue shirts and into an empty net.
Leamington were quickly on level terms once more, however, as a diagonal ball from Morley was nodded into the path of Maycock by Edwards, with the on-loan Coventry City man charging into the penalty area before lifting his shot over Haigh and into the net.
The last 15 minutes were end to end as Brakes made light of being a man short, Haigh producing a flying save to push another screamer from Morley over the bar. The goalkeeper got down well to another long-range drive from Morley and Kaiman Anderson forced a late corner which Edwards headed over.
It was the home side who almost snatched it at the death, the ball played in low from the right was met by a shot to the near post which had Weaver scrambling but the goalkeeper held on.
And so to the lottery of penalties.
Storer stepped up confidently to take the first and hit it well enough but it struck the bar.
Concord also struck the woodwork after scoring their first.
Morley, Lane and Gittings all converted their spot-kicks but while Weaver went the right way for all of the hosts’ spot-kicks they were all placed just out of his reach.
Edwards stepped up to shoulder the responsibility of Leamington’s fifth kick but Haigh denied him with a good save to send Concord through to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Concord Rangers: Chris Haigh, David Olufemi, Nathan Carlyle, Billy Roast, Lee Minshull (Jack Cawley, 87), Aron Pollock, Lamar Reynolds (Decarrey Sheriff, 62), Ben Wells, Kit Elliott (Danny Green, 99), James Blanchfield (Michael O’Donoghue, 99), Joel Nouble. Subs not used: Alex Hernandez, Ben Search, Archie McFadden.
Brakes: Jake Weaver, Junior English, Stephan Morley, Callum Maycock, James Mace, Jack Lane, Kieran Dunbar (Jack Storer, 81), Callum Gittings, Connor Taylor, Jack Edwards, Kaiman Anderson.
Subs not used: David Bremang, Kyle McFarlane, Reece Rawlings, Tom James, Ben Newey.