Brakes finally hit the 40 point mark in National League North on a day when bad weather and cup ties reduced the fixture list to just three games.
A second win and clean sheet of the year was heralded as ‘massive’ by Paul Holleran as his side took another step towards securing a third consecutive season of football in the second tier of the non-League pyramid by moving ten points clear of the bottom three.
With the small matter of an away trip to leaders Chorley on the horizon next weekend it was imperative that Leamington tried to build on a creditable point from their previous game at Chester and while the game was never a pretty one, due in part to a howling gale whipping around the wide open spaces of the Phillips 66 Community Stadium, it was the result that was of paramount importance. Brakes finished the game with ten men for the second successive Saturday, Junior English the man to walk for what looked a harsh second yellow card.
With the strong wind at their backs in the first half Leamington hit the front on sevenminutes, Colby Bishop capitalising on hesitancy in the Southport defence to nick the ball between keeper Dan Hanford and defender Andy Parry and steer his 21st goal of the season into an empty net from close range.
The wind was certainly a factor, and Bishop was inches from connecting with a swirling cross from just inside the Southport half by Jamie Hood, whose quick free kick allowed Connor Gudger to cut in from the left and fire the ball in to the near post where it was held by Hanford.
Liam Watson’s side looked to have a great opportunity to level just before the half hour when Jack Sampson found himself just outside the box with Tony Breeden just in front of him having strayed from his goal line, but the Brakes skipper stood up well and parried Sampson’s attempted lob. The striker appeared to have picked up an injury in the process and was replaced by Devarn Green, whose half time introduction in the reverse fixture proved to be the turning point. It was to Leamington’s credit that by and large they managed to keep both Green and his team mates out on this occasion.
The substitute used his pace and direct running to devastating effect then, but he got very little change out of Connor Gudger, despite winning a corner from his first run down the right. Centre back Ryan Astles headed the resulting dead ball onto the roof of the net.
Reece Flanagan fired a free kick over the bar after a slaloming run by Ahmed Obeng ended with him dumped on the deck some 20 yards from goal, and half time arrived with Brakes in front, but no doubt mindful that the job was only half done.
Elliot Hodge impressed on his home debut, and almost provided a fantastic assist for Obeng as he got in behind the Southport defence down the left before sending the ball across the six yard box with the outside of his right boot, Obeng just unable to connect at the far post.
Dion Charles screwed a shot horribly wide after beating James Mace, which probably summed up Southport’s afternoon as they struggled to get to grips with the conditions, not really forcing Breeden into a serious save of note.
Astles had their best chance to snatch an equaliser, afforded two bites at a left wing corner but he was unable to keep his shot down and it just cleared the bar.
English received his first booking as he brought a Southport attack to an abrupt halt, the resulting free kick being fired straight at Breeden. Callum Gittings made a welcome return to action for the final ten minutes, and Hodge almost played the perfect ball in for Obeng to seal the points, Hanford getting there just ahead of the Leamington man.
The game ended in frustrating fashion as English picked up a second booking for what on first glance looked more like a clumsy coming together with Green as the Southport man tried to get goal side.
A late shot was blocked as Leamington held on to what they had to record a very welcome victory.
While some of the clubs around them have games in hand Brakes have given themselves a cushion, and with five of their final seven league games against teams in the bottom half of the table they have a great chance to increase it and finish the season in comfort. Attention will now turn to securing a Warwickshire derby against Nuneaton Borough in the final of the Birmingham Senior Cup, with a tough semi final in prospect against Aston Villa’s youngsters on Wednesday evening.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Junior English, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Jamie Hood, James Mace, Ahmed Obeng (15 Connor Taylor, 89), Sam Wilding, Colby Bishop, Reece Flanagan (16 Callum Gittings, 80), Elliot Hodge (12 Jack Lane, 90).
Subs not used: 13 Ben Newey, 14 Dylan Parker.
Southport: Daniel Hanford, Matthew Platt, Reagan Ogle, Andrew Parry (12 Liam Davies, 90), Ryan Astles, David Morgan ©, Dion Charles, Marcus Wood, Jordan Archer, Jack Sampson (15 Devarn Green, 28), Bradley Bauress (14 Morgan Homson-Smith, 73).
Subs not used: 12 Liam Davies, 13 Lewis Doyle, 16 Joshua Tibbetts.
Referee: Mr Stephen Copeland
Assistant Referees: Mr Thomas Swift & Mr Benjamin Wyatt
Brakes Man of the Match: Jamie Hood