Leamington put in a wretched display to lose to Hitchin on Saturday, with the only consolation being that there were just 345 at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium to witness it, writes Paul Okey.
A Brakes side lacking in spark and invention failed to test visiting keeper Charlie Horlock once during the whole 90 minutes.
And while Tony Breeden was similarly redundant, save for as a makeshift sweeper, it was his mistake in the tenth minute which ultimately cost his side the game.
There had been little to choose between the teams in the early skirmishes, with loan signing Sam Austin producing a couple of tidy touches for the hosts and Jack Edwards crowded out after a neat turn and probing run.
However, any early promise was quickly snuffed out when Jamie Tank was outmuscled by Brett Donnelly for a high ball and Callum Donnelly picked up the pieces, half-volleying over the back-pedalling Breeden and into the net from 35 yards.
The ball crossed the line at shin height to highlight just how far out of goal Breeden had been when Donnelly let fly, but that should not take away from an exemplary finish from the visitors’ captain.
Buoyed by the goal, Hitchin poured forward in search of a second, but despite some impressive build-up play, they came up against a strong defensive line, with Jamie Hood again the standout performer.
Hood had plenty to keep him busy, with Brett Donnelly a constant source of irritation.
The striker employed every trick in the book to rile his marker, niggling away for the full 90 minutes until referee Matt Wilkes showed his patience was, in fact, limited by booking him for grappling Hood to the ground in injury time.
However, the succession of fouls had already set the tone for a bad-tempered, scrappy encounter and it was not until the half-hour mark that Brakes actually got a shot away, with Edwards’ clever dummy allowing Richard Taundry to run into space. But with the goal opening up, the midfielder hopelessly miscued his shot.
Taundry was presented with another shooting chance after a foul on Ben Mackey handed Leamington a free-kick 20 yards out.
He was unable to beat the wall but Austin picked up the loose ball on the edge of the box and showed quick feet before curling his shot narrowly over the bar.
Alasan Ann then produced an excellent last-ditch intervention as Brakes threatened from another free-kick.
The home fans could see it was not going to be their day shortly after the restart when Taundry’s short corner to Lee Chilton was intercepted by a defender who even managed to win a throw-in for his troubles.
A superb sliding block from Hood then spared Taundry’s further embarrassment after he had lost possession in midfield, with Callum Donnelly’s fierce shot appearing goalbound before the defender’s intervention.
Jamie Fry had Horlock scrambling with a measured sidefoot effort which just slid by the far post, while Jonny McNamara wasted a chance to kill the game off, heading Callum Donnelly’s cross tamely into the arms of Breeden after a swift counter.
Paul Holleran threw on new signing Courtney Baker-Richardson and Joe Magunda in place of Fry and Chilton in a bid to pep up his ailing side but the double switch did little to alter the pattern of play, with Brakes struggling to hang on to possession.
Ben George did well to block a shot from Callum Donnelly after Lucan Kirkpatrick and McNamara had combined to open up the home defence.
Rob Ogleby was thrown on with ten minutes remaining as Brakes committed more men to attack but a half-hearted penalty appeal after he was nudged off the ball was as close as they came to getting back into the game.
Indeed, it was the visitors who came closest to adding to their tally in injury time, with an overhead kick from Callum Donnelly releasing McNamara. The diminutive winger did well to withstand the challenge of Connor Gudger but Breeden stood up well and when McNamara did eventually get a shot away, he produced a strong hand to divert the ball away from goal.
The final whistle was greeted with jubilant scenes from the Hitchin players, far out of proportion with the three points they were going home with.
Thankfully, many of the home fans were spared the over-exuberant celebrations having, along with the stayaway supporters, already decided they had somewhere better to be.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, Ben George, Connor Gudger, James Fry (Joe Magunda, 71), Jamie Hood, Jamie Tank, Sam Austin (Rob Ogleby, 82), Richard Taundry, Ben Mackey, Jack Edwards, Lee Chilton (Courtney Baker-Richardson, 71). Subs not used: James Mace, Ross Oulton.
Hitchin Town: Charlie Horlock, Kane Smith, Ben Walster, Alasan Ann, Dan Webb, Lewis Rolfe, Jonny McNamara, Callum Donnelly, Brett Donnelly, Robbie Burns, Lucan Kirkpatrick. Subs not used: Stuart Pearson, Mason Spence, Dominic Palmeiro, Kieran Barnes, Michael Johnson.