A Jack Edwards double salvaged a point for Brakes on Saturday in a wind-ruined clash between the Southern Premier play-off rivals, writes Paul Okey.
With a howling gale blowing across the Phillips 66 Community Stadium, the match was never going to be one for the purists and the first half was best forgotten, especially for Leamington who found themselves 1-0 down at the break courtesy of a Richard Taundry own goal.
The 37th-minute opener was totally in keeping with what had preceded it, with Taundry getting his feet in a tangle as he tried to clear Andy Sandell’s cross, only succeeding in poking the ball into the net under pressure from Harry Grant.
Sandell had looked the only player capable of unlocking the home defence having earlier run unchallenged through the midfield before slipping in Alan Griffin, who had already been flagged offside before putting the ball into the net.
The opener belatedly woke up the hosts, who fashioned a neat piece of play down the right between Taundry and Courtney Baker-Richardson before the former Walsall man’s cross-shot was blocked for a corner.
Edwards got up well but headed the resultant dead ball over the bar, taking a whack from keeper Kent Kauppinen in the process.
Mackey then fired a half-volley over the bar from close range after Edwards had helped the ball on into the box, the striker possibly taking his eye off the ball due to Baker-Richardson’s failed attempt to head it.
As half-time approached, Sandell looked to have got the run on the Brakes defence, but he cut inside to invite pressure and fired wastefully over, with referee Rav Cheosiaua adjudging the ball to have taken a slight deflection.
Taundry and Joe Magunda picked up early second-half bookings as Brakes’ frustrations grew after the restart, with Chris Allen firing way over for the visitors as chances remained scarce.
Just past the half-hour mark, Paul Holleran introduced Callum Gittings and Joe Halsall for Ben Mackey and Magunda, pushing Baker-Richardson into a lone frontman role.
Seconds later, the home side were almost presented with a leveller after Luke Ballinger and Greg Tindle got their wires crossed in the box, but with Kauppinen out of position, Edwards was unable to direct his volley on target.
It looked game over in the 63rd minute when Griffin reacted quickest to the rebound after Breeden had saved Sandell’s initial effort, beating a flatfooted Jamie Tank to bundle the ball over the line despite the despairing dive of the Brakes keeper.
Griffin was off-target with an effort as the rain started to lash down and Holleran made his final change in the 71st minute with Ben George introduced in place of Lee Moore.
Two minutes later the home side had a lifeline when Edwards picked up a half-clearance and drilled the ball through a crowded box and into the bottom corner.
It was well and truly game on seconds later when Sandell received his marching orders for a challenge on Breeden on the byeline.
However, any advantage Brakes had was quickly frittered away when Taundry lost control of the ball and caught Jon Beedon with a late tackle, picking up a second yellow card for his troubles.
Four minutes from time there was parity in the scoreline as well when Edwards latched on to Baker-Richardson’s flick-on from a Breeden free-kick, firing his shot across the advancing Kauppinen and into the net to spark wild scenes of celebration.
There was still time for Leamington to snatch an unlikely winner but as they committed men forward they were almost hit by a sucker punch as Baker-Richardson gave the ball away to Matt Smith on half-way.
Faced with the backpedalling Halsall, Smith advanced into the area but his shot was too close to Breeden and George produced a superb last-ditch clearance to deny Grant as he looked to convert the rebound from six yards out.
At the other end, Edwards had a header hacked away from the line by Tindle, while the ball would not drop for Austin as he lined up a shot in the closing seconds.
And, as the rain went from vertical to horizontal, the referee called a halt to proceedings, leaving wind as the only winner.