Brakes emerged with a hard-earned point from a pulsating clash at Top Field against a Hitchin side who stormed back from a two-goal half-time deficit, writes Paul Edwards.
With the rest of the division still to play their midweek fixtures it may only have been a temporary position but Leamington gave every ounce of effort to hang on to their advantage and despite seeing it evaporate still could have snatched a late winner.
Two tiring away trips in the space of three days clearly took its toll during the second half in greasy, wet conditions, and it is to the players’ credit that they extended their unbeaten sequence to seven games.
The hosts were fresh and up for the challenge after their weekend fixture against Paulton Rovers had to be postponed when their opponents’ team coach became stuck on the M4 amid the traffic chaos caused by an earlier accident.
The Canaries were boosted by the return of John Frendo on loan from Hemel Hempstead Town and it was the returning striker who fired in the first shot at goal, which was saved by Tony Breeden.
Joe Magunda stabbed the ball into the net after Jack Edwards had challenged Hitchin keeper Charlie Horlock and a defender, but the decision went against the attacking side and the goal was ruled out.
The same fate then befell the hosts on two occasions.
First, Frendo was flagged offside as he headed home the loose ball after a fine strike from distance had struck the angle of post and bar, then Callum Donnelly’s thumping header went the same way with a similar decision.
Both sides were doing plenty of attacking, with Leamington looking dangerous on the break.
Ben Mackey rolled a shot across goal and wide of the far post after muscling between two defenders down the right, but he was right on point with the next opportunity that came his way.
Richard Taundry won the ball in midfield and it diverted into the path of Lee Chilton, who pushed it past a defender to the dead ball line before centring for Mackey to direct a downward header past Horlock and into the net.
The home side responded by winning a free-kick in a dangerous position on the right-hand side just shy of the penalty area. The ball was fired in low but travelled through to Breeden without a telling touch.
Horlock did well to deny Mackey a second goal when he spread himself on the edge of his penalty area as the striker attempted to lift a shot over him, before Breeden was alert to save a free header from Frendo at close range.
The home side were continuing to look dangerous but were stunned by a second Leamington goal just past the half-hour.
James Mace’s sliced clearance fortuitously found Mackey in space in midfield as Brakes moved swiftly forward and he fed Chilton down the left. The livewire wideman came up with the goods again, sending in the perfect cross for Edwards to crash a powerful header through Horlock, who probably should have done better.
The visitors’ confidence was high now and Edwards was denied a sniff of a second goal by Hitchin skipper Alasan Ann, who got in well to snuff out a cross from Ben George after some good work from Lee Moore down the right wing.
Edwards then threaded a superb ball through for Mackey to latch on to, only for the offside flag to be raised.
Hitchin began the second half well and received the shot in the arm they required just seven minutes in when Frendo swept the ball past Breeden after Brakes twice failed to clear the ball out of their penalty area.
The second clearance was practically played into the path of the prolific striker, who was not about to pass up the opportunity.
The game became fractious as the pace intensified and tempers began to flare.
Breeden did well again to hold a close-range shot from Matt Lench, while Jonny McNamara was incensed at the lack of interest from the referee after his powerful run into the Leamington penalty area was halted by what he believed was a foul.
Robbie Burns then fired another dangerous-looking free-kick straight at the Brakes skipper as Hitchin cranked up the pressure another notch.
Edwards provided brief relief when he won the ball just inside the Hitchin half and launched a shot towards goal that was fielded by the backpedaling Horlock.
The equaliser the hosts had been threatening arrived with 15 minutes to play, Burns firing a loose ball low into the bottom corner past the outstretched hand of the diving Breeden after Brakes had failed to deal with another free-kick.
It was all Hitchin now and, not for the first time this season, Leamington were indebted to Breeden as he flung himself across goal to push a fantastic curling strike from substitute Sam Barker over the bar.
Lench then saw a shot blocked following a near-post corner.
The visitors displayed great character to ride out the storm, however, and in the closing stages were able to get forward again and create problems of their own.
A neat move down the right saw Edwards’ flick release Moore for a run at goal, substitute Will Green’s eventual shot being deflected behind for a corner which was very nearly put into his own net at the far post by a Canaries defender.
Gudger then pulled the ball back from the left wing for Edwards to strike at goal, with his shot being deflected behind.
Breeden’s free-kick towards goal from halfway also found the head of the tireless midfielder, who directed the effort over the bar.
It was the home side who were hanging on now and although another shot rolled through to Breeden before the final whistle it was Horlock who had the final say, making a fine save when springing to his left to keep out a well-struck effort from Gudger.
Hitchin Town: Charlie Horlock, Kane Smith, Lewis Rolfe, Alasan Ann , Dan Webb, Lucas Kirkpatrick (Sam Barker, 60), Jonny McNamara, Callum Donnelly, John Frendo (Ben Walster, 86), Robbie Burns, Matt Lench. Subs not used: Michael Johnson, Simon Martin, David Corran.
Brakes: Tony Breeden , Ben George, Connor Gudger, Joe Magunda (James Fry, 80), Jamie Hood, James Mace, Lee Moore, Richard Taundry (Ross Oulton, 70), Ben Mackey, (Will Green, 70), Jack Edwards, Lee Chilton. Subs not used: Rob Ogleby, Eddie Caviezel-Cox.