On a miserable wet afternoon in Greater Manchester Brakes pulled off a stunning victory at the home of title-chasers Salford City to send out a message to the rest of the National League North that they are not in the division simply to make up the numbers, writes Paul Edwards.
With Salford level on points with Harrogate Town at the top of the table with only seven goals conceded in their 12 previous games and having suffered only one league defeat (on the opening day at home to Darlington), this was arguably Leamington’s toughest assignment of the season so far.
However, instead of succumbing to what most of the non-league fraternity expected to be a routine victory for the hosts, Paul Holleran’s side embraced the challenge, weathered the fierce early pressure and then rocked Salford back on their heels by taking the lead.
The early exchanges illustrated just why Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley’s men are considered one of the frontrunners for promotion as they pinned Leamington back with waves of menacing attacks.
Josh Askew fired in the first shot of the afternoon as Joe Magunda lost his footing on the edge of the box, the ball deflecting through to Tony Breeden.
Michael Nottingham then fizzed a dangerous ball in from the right that just evaded the stretching Askew at the far post.
Mike Phenix was proving to be a real nuisance to the Brakes backline and almost provided the opening goal in comical fashion. His shot towards the near post from the right was cut out by the sliding Junior English, who seemed to move in slow motion towards goal, the ball striking at least three parts of his body before Breeden snatched it up on the line.
English was well positioned once more to thwart Salford in their next foray forward, superbly hooking another well-struck effort from Phenix away from the line after the ball had rebounded back to him.
Rob Thompson-Brown registered Leamington’s opening effort at goal, his low strike always curving just wide of the target, while a rehearsed corner routine ended with Jack Redshaw ballooning a shot high over the bar for the home side.
Having survived the Salford onslaught, Leamington were then handed the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot in the 19th minute when former Boston United defender Carl Piergianni was adjudged to have impeded Jack Edwards.
After the protests had died down, Thompson-Brown stepped up and crashed the spot-kick low into the bottom left-hand corner, keeper Max Crocombe diving the right way but failing to keep it out.
Salford were immediately back on the offensive, Ibou Touray lashing in a good effort from outside the box that forced an unorthodox save from Breeden as he punched the ball clear.
It took ten minutes before the hosts were back on level terms, however, and it was a somewhat fortuitous goal as Lois Maynard fired in a hopeful effort that was neatly deflected into the far corner past Breeden by the predatory Phenix.
The Brakes skipper was back to his brilliant best in this game, pushing away a piledriver from Askew before pulling off what is becoming something of a trademark save for him, Redshaw arrowing in a powerful strike that looked destined for the bottom corner, only for Breeden to stretch out an arm right at the last second to divert it away.
An all-action first half was brought to a close in tremendous fashion with two minutes remaining. Stefan Moore was fouled just outside the box and Connor Gudger curled an absolutely delightful free-kick over the wall and in off the post to restore Leamington’s lead at a crucial time.
An unsightly melee as the teams made their way off the pitch at half-time resulted in one of the Salford management team being sent from the bench and Junior English receiving a booking.
The belief and confidence gained from the two first-half goals clearly galvanised the visitors and roared on by a large and delighted travelling support that barely paused for breath during the 90 minutes they began the second half on the front foot, Jack Edwards just unable to wrap his boot around Thompson-Brown’s left-wing cross at the far post.
Moore then dragged a shot wide when a square pass to Joe Clarke might have been a better option.
Back came Salford, Touray driving a powerful effort across goal and wide as the home support bayed for a penalty after seeing something in the previous passage of play.
Phenix then received a booking for throwing himself to the turf in search of a spot-kick before Breeden was forced to push a close-range effort from Touray behind for a corner, from which Phenix headed home Anthony Dudley’s delivery to drag his side level once more.
This was now a real test of character for Leamington.
Thoughts wandered back to the home defeats against Stockport and Alfreton in similar circumstances but this was different and there seemed a collective resolve, both on and off the pitch, that this game was simply not going to slip away.
Crocombe and Piergianni almost contrived to let in Revan as the Ammies’ keeper slipped while preparing to make a routine clearance.
Salford then came close again, Breeden having to make another vital save.
The skipper was certainly earning his corn, producing another top-drawer stop to deny Phenix a hat-trick as he pounced on a loose pass forward to thunder a shot across goal that Breeden dived full-length to paw away.
Brakes then went mightily close themselves, Kurtis Revan stabbing into the path of fellow substitute Calum Gittings, who cut inside and crashed in a low drive that was deflected inches past the post.
Moments later there was absolute bedlam as Salford failed to defend the corner, Revan bundling in from almost on the line to spark delirious celebrations in the away end.
The home side looked a spent force now and could have even have conceded a fourth as Dunbar and Gittings broke from midfield to go two on two, only for Crocombe to pull off a fine save from Dunbar’s shot.
Salford City: Max Crocombe, Michael Nottingham, Ibou Touray, Scot Burton (Gus Mafuta, 78), Carl Piergianni, Liam Hogan, Anthony Dudley (Mark Shelton, 67), Lois Maynard, Mike Phenix, Jack Redshaw, Josh Askew (Mani Dieseruvwe. 56). Subs not used: Dom McHale, Jake Beesley.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, James Mace, Connor Gudger, Joe Clarke, Jamie Hood, Junior English, Kieran Dunbar (Richard Taundry, 90), Joe Magunda, Stefan Moore (Kurtis Revan, 68), Jack Edwards, Rob Thompson-Brown (Callum Gittings, 79). Subs not used: Liam Canavan, Ahmed Obeng.