Leamington edged past a dogged Sutton Coldfield Town side on penalties to progress to the second round of the Birmingham Senior Cup on a damp evening at Coles Lane, writes Paul Edwards.
As expected, Paul Holleran made changes to his starting XI, with Callum Gittings rested and Matty Stenson, Joe Clarke, Junior English and Ahmed Obeng dropping to the bench to allow Joe Magunda, Reece Flanagan and Anthony Dwyer much-needed game time.
Royals manager Neil Tooth also made changes to his line-up and would no doubt have been pleased at how his side more than matched their higher-ranked opponents for long periods of the game.
Unexpected rainfall gave the 3G surface a bit of zip and Brakes knocked the ball around well in the opening exchanges. Dwyer, making his first start for the club, was a busy presence in the first half particularly, getting into a good position on the right and firing in the first shot of the game which was blocked by a defender.
James Bowen scored the opening goal in the 14th minute, his first for the club, arrowing a powerful low drive across the dive of Lewis Gwilliams and into the far corner from outside the penalty area on the left.
Sutton’s first chance when Kyle Delaney sent a cross in from the left for Ryan Nesbitt, who blazed his shot high and wide.
Max McNulty looked to be in with a great chance of levelling things up when he beat Tony Breeden to the ball on the edge of the box but fortunately for Brakes his shot bounced up and over the open goal.
Kieran Dunbar’s delivery across the goalmouth from the left was touched back to Flanagan by James Mace but the midfielder, also making his first start of the season, needed a little more time to find his range, blasting the ball over the bar.
Connor Taylor sent a similar effort the same way after cutting in well from the right.
Leamington looked to have the game just about under control but it was turned on its head 7 minutes before half time as the Southern League Division One Central outfit hauled themselves level, Nesbitt putting two defenders on their backsides before poking a shot past Breeden.
Taylor almost restored Leamington’s lead when he nipped in to poke a shot towards goal but Gwilliams was already off his line and dropped on to the ball. Brakes looked more than a little rattled, however, with the half-time whistle coming at a good time for them.
Dwyer forced Gwilliams to gather at the second attempt as he beat a couple of defenders on the edge of the penalty area before driving in a low shot early in the second half.
Taylor came inches from restoring Leamington’s lead when he glanced Dunbar’s cross against the far post before Flanagan, who became more influential as the game progressed, turned well on the edge of the box and drove a shot across goal and just wide.
Gwilliams saved another low effort from Taylor before finding Flanagan’s vicious effort from outside the box too hot to handle, doing very well to spring back to his feet to push the ball away from the following-up Taylor.
Bowen crashed a powerful effort behind after a neat exchange of passes saw him charge into the area on the left, while Flanagan came as close as anyone to a second when he was tripped on the edge of the box, driving in a free-kick that clattered off the underside of the bar.
The home side threatened late on with Nesbitt firing a free-kick straight at Breeden and a dangerous cross sailing harmlessly across the Leamington goalmouth but with neither side able to break the deadlock, a penalty shootout was required to find a victor.
Substitute Stenson confidently drilled the first kick low past Gwilliams, while James Beresford blazed Sutton’s first high over the bar. Breeden then stepped up to beat his opposite number from 12 yards.
Sutton substitute Lee Smith placed his kick into the bottom corner, as did Dwyer to preserve Brakes’ advantage. Nesbitt struck the ball well to beat Breeden to his right before Flanagan scored the pick of the bunch, taking a two step run-up before rifling a powerful kick into the roof of the net.
Kyle Delaney scored Sutton’s third with another good strike but they were beaten as Joe Clarke despatched Leamington’s fifth kick.
Sutton Coldfield: Lewis Gwilliams, Samuel Reuben, Alexander Curtis, Steven Palmer (Jack Concannon, 65), James Mutton, James Beresford, Omar Haughton (Jonathan Letford, 53), Mitchell Clarke (Lee Smith, 29), Ryan Nesbitt, Max McNulty, Kyle Delaney. Subs not used: Matthew Hearsey, Connor Hopkins.
Brakes: Tony Breeden, James Mace, James Bowen, Joe Magunda (Joe Clarke, 79), Jamie Hood, Jack Lane, Connor Taylor, Reece Flanagan, Anthony Dwyer, Jack Edwards (Matty Stenson, 71), Kieran Dunbar. Subs not used: Junior English, Tom James, Ahmed Obeng.