The Bucks ended 2018 on a high, overpowering a Leamington side
who took an early lead, but who were ultimately unable to contain Gavin Cowan’s
side; two late dismissals, straight red cards for Connor Gudger and Jamie Hood,
made it a day to forget for the Brakes.
Cowan made just one change to the Bucks side that defeated
Nuneaton; skipper Shane Sutton was serving a one-match suspension for his red
card a week ago at Chester, and Dom Smith stepped in to take his place, with
Ellis Deeney wearing the armband. Whilst the make-up of the side remained
overwhelmingly positive with attacking intent, it was the Brakes who showed
first, and they made a very early breakthrough. With just four minutes gone,
the visitors won a corner; the Bucks defence didn’t pick up Colby Bishop, and
the Brakes no.9 met the corner just six yards out, side-footing home on the
volley to beat Andy Wycherley to his right.
With Cowan recognising Leamington’s obdurate nature, a tough
afternoon looked in store. The Bucks rolled up their collective sleeves and began
to chip away; with eight minutes on the clock, a corner won by Ryan Barnett on
the right resulted in Theo Streete volleying Brendon Daniels’ delivery wide at
the far post. However, the Bucks were to trail for only a little longer. With eleven
minutes played, a free-kick ten yards into the Brakes half was played into the
box by Deeney; the visitors partially cleared the kick, but only to Daniels,
and his rasping shot from 20 yards flashed past Tony Breeden in an instant, the
keeper getting his hands to the effort but not strongly enough to deny the on-loan
Port Vale winger.
The open nature of the half was maintained; Dunbar shot wide
of the far post from 20 yards, looking to go across Wycherley but dragging his
effort a little, before the Bucks were presented with a golden chance to lead. Just
before the twenty minutes mark, Udoh combined with Morgan-Smith to send the
latter surging into the Brakes penalty area; full-back Junior English halted
his run, but did so illegally in the eyes of referee Lewis Smith, the Bucks
forward felled. The Brakes contested the award, but to no avail, and after a
lengthy pause Morgan-Smith outwitted Breeden, his firm, low shot beating the
keeper to his right.
With the Bucks ahead, it was Brendon Daniels who next took
centre-stage, but in an unexpected way. Just a minute after the Bucks took the
lead, Streete slipped on the right of the home defence, allowing Gudger to
advance; his low ball in was controlled by Bishop, and his sharp shot on the
turn at the near post beat Wycherley, but not Daniels. Positioned in the
six-yard box, the winger cleared the ball to safety, Bishop left frustrated.
Play swung back to the other end, with Udoh seeing a shot blocked
and Daniels’ follow-up deflected for a corner. Former Buck Jordan Murphy, on
loan to the Brakes from Solihull Moors, shot wide from the edge of the box, then
an off-balance Darryl Knights did likewise for the home side. The shot count
rose ever higher, as first Gudger, with a free-kick from 20 yards, brought a
low save at his near post from Wycherley. Dunbar also got another chance to
take aim from distance, but his low shot passed wide of the far post, Wycherley
watchful but not needing to dive.
Daniels was enjoying his best performance in a Bucks shirt
to date, and he saw a shot deflected for a corner which he took himself, firing
a devilish delivery through the six-yard box that just begged a touch from
someone. He helped the Bucks end the half on top, and barring two moments of
superb Brakes defending they would have led 3-1 at the interval. First, Breeden
did superbly to scoop a deflected Knights shot away from goal, though some fans
felt the ball had crossed. Within seconds, the ball was returned from the left
and met at the top of his jump by Morgan-Smith; a goal looked certain, but James
Mace contorted himself astonishingly and cleared off the line.
Moments later the whistle blew for half-time on what had
been a thrilling 45 minutes of football.
HALF TIME: AFC Telford United 2 Leamington 1
Both sides opened the second half positively; Reece Flanagan
couldn’t time his run to the far post to meet Jack Edwards’ cross from the
right, Udoh had a shot blocked and Barnett won a corner that was cleared by the
Brakes. Edwards picked up a yellow card for a foul on Dom Smith, the defender
left holding his face after a mid-air clash, then Daniels won another corner
that Mace headed away from underneath his own crossbar.
Bishop, still working the Bucks defence, fired a shot from
15 yards over the crossbar after latching onto defender Jack Lane’s knock-down
header from a free-kick, the game still in the balance. Wycherley had to hold the
ball low down from Dunbar’s effort from 18 yards, gathering the ball in to
snuff out any chance from the rebound, whilst his opposite number Breeden saved
superbly from Udoh. The forward’s low, right-footed shot appearing destined to
creep inside the post to Breeden’s right until the keeper got down and across
to push the ball wide.
As Cowan and Brakes boss Paul Holleran started to make
substitutions, it was almost 3-1, Morgan-Smith narrowly missing out on turning
Udoh’s low cross into the net from close range. Leamington were committing
extra men forward, chasing the equaliser, and it took both Deeney and White to deny
Bishop before Edwards then struck a deflected shot from the edge of the box
that Wycherley positioned himself solidly behind.
With just over 15 minutes left, the Brakes goal survived
another close call; the Bucks located Deeney on the edge of the box and he got
a shot away that came back with a thud off Breeden’s right post, cannoning to
safety. The visitors were leaving themselves more open, and on 79 minutes the
Bucks delivered the decisive blow; from substitute Steph Morley’s left-wing
throw-in, Barnett took possession and crossed for Morgan-Smith to turn and
sweep the ball home past Breeden, to palpable relief.
Leamington weren’t finished, however, and within a minute
Wycherley had to spring to his left and make a fine mid-air catch to hold
Bishop’s header on goal. They kept knocking on the door and saw another shot
deflected out for a corner, before the hopes were dealt a severe blow as the
game entered five minutes of injury time. Gudger caught Bucks substitute James
McQuilkin high with a poor challenge, one that warranted sanction, but it was
perhaps a little surprising to see Gudger red-carded. Within a couple of
minutes, he had company; Brakes substitute Jamie Hood left his feet in a challenge
with Deeney, and he too saw a straight red. His studs caught the Bucks stand-in
skipper, and he took the walk to the dressing room, kicking over the corner
flag and a dustbin in anger as he did so.
Reduced to nine men, the Brakes lost their shape as well as
their discipline, and when Morgan-Smith beat the remains of their defence on
the right he slipped the ball across for Udoh to touch the ball under the
advancing Breeden. It was virtually the last kick of the game, and the final
whistle saw the home fans rapturously celebrating their biggest margin of
victory this season, as well as one of their best performances.Leamington: Breeden,
English (Hood 58), Gudger, Clarke (Gittings 74), Mace, Lane, Dunbar (Obeng 66),
Flanagan, Bishop, Edwards, Murphy.
Unused Substitutes: Bowen, Taylor.
Scorers: Bishop (4).
Dismissals: Gudger, Hood.