THE 2015/16 season ended in heartbreak for Leamington after they surrendered the lead in the Southern League Premier Division Play Off Final and allowed Hungerford Town to come from behind to clinch promotion thanks to a 2-1 victory, reports Paul Edwards.
After a campaign littered with highs, lows and what if’s, it seemed as if everything was set to turn full circle at the War Memorial Ground on Monday evening after Courtney Baker-Richardson had given the visitors a one-goal lead at the break.
But the hosts had finished the season off strongly themselves and they possessed the belief and drive to see the job through despite having to come from one goal down in the second half.
The weather was glorious as the first two coach loads of Brakes fans arrived but it deteriorated in the hours leading up to kick off although that did little to dampen the spirits of the two sets of fans that packed into Bulpit Lane.
Perhaps inevitably with what was at stake it took the two sides a little while to settle down once the game kicked off with there being little incident of note in the opening exchanges.
James Clark crashed a first time shot well over the bar as he latched onto a half cleared long throw into the box, but Leamington were looking more composed at this stage and cashed in with 20 minutes played.
A Lee Moore surge down the left earned the visitors a corner and from which Sam Austin delivered the ball in low to Baker-Richardson at the near post who was able to slam the ball first time past Paul Strudley into the roof of the net.
Another calm break from their own half saw Leamington threaten again through Baker-Richardson and Austin, the latter’s drive from a central position around 20 yards from goal taking a deflection on its way through to Strudley.
Preen’s free kick into the Leamington penalty area saw Mike Jones send a header spinning high and wide, while Daniel Dubidat’s shot at the other end lacked the power to threaten the Hungerford goal.
The warning signs that the hosts were beginning to get into their stride were beginning to show as half time approached with Nat Jarvis outstripping Richard Taundry for pace down the left before rifling a low shot across goal and inches wide of the far post.
The pressure began to intensify as the second half wore on with Hungerford looking more and more threatening and but the moment Brakes’ dreams were effectively dashed arrived on 64 minutes when Stefan Brown darted in from the right to drive low across Breeden into the far corner of the net.
Baker-Richardson came mightily close to firing Leamington back in front when he lashed a half clearance just over the angle of post and bar, but he was feeding off scraps for the remainder of the game with his team mates spending more time in their own half.
Hungerford hunted down a winning goal and it came with only five minutes remaining when Jones rose unmarked to send a header direct from a corner into the back of the net to the delight of the home support.
Mace directed a header straight at Strudley as Leamington tried in vain to muster a similar response to the one that had reaped dividends on Wednesday night but they were unable to find an equaliser and the final whistle was met by despair for the visitors.