COLBY Bishop struck a late leveller to ensure Leamington secure 13th place in National League North, ahead of Thursday night’s (May 2) Birmingham Senior Cup final against Nuneaton Borough.
Saturday’s final-day fixture away to Darlington looked to be going the way of the hosts, after Jordan Nicholson’s goal on the stroke of half-time, but the Brakes held their nerve to secure a point, and finish their season with a six-match unbeaten run in the process.
Leamington now look ahead to visiting Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s home on Thursday, looking to claim a seventh Birmingham Senior Cup success, and a second title in three years – having last won the 2016/17 edition against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Despite making 12 appearances in the final in all, with Nuneaton making 15 appearances and winning the cup nine times – it will be the first meeting between the two sides at this stage.
Nuneaton’s most recent success came in 2010, after a 2-1 victory over Alvechurch, their only success in their modern day incarnation.
The Brakes will be coming up against a Borough side who finished bottom of National League North, with Leamington recently winning the Easter Monday fixture 3-0 thanks to Colby Bishop’s hat-trick, but one that have impressed in the cup this season.
They made their way past Burton Albion in a 4-3 first-round win, before edging both Solihull Moors and Highgate United by 2-0 scorelines, and reaching the showpiece with a 2-1 victory over Stourbridge.
Leamington meanwhile had to edge Sutton Coldfield Town in a penalty shoot-out in the first round, prior to a 5-1 thrashing of Lye Town, and a 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in the quarter-finals.
The Brakes edged Aston Villa 2-1 in the semi-finals, and will welcome a first clean sheet of the competition on Thursday to ensure a seventh title.
With an average of 3.5 goals scored per game in the 17 previous finals held at St Andrew’s, combined with Leamington’s high-scoring ties in this competition – goals are to be expected in the final.
Leamington boss Paul Holleran admitted he made a number of personnel changes against Darlington ahead of the Senior Cup final, and was left pleased by the Brakes second-half performance.
“Obviously we got one or two players off with the Senior Cup in mind.
“We didn’t play Ahmed, Connor Gudger’s got a bit of a sore chest and pains and we didn’t want to risk anything, so we’ve been able to rest one or two.
“We changed our shape and changed the system a little bit at the start of the second-half to make sure we pushed on in midfield – I thought it was a great game second half.
“We thoroughly deserved the goal, yet again a really good goal.
Holleran views the Brakes’ campaign, one which matches their previous best finish of 13th back in 2013/14. as a huge improvement on last term.
“We wanted to improve on last year and we’ve done that.
“It’s as high as we’ve done in the past and the key thing now is to retain the players we want to retain, add some to it and go again, because we know how competitive this league is and will be again next season.
“When you look at the pack of teams we’ve finished in and around, and the clubs we’ve finished above, I think it’s a really big compliment to the dressing room, and we’re delighted.”
Leamington had to dig in deep during a first-half dominated by the hosts, and did well to limit Darlington to just the one goal, after Nicholson drove home a cross from the right-wing into the bottom corner.
But an upturn in the Brakes’ work rate earned them a leveller 12 minutes from time, after a half in which they repeatedly threatened to break Darlo’s rearguard.
Elliot Hodge pumped a cross into the box, which Bishop cooly dispatched for his 27th of the season.
A late winner looked possible with a couple of late chances, but Leamington went home happy with a final point of the season.
Admission on the gate for the final starts at £10 for adults, and £5 for concessions, with kick-off at 7:30pm.