PAUL Holleran says he feels regret that his ten-man Leamington side could not advance to the next round of the FA Trophy, after a penalty shoot-out defeat to Concord Rangers.
Stephan Morley’s strike on the hour mark cancelled out Concord’s fifth-minute opener from Lamar Reynolds to force extra-time, in which the hosts again went ahead through James Blanchfield before Callum Maycock equalised to send the game to penalties.
In the shoot-out, misses from new signing Jack Storer and captain Jack Edwards proved decisive as the hosts advanced to the quarter-finals, where they will face Step Seven side Royston Town in the quarter-finals.
The Brakes manager was unable to hide his dismay at exiting the competition, having been so close to matching the club’s best-ever run to the last eight in the 1983/84 season, and felt his side should have settled the tie in 90 minutes.
“I’m bitterly disappointed, I think we’ll look back and be disappointed with both goals,” Holleran said.
“To be one nil down in a game like that so early on, I think we’ve shown great character and spirit then, and once we settled we finished the half strongly and then second half we were excellent and really took the game to them.
“We scored a deserved equaliser, could have scored again and should have won it in the 90 minutes really.
“We couldn’t argue too much with Junior’s [English] second yellow card, but I thought the first one was a bit harsh – the inconsistency with some of the cautions today was unbelievable.”
Leamington were caught napping for the opener, after Kit Elliott ousted Callum Gittings on the right flank before looping a cross into Reynolds to plant a header beyond Jake Weaver.
The visitors required a show-stopping strike from Morley to haul themselves level. With a clearance falling to him on the edge of the penalty area, the left-back slammed a ferocious left-footed volley into the corner – much to the delight of the travelling support.
A big turning point arrived in the latter stages of the half when English, who had already been booked, flew into a lunging challenge on Joel Nouble, resulting in a second yellow card.
Weaver had to be alert to prevent Nathan Carlyle from winning the tie for the hosts with the last kick of the game, as the encounter headed for an additional 30 minute period.
It was Concord who again held the upper hand when Blanchfield lobbed the ball over a number of Leamington players and into the net, after Weaver had rushed out of his goal to win a challenge.
But before referee Matthew Russell could sound for time for the end of the first additional period, Maycock lifted the ball over Haigh into the net
An end-to-end second half of extra-time followed, albeit with no winning goal, so to the dreaded lottery of penalties it was.
Storer missed the opening spot kick for the visitors when his well-struck effort ricocheted against the crossbar and out.
While Concord also hit the bar with their first penalty, Leamington’s Morley, Jack Lane and Gittings all put their subsequent efforts away to match the successful attempts by the hosts to keep the game deadlocked.
But with pressure on Edwards to send the shoot-out into sudden death, his strike was at an ideal height for Haigh, who palmed the ball away to send the National League South outfit through.
Leamington now make the long trip up to Darlington in the National League North on Saturday, attempting to outdo their tenth-placed rivals and improve their standing of 16th at Blackwell Meadows (3pm).