FOOTBALL: LEAMINGTON Brakes manager Paul Holleran is hoping to add ‘three or four’ experienced Conference North players to his squad ahead of the club’s return to the second tier of non-league football.
Holleran guided Brakes to an outstanding promotion charge throughout the season, which ended in playoff success in dramatic style as two late goals in normal and stoppage time helped Brakes defeat Hitchin Town 2-1 in the playoff final.
A record crowd of more than 2,000 fans packed into the the Phillips 66 Community Stadium to watch the game, which ended with on-pitch celebrations between fans, players, and members of management.
Speaking to The Observer, Holleran said his team’s playoff final tie against Hitchin was a massive opportunity for Brakes – and until the 88th minute he thought they’d missed it.
He said: “The fact we lost out in last year’s playoff final really drove us forward.
“Last year was painful. I started looking at the Southern League at the start of this season and with the quality of teams coming through it’s getting tougher each year.
“The final was a big opportunity for us, and up until the 88th minute I though we’d missed it.
“However we kept going until the end and we did deserve the equalising goal – it was a game of few chances and the substitutes made a big impact.
“There were nerves at the end, the delay to the penalty being taken didn’t help.
“But Thompson-Brown did his job against a keeper which saved three out of four penalties in the semi-final prior to Monday’s final.”
Leamington were boosted by a home win against Banbury prior to the first of their two playoff ties.
And Holleran said the win against Banbury played a big part in his team’s confidence in their semi-final tie against Slough.
He said: “Winning our last league fixture at home against Banbury gave us a good boost going into the semi-final game against Slough.
“Our semi final match was a quality game, some good football was played.
“The final maybe didn’t have the same quality, but the game certainly wasn’t for the faint hearted. It was dramatic, intense, on the edge of your seat stuff – and obviously an exciting finish.
“To win the playoffs is a great experience. It’s disappointing when you lose – but whether you’re a manager, player, supporter or kit man, you get that same playoff winning feeling.”
Brakes will face teams including FC United, Curzon Ashton and Stockport County in next year’s league – though Holleran remains confident his current squad can play a part.
He said: “We do need three or four established Conference North players, and we’re working on that at the moment.
“The majority of this year’s squad can play a part in the season coming up.
“Our aim is to get to 45 points as quickly as we can and kick on from there.
“It will be hard but we believe.
“Promotion is great news for the town.
“The Conference North has some swagger about it, it looks like the old Division Four.
“There’s no comparison between the South and North Divisions. North is a league full of ex-league clubs. Half of the teams are full time.
“We’ve got our work cut out as one of the smallest sides in there, but we’ll give it a good go.
“Fans travel in large numbers – hopefully on the back of our achievement this year we can start picking crowd levels up.
“If we can add 150 supporters onto our attendances from this year, then maybe 30 or 40 of those additional faces may become big followers.
“It’s a good day out packed with quality football, and the league we’re going into will help that.”
Pictures: Sally Ellis Photography.