FOOTBALL: TURN the clocks back two months ago – the situation at Leamington FC looked bleak.
Paul Holleran’s men lost eight of their opening ten fixtures and were buried at the bottom of the Vanarama National League North table.
But, as we approach Christmas, the Brakes have turned their fortunes around and now sit 16th in the league having secured 22 points from 19 games.
With a Birmingham Senior Cup clash against West Bromwich Albion and a FA Trophy tie at home to local rivals Stourbridge, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium.
<b><i>Observer sports editor Shaun Reynolds </i></b>caught up with Brakes boss Paul Holleran to discuss the horrid start to the year, how results have started to fall their way, and what lies ahead for the Brakes.
“We were a little naive perhaps at the start of the season,” said Holleran.
“The quality of the opposition caught us out.
“Now I’d say we’re a bit more streetwise, we’ve adapted to the league. And that’s proven by our run in October, we’ve had some fantastic results since.”
Brakes sit five points clear of the drop zone, but similarly they’re also just five points short of eighth placed Kidderminster Harriers.
And that’s what Holleran is eyeing – up, not down.
He said: “With the exception of three or four teams, the league is so close – there’s little between all sides.
“Our squad is stronger and players that have come up from last season have adapted.
“It’s a stange one – in September we couldn’t win a game but now we’re a little more clinical with our finishing and tight at the back.
“We’ve changed the squad around so we have a bit more experience.
“Dunbar and Felix have added some pace on the wing, and you need that in this league. You’ve got to have energy and pace.
“Jamie (Hood) is adapting and Liam (Canavan) has stepped up – the return of Jack (Edwards) has helped too.
“It’s a quality league though. The teams below us – Nuneaton, Boston, Southport, FC United of Manchester – they’re all good teams. It just shows how tough the league is.”
One man that’s earned his pay at Brakes is keeper – and skipper – Tony Breeden.
The likeable goalkeeper made two important penalty saves against Spennymoor Town when Brakes defeated the promotion hopefuls 4-0 at home earlier this month.
And having some character in the squad helps the team progress, according to the boss.
“Tony adds experience to our side,” he said.
“It’s massively important that we kept him.
“If you don’t have a solid No.1 player you’re in trouble, and Tony does that.
“He manages the box and hits good areas. He’s mad as a hatter too so he adds character to the team and ticks a lot of boxes.”
December presents a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ of fixtures for Brakes – with games in the Birmingham Senior Cup, FA Trophy, and National League North approaching.
Looking ahead to the ‘exciting times’, Holleran said: “Before the season you know you’ll need at least 42 points.
“Games against York City and Stockport County are now Saturday afternoon league games for Leamington – before we’d hope to draw them in the cup.
“We now need to keep driving ourselves forward. We can’t take our foot off the gas.
“There’s a mix of everything in December. We have a fantastic derby against Stourbridge in the Trophy with some away travels too and the Birmingham Senior Cup.”