FOOTBALL: LEAMINGTON got off to the worst possible start in 2017 after they were defeated by almost the last kick of the game at Banbury United on Monday in what was a typically cagey local derby at the Banbury Plant Hire Community Stadium, reports Paul Edwards
The Southern League Premier Division leaders were outdone by a late Mark Bell goal in what was the first league meeting between the two sides for just over four years.
Still missing the experience and influence of Jamie Hood and Darren Pond, Paul Holleran was able to bring Callum Gittings back into his starting eleven as Brakes looked to get back to winning ways following the disappointing Boxing Day draw against Stratford Town but neither side provided much forward momentum in the opening exchanges.
Richard Gregory’s shot was spilled by Puritans keeper Jack Harding with his team mate Luke Carnell slicing the ball behind for a corner.
Connor Gudger fired in a cross from the left from which Jack Edwards directed a header towards goal which lacked the power to trouble Harding.
Banbury must have thought they were about to take the lead when a mis-hit shot from busy striker Martin Asiedu Ofosu found its way through to midfielder Callum White at the far post. He looked to have a decent chance to slide the ball past Breeden but Gudger slid in with a superb challenge to deny him.
The second half saw Leamington attempt to step up the pace in search of a winner, but too often passes were going astray and there were not enough attempts on the Banbury goal.
Courtney Baker-Richardson came closest to scoring when he did well to hold off Marvin Martin on the right before cutting onto his left foot and crashing a low drive off the base of the post.
Asiedu Ofosu was causing problems for the Brakes defence with his pace, and almost engineered a chance for himself with a mazy run towards goal which was halted by a good challenge from James Mace.
Zac McEachran lashed a shot well over the bar for Banbury, while Andy Gunn blocked a goalbound effort from Leamington substitute Ryan Rowe.
Richard Taundry curled a free kick into the arms of Harding after Ahmed Obeng had been brought down around 25 yards out, but just when the game looked like ending honours even Banbury found a late winner.
The hosts worked their way in down the right and the ball was fizzed dangerously into the six yard box where Bell stabbed home at the second attempt to send the home fans into raptures.
The Brakes support were left pondering what the new year would bring, with their lead now down to just two points at the top of the table, with a tough run of fixtures to come in January.
Leamington: T.Breeden, R.Taundry, C.Gudger, J.Magunda (B.George 80), D.Preston, J.Mace, C.Baker-Richardson (R.Thompson-Brown 61), C.Gittings, R. Gregory (R.Rowe 73), J.Edwards, A.Obeng.
Subs not used: T.James, N.Olukanmi.