Leamington relegation worries grow following defeat to Blyth Spartans

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An afternoon that began in promising fashion went from bad to worse for Leamington as they were edged out in a game that they really needed to win to keep daylight between themselves and the bottom four in the National League North.

Brakes had performed well against promotion chasing King’s Lynn Town the previous Saturday but their failure to take the chances they created saw them punished.

They certainly started this contest with intent, but would have been wondering whether it was going to be another one of those days in the early exchanges as a host of opportunities passed them by.

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Paul Holleran named an unchanged starting eleven, with new loan signing from Walsall Sam Perry replacing the departed Simeon Maye on the substitutes bench.

Leamington slipped to defeat at home to Blyth Spartans as their trouble go on. Pic by Sally Ellis.Leamington slipped to defeat at home to Blyth Spartans as their trouble go on. Pic by Sally Ellis.
Leamington slipped to defeat at home to Blyth Spartans as their trouble go on. Pic by Sally Ellis.

Curtis Round freed Sam Hodgson to cut in from the right in the opening moments, but his shot was blocked at source.

A sharp, swift move saw Brakes create their first opportunity on 4 minutes as Liam Cross headed powerfully at Spartans keeper Alex Mitchell, who reacted well to block.

Mitchell was forced to spread himself to parry the ball at close range from Edwards. Blyth could only partially clear their lines, and there was a brief shout for a penalty as Adam Walker went down just inside the box before Turner saw his snapshot blocked.

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Cross directed another effort wide of the target, while after a Blyth attack Leamington pushed forward quickly, Ollie Hulbert chasing a long ball from Joe Clarke and capitalising on Matthew Elsdon’s flick back towards his own goal, but the defender tracked Hulbert and put himself between the ball and his goal.

The chances kept coming; Turner pouncing on a throw into the box and striking towards goal on the turn, but his shot lacked the power to trouble Mitchell. Walker then saw a first time drive sail over the crossbar.

There was a clear determination on the faces of the Brakes eleven as they snapped into challenges, desperate to stamp their authority on the game, but despite the numerous sights of goal, they looked like what they were - a team short on confidence in front of goal. They just needed something to drop for them, and if one of those early chances had gone in it might just have provided the shot in the arm they needed.

At the opposite end the defence were making sure that Callum Hawkins was having a relatively quiet afternoon - the Brakes keeper not getting his first real touch of the ball until the 38th minute as he confidently and loudly claimed a low ball into his penalty area.

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Turner saw a first time strike held by Mitchell at his near post as Clarke headed a half cleared ball back into the box, but with half time approaching the game was much more even now. One thing certainly not even was the number of chances created for each side, as Cross bent a fine effort inches wide of the upright.

However, these counted for absolutely nothing as the visitors were handed the chance to go ahead right on half time. Striker Michael Spellman, signed on loan from Sunderland just hours before the game, got goal side of Clarke, who brought him down just inside the box, and the man who had arguably been Leamington’s man of the match until that point was shown a red card. There was talk that it had been for dissent rather than the foul, which was debatable as he may or may not have been judged to have been the last man. After a lengthy delay, Spellman sent Hawkins the wrong way from 12 yards to give the visitors an undeserved advantage, given how the opening forty five minutes had panned out.

Inevitably Blyth emerged with their tails up, pinning their hosts back and winning an early corner from which Jordan Hickey saw a shot blocked. They quickly forced a second, from which Hawkins was forced to punch the ball out from under his crossbar. Walker provided some respite as a half volley flashed into the side netting, but the roles were reversed from the first half now. Blyth were quicker to every ball, and were moving it around with far more purpose.

Both sets of supporters joined in applause for recently departed Cannock Spartans member Lee Hulme in the 54th minute, as they had before kick off when Andy Jenkins, Ian Mitchell and Mark Davidson were remembered.

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If ever a passage of play summed up Leamington’s recent fortunes in the attacking third, it came around the hour mark. With Blyth seemingly unable to clear their lines properly, the ball was promptly handed back to them several times before they eventually got it away.

The visitors had Leamington exactly where they wanted them now, and at times were content to stroke the ball around between themselves as they waited for an opening. Indeed, a multi pass move ended just outside the penalty area as Spellman sent a vicious curling strike towards the top left hand corner of goal only for Hawkins to deny him with a trademark flying save to push the ball behind.

Unfortunately the afternoon went from bad to worse as the Brakes keeper picked up an injury, and after a lengthy second stoppage for treatment, had to be replaced. With no substitute keeper on the bench it was down to James Mace to take his place between the sticks - probably not the way he expected to make his 430th appearance for the club.

Leamington began to push in the closing stages, and Hulbert came close when he latched onto an Edwards flick on to stab a shot towards goal that was blocked.

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Ben Usher-Shipway was introduced, and his long throw into the Blyth box immediately caused problems, but the ball ran through to Mitchell.

With 9 minutes of time added on there was plenty left for Brakes to conjure something up. Meredith sent a looping first time strike from a half clearance onto the roof of the clubhouse.

The visitors were unable to test Mace in the Leamington goal in the time that remained, but were able to celebrate a priceless victory with their travelling supporters while Brakes trudged off dejectedly. Unfortunately at present it appears there is only one way the season is going to end if the goalscoring problem cannot be addressed.