County Step On The Brakes And Still Keep Moving On!
Two first-half goals, and a highly professional performance in tricky conditions, saw County achieve a second away-victory in the Conference North since the start of the current campaign. It was also the Hatters' second win of the season in the West Midlands - a region where their record had been, frankly, rather wretched last term.
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The County starting line-up showed two changes from that which had taken to the field against Ilkeston a week previously. Lee Stevenson, having been unavailable for FA Cup duty, returned to play in his favoured position just behind the forwards - replacing Richie Baker, who was being rested as a precaution after picking up a knock in action seven days earlier. Scott Spencer, the goal-scoring hero of the Ilkeston match, was also selected to start, while Chris Sharp, who will begin a three-match suspension next Saturday, dropped to the bench. Scott Duxbury, once again, did not feature, following his ankle injury at the beginning of the month, although Bobby Lofthouse was available for selection for the first time since mid-September and was named among the County substitutes.
Quite a breeze had brewed up for kick-off at the New Windmill Ground, and County, playing all in white, found themselves playing the first half both against the wind and with the sun in their eyes. It was clear that the conditions would exert an influence upon the game, and Leamington showed an early declaration of intent to capitalise on them when Stephan Morley unleashed a shot from distance - albeit high and wide of Danny Hurst's goal.
County, however, were not cowed by the Warwickshire wind, and, just after the ten-minute mark, forced the first corner of the game. A Jamie Milligan set-piece is, right now, something to get quite excited about - leading, as the Captain's corners have done, to five headed goals before today's game - and this assist-count increased to six, as Spencer got himself on the end of the delivery to head home emphatically for his third goal in all competitions.
Another ten minutes passed before the next goalmouth incident of note. And it proved to be the first of some several chances that the home side will have been disappointed not to convert. On this occasion, Jack Edwards was the guilty party, hooking over from close range after a high ball had been launched into the County area.
It was to prove a costly miss, as, shortly afterwards, the Hatters doubled their lead - with Chris Churchman continuing his habit of only scoring from afar. From twenty-five yards out, the young midfielder launched a ball that first swirled in the wind in such a way as to suggest that it would clear the Leamington bar - but then, to much astonishment (not least to Neil Collett in the home goal), dipped to find its way into the top right-hand corner of the net. Was it a shot? ‘Churchy', in his post-match euphoria, unequivocally - and understandably - claimed it to be. Others, in the stands and on the pitch, debated the point among themselves - but, most importantly, County were now two goals to the good.
Each goalkeeper was called upon to make a point-blank save before half-time: Collett, shortly after Churchman's goal, from Spencer; and, subsequently, Hurst from the Brakes' leading scorer, Stefan Moore. In between, Danny Newton skied over when faced with an open goal, following a corner that the County defence had failed to clear.
The final attempt of the first half also came Leamington's way - Lee Chilton shooting wide to clock up a total of seven efforts that had been off target for the hosts before the Brake (sorry... couldn't resist!).
HALF-TIME: Leamington 0, County 2 (Spencer, 11; Churchman, 26).
Although the Hatters emerged for the second half very much on top, and with the wind behind their backs, Leamington were clearly not ready to surrender. A looping cross from Matt Dodd posed a threat around the County area in the opening minutes, but Hurst was on hand to dive and collect.
Some end-to-end exchanges were to follow. First, Spencer flicked a through-ball to Kristian Dennis, whose shot fizzed narrowly wide, before the unfortunate Newton endured his second ‘Ronnie Rosenthal' moment of the afternoon - missing an open goal, after being set up by Moore. Dennis was in action again just past the hour, beating Collett with an exquisite lob - only for the ball to hit the home crossbar.
Leamington, in the course of their next foray into the County box, made a vociferous penalty-claim when the ball appeared to strike Daniel Gregson's arm, but play was waved on.
County continued to go in search of a third goal, which would be sure to make the game safe, and Collett was forced in quick succession to pull off impressive saves from Dennis and Churchman.
There was still time, too, for another great opportunity to be lost on Newton, who, when through on goal, could only shoot tamely at Hurst.
County proceeded to play the game out well, and, when the end came, could feel justly proud of a tremendous team effort that had secured three points, with no little assurance, from a difficult-looking fixture.
Make no mistake, the Hatters have their foot on another pedal these days. Don't miss out as they accelerate!
FULL-TIME: Leamington 0, County 2 (Spencer, 11; Churchman, 26).
Team: Hurst, Todd, O'Halloran, Lees, Gregson, Fagbola, Stevenson, Churchman, Milligan (Moses, 75), Dennis, Spencer (Sharp, 83).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Lofthouse, Belezika.
Man of the Match (as judged by the Non-League Paper): Spencer.