Hatters Step On Brakes To Accelerate Out Of Slump’s Clutches
Having not enjoyed a victory for five games, and since the first half of August, County marked the advent of a new month by returning to winning ways at home against the ‘Brakes’ of Leamington.
Quality strikes by Nyal Bell, Connor Dimaio and Darren Stephenson saw the Hatters prevail against their visitors, who played for over half the game with 10 men following their goal-scorer James Mace’s dismissal just before the break.
County took to the field in a 4-3-3 formation, and showing five changes from the line-up at Kidderminster on Bank Holiday Monday. Adam Thomas, Chris Smalley and Frank Mulhern, as well as Dimaio and Stephenson, were handed starts in place of the injured Paul Turnbull (whose captain’s armband was taken by Ash Palmer), Sam Minihan and Jake Kirby, and Josh Askew and Matty Warburton who were named among the substitutes.
Despite never previously departing Edgeley Park victorious, the visiting Brakes arrived there in confident spirits as the league’s highest scorers – and early on they twice tested Ben Hinchliffe, who tipped behind Connor Taylor’s header from their first corner, before blocking a run through on goal by Jack Edwards. Shortly afterwards, following another corner and with Hinchliffe beaten, Sam Walker blocked a header by Matt Stenson.
It was, then, rather against the run of play when County took the lead – albeit in stunning style, with Bell, fed by Dimaio, unleashing a pile-driver from the edge of the box after 26 minutes that left Tony Breeden, on his 300th Leamington appearance between the sticks, with no chance as it flew in off the underside of the bar and into the top-right corner.
The Brakes drew level 13 minutes later, when Mace converted a free header from Kieran Dunbar’s corner on the left. But a minute before half-time, Mace went from hero to villain with a two-footed challenge on Bell just beyond the right of the visitors’ box.
Referee Hulme, who had earlier stopped short of sending off James Bowen for felling Dimaio with what appeared to be a leading forearm, consulted an Assistant before showing Mace a straight red card.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Bell, 26), Leamington 1 (Mace, 39).
The Hatters set out to make their one-player advantage count after the interval – with two shots by Jordan Keane flying just beyond, respectively, the bar and the right post, either side of a Bell header from Walker’s free-kick that looped narrowly over.
They did not have to wait long before going ahead again, when, just ahead of the hour, Dimaio seized on a ball that Jamie Hood, under pressure from Bell, had failed to clear on the edge of the area. The Irish Under-21 international – whose previous County goal, as coincidence would have it, was also against 10 men (at Southport) – then advanced into the box before curling home a shot to the outstretched Breeden’s left.
And although the visiting goalkeeper did well to parry Dan Cowan’s half-volley after 65 minutes, Darren Stephenson, cutting in from the left, reacted quickest to the rebound and slotted in County’s third under Breeden.
Mulhern went close shortly afterwards with an effort that grazed the outside of the upright, but it mattered not, as the Hatters comfortably contained the contest in the closing stages – despite having their own number reduced in added time when Keane limped off with all three substitutions made.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Bell, 26; Dimaio, 59; Stephenson, 65), Leamington 1 (Mace, 39).
Team: Hinchliffe, Thomas, Cowan, Keane, Palmer (Capt.), Smalley, Dimaio (Mantack, 80), Walker, Bell (Downing, 88), Mulhern (Warburton, 72), Stephenson.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Askew.
Man of the Match: Bell.
Attendance: 2,680 (47 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.