Hungerford Town 2 Leamington 1
Hungerford Town turned around a 1-0 half-time deficit to defeat Leamington by two goals to one, and secured promotion to the National League South in the process. Leamington took the lead thanks to a goal from Courtney Baker-Richardson, but goals from Stefan Brown and Mike Jones were enough to send the home fans into delirium. The Crusaders will now join champions, Poole Town, in the National League system next term.
The conditions at Bulpit Lane were tricky with persistent rain hammering down throughout the contest, a factor which meant there was little in the way of goalmouth action on the whole. Despite this, Leamington managed to put away one of their chances to open the scoring in the 21st minute. Lee Moore helped create the opportunity as he forced home goalkeeper, Paul Strudley, into action to close down an attack to force a corner. Sam Austin stepped up to guide a low delivery towards the near post, which was pounced upon by Baker-Richardson to smash the ball home with plenty of conviction.
The rest of the half drifted by with the ball spending more time in the air than on the floor, which was forgiveable considering the conditions. Leamington did however look more of a threat in an attacking sense during the first half, as they created some decent passages of play, but an error from goalkeeper, Tony Breeden, nearly cost them dear. With six minutes of the half left to play, Breeden made a hash of a goal kick with the ball falling to Nat Jarvis in midfield. Jarvis breezed past right-back, Richard Taundry, with ease to set up a shooting opportunity, but he sent his angled shot wide of the far post, much to Breeden’s relief.
Hungerford looked much more confident in the second period, and they duly gained their reward as they levelled proceedings in the 63rd minute. Stefan Brown controlled the ball well on the right side of the box before he evaded Breeden with a low effort down the centre. It was Brown’s 16th league goal of the campaign, and possibly his most vital as it gave Hungerford the breakthrough and the self-belief they craved.
Leamington came close to re-taking the lead with twenty minutes to go, as Baker-Richardson arrowed an effort narrowly wide of the top corner from the edge of the box. But, that was pretty much all Leamington could muster in a lacklustre second half, with Hungerford the side making the most of the few chances available. Just two minutes later, the hosts produced another effort on goal with Breeden momentarily worried by a header from Brown, after he connected with Gary Horgan’s right wing cross. Breeden showed enough anticipation to gather Brown’s low header however to keep his side on level terms.
Hungerford were the team that had more about them as the clock ticked down, and it was no shock to see them take a pivotal lead with only seven minutes remaining. James Clark delivered a pinpoint corner onto the head of Mike Jones, who powered his header just over the line despite the desperate attempt of Breeden to claw the ball away. Hungerford now had the wind well and truly in their sails, as Leamington looked shellshocked.
Leamington failed to seize any sort of initiative to level the game in the dying stages, and they can have no qualms about coming second best to a Hungerford side which showed more fight in the latter stages of this contest. The result means that Bobby Wilkinson has masterminded another promotion at the helm of Hungerford Town, and the club can now enjoy being at the highest level in their history next season. Congratulations to all involved at Hungerford Town, who will undoubtedly relish the challenge in the National League South in 2016/17.
Hungerford Town: Strudley, Horgan, Tyler, Jones, Day, Rees (Rusby 66), Clark, Herring, Jarvis, Brown, Preen
Leamington: Breeden, Taundry, Gudger, Edwards, Hood, Mace, Moore (Mackey 88), Gittings, Baker-Richardson, Dubidat (Halsall 68), Austin
Report by James Hunt