Brakes got off to just the kind of start they required with three goals and a positive attacking display to kick off the 2016/2017 season at the Phillips 66 Community Stadium.
Paul Holleran named four of his summer signings in the starting eleven, with this week’s addition Ryan Quinn forced to settle for a place on the bench. Tom James was unable to take part as a suspension carried over from last season ruled him out.
By his own admission Ryan Rowe had a quiet pre season, but if his opening display in Gold and Black is anything to go by he looks a good bet to finish among the division’s top scorers. He skilfully tucked away the first chance that came his way on 5 minutes, turning to lash a low drive in off the post after Courtney Baker-Richardson had flicked on Ben George’s throw in on the right.
Cirencester responded with a shot which cleared the Leamington bar but the home side looked lively, with new boys Rob Thompson-Brown and Ahmed Obeng buzzing around the visitors defence along with Rowe. One thing that stood out was the strikers’ willingness to get back and aid the defence in winning back possession, which can only be a good sign as the team beds in during a busy opening to the season.
Obeng’s pace caused problems for Cirencester all afternoon, and he slalomed into the box on the left, hitting a shot against a defender which fell nicely for Connor Gudger, who almost hooked it home but was denied by a last ditch challenge which saw the ball behind for a corner, from which Rowe almost poked home while grounded.
Leamington extended their lead on 17 minutes with what will surely be a contender for goal of the season next April. Baker-Richardson found Rowe on the left with a raking cross field pass which the striker brought under control before cutting inside and curling a beauty wide of keeper Harvey Rivers and into the corner of the net.
It was a glorious afternoon in South Warwickshire and inevitably the pace of the game dropped off a little towards half time in the blazing sunshine, but Leamington quickly hit their stride again in the second half, Thompson-Brown forcing a save from Rivers with a well struck free kick before marking his debut with a well taken goal, accepting an unselfish pass from Rowe just inside the box before rifling a rising drive past Rivers into the roof of the net.
As Brakes were still celebrating the goal, Cirencester immediately pulled one back, James Mortimer-Jones heading home from close range.
Rowe fired a free kick over the bar as Leamington attempted to restore their three goal cushion, and then saw a shot deflected behind as he picked up a pass from Obeng, with whom he looks to be forming a good understanding in attack, flanked by Baker-Richardson and Thompson-Brown.
The visitors came more into the game in the closing stages, Ollie Knight just failing to lift a shot over Tony Breeden, while Mortimer-Jones struck a good effort towards goal but it was directed straight at Breeden.
Substitute Lee Moore had a shot deflected behind but it was the visitors who came closest to another goal, Breeden making an outstanding save to deny Mortimer-Jones his second of the game as the midfielder latched onto the ball after substitute Charlie Griffin’s shot had struck the crossbar.
So the season begins with three points, but the challenges come thick and fast in the opening few weeks, none more so than a trip to Kettering Town on Tuesday evening.
Leamington: Tony Breeden ©, Ben George, Connor Gudger, Darren Pond, Jamie Hood, James Mace, Courtney Baker-Richardson, Jack Edwards, Ryan Rowe (12 Lee Moore, 70), Rob Thompson-Brown (16 Richard Taundry, 88), Ahmed Obeng.
Subs not used: 14 Ryan Quinn, 15 Rob Elvins, 17 Charlie Fitzmaurice.
Cirencester Town: Harvey Rivers, Kyle Lapham, Scott Bevan, James Coates, Matt Liddiard ©, Chris Taylor, Aiden Bennett, James Mortimer-Jones, Ross Langworthy (12 Charlie Griffin, 57), Lee Smith (15 Jon Else, 84), Ollie Knight.
Subs not used: 14 Adam Connolly, 16 Kalum Youngsam.
Referee: Mr Tim Walker
Assistant Referees: Mr Mike Gardner & Mr Sam Kane.
Brakes Man of the Match: Darren Pond.
Report by Paul Edwards
Image/Video – Nick Leek