A CLASSY performance from Leamington against a bad-tempered Kettering Town saw the Brakes advance to the last 16 of the FA Trophy in a dramatic night at the Community Stadium.
Tuesday night’s tie, taking place in Warwickshire after the pitch at the Poppies’ Latimer Park was deemed unplayable, appeared to have it all, with three red cards for Kettering and a lengthy floodlight failure – spanning over an hour – preceding Leamington’s eventual passage into the next round.
It was fitting, then, that Paul Holleran’s side dealt with whatever was thrown at them on and off the pitch to advance to the fifth round of the competition for only the second time in the club’s history come the full-time whistle.
A bad night, in every sense of the word, began for Kettering within seconds of kick-off, with Danny Waldron meeting Kaiman Anderson’s free kick on the stretch to give the hosts a quickfire breakthrough.
Then came the first big talking point of the night, when the visiting skipper Michael McGrath slapped the hand of referee Adrian Quelch to earn a yellow card, continuing to make his feelings known before receiving a second booking.
By the 23rd minute, it was 2-0 to the Brakes when captain Jack Edwards leapt highest to direct a header into the back of Adam Collin’s net.
While the game was already as good as over at that point in proceedings, a third goal eight minutes later hammered the final nail into the Kettering coffin.
And on a night where anything appeared possible on – or off – the pitch, a corner kick from Dan Meredith floated all the way in to leave the Poppies crestfallen.
Further opportunities before the half-time whistle for Waldron, who evaded a number of opposition defenders before drawing a stop at the near post, and Meredith with another effort, this time cracking the crossbar, threatened to heap further misery on the away side.
But in a bizarre turn of events during the interval, a floodlight failure plunged the Community Stadium into darkness for an extended period, drawing serious questions over whether the fixture would be abandoned.
With the floodlights eventually repaired after an electrician was called to the scene, the second half of the Trophy tie eventually got back underway nearly two hours after the first period had finished.
Though the result was essentially already decided, Kettering, to their credit, did apply pressure to Jake Weaver’s goal, the Leamington shot stopper forced to keep out a Decarrey Sheriff effort before denying the Poppies from a corner.
A second yellow card for the visitors’ Connor Kennedy added another twist to the tale, before Connor Johnson joined him for an early bath in the dying embers – leaving Kettering with just eight men on the pitch.
It will certainly be a night that lives long in the memory of Brakes supporters, for a mixture of reasons, but should not overshadow the club securing their place in the latter stages of the competition.
As a result of their victory, a trip to National League North rivals Hereford will await the Brakes on February 6.
While the dust settles on a chaotic encounter, Holleran and his players will be pitching all attentions to Saturday’s league trip to Southport – where eighth-placed Leamington will hope to stake their claim inside the play-off places before the evening is out.