The Avenue’s unbeaten run ended at The Phillips 66 Community Stadium, as a resilient Leamington FC side defeated Mark Bower’s side with a late winner.
A confident Avenue made what Mark Bower described as a ‘dream start’, when James Knowles connected with Nicky Clee’s first corner of the game to give the away side the early lead.
The delight of the travelling fans was, however, short-lived. A hesitation by Knowles to clear, created an opening for Leamington FC winger Kieran Dunbar, who converted calmly after rounding a stranded Steven Drench.
The fatal blow was delivered with just minutes of normal time remaining, as Ahmed Obeng was quick to pounce on a parried save by Drench to the delight of the Leamington FC faithful.
Despite the comfortable fashion in which Avenue advanced in the FA Cup last week, the in-form side couldn’t afford to be complacent and Mark Bower re-instated Nicky Clee to the starting XI in place of Adam Nowakowski.
Just after the kick-off, Wayne Brooksby collided with Leamington’s Jack Edwards, leaving the pair grounded just thirty seconds into the tie. Both were back on their feet soon enough.
Shortly after restart, the eventful clash had its first goal. Avenue’s first corner was swung in by Clee, who delivered a dangerous ball that was met by the head of defender Knowles, and his powerful header was beyond the reach of Leamington ‘keeper Tony Breeden.
Conceding seemed to breathe new life into Leamington FC, who responded well to the setback. Connor Gudger and Dunbar both tested the Avenue defence with dangerous crosses, and it wasn’t long before their pressure was rewarded.
The backline that appeared so strong in the early stages succumbed to a loss of concentration, and a mix-up between Knowles and Graham Kelly allowed Dunbar to race through, rounding Drench to provide a deserved equaliser for the home side.
The remainder of the first half was a cagey affair, bringing about just one clear-cut chance in which Clee’s fizzed ball across the six-yard box edged agonisingly past the on-rushing Oli Johnson.
The half-time whistle blew with the score deadlocked at 1-1.
A spirited Avenue emerged for the second half keen to stifle the spring in Leamington’s step, and it was the visitors that had the first chance following the interval. A through-ball was threaded through to Adam Boyes, but the club’s top-scorer was denied by a fantastic double save by Breeden.
Breeden was soon called upon again, receiving the ball at his feet with an on-rushing Boyes approaching at pace. Some neat footwork left the striker in his wake, much to the amusement of the Brakes’ home support.
Leamington, however, soon regained their spark, and had two penalty appeals turned down in quick succession. Colby Bishop went down in the box on the hour mark, moments before his shot allegedly struck the arm of Knowles.
With pressure beginning to mount on Avenue, Gudger forced a good save from Drench, who was becoming busier as the game progressed in slightly worrying fashion for Mark Bower’s side.
The West Yorkshire outfit continued to struggle to re-discover their creative spark, as a series of set-pieces and lofted deliveries failed to beat the durable heart of Leamington’s defence.
With the Brakes rapidly gaining momentum, it seemed only a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken, and with just minutes remaining on the clock, Avenue hearts were broken.
Leamington substitute Kurtis Revan struck low, drawing a stop from Drench that was pounced upon by another substitute, Ahmed Obeng. The Ghanaian forward made no mistake as an open-goal beckoned, and a composed finish wrapped up the three points for Leamington on a disappointing afternoon for Avenue.
A return to Emirates FA Cup action is now on the horizon for Avenue, as they will be looking to bounce back in their visit to high-flying Harrogate Town.