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Leamington Put The Brakes On Senior Cup Hopes

Blues bowed out of the Birmingham Senior Cup last night after a poor 2-1 defeat to Leamington Town. Despite taking the lead in the first half through Ashley Sammons, Blues weren’t at the races in the second period and Leamington’s pressure told as they pulled the tie back before hitting the winner with 7 minutes to go.

As matches go, it was high on scrappiness, physical exertion and effort but pretty low on skill. Blues didn’t have a recognised striker in their sixteen man squad and it showed as they won the ball well in midfield but were absolutely toothless up front. Time and time again promising moves broke down as players got the ball caught between their feet and had to check back, allowing the Leamington defence to get back into position and ready to repel the attack.

It was nearly half an hour before the first chance of the game; Ntambwe found himself one on one with the keeper only to kick the air and completely miss what was a gilt-edged chance. Ten minutes later Josh Hawker sprung the offside trap on the break and shot wide from distance with Luke Hubbins screaming for the ball in space on the right. Blues continued to build the pressure, and a good run and cross from Hubbins found Mitch Hancox on the back post but he could only head wide. Leamington’s defence finally broke in the 41st minute after Ashley Sammons closed down the home keeper, blocking his attempted clearance before rounding the keeper and slotting it home.

After the break, Sammons came off in a pre-determined move (this was his first game in sixteen months) and Blues missed his presence. He had been playing in the hole behind Josh Hawker, and his replacement Deqwon Ebanks took the man up top role with Hawker slotting in to the “hole” position. Ebanks ran hard, but the ball just didn’t stick with him and Hawker wasn’t able to support him in the manner he’d been supported by Sammons.

Leamington looked more determined and with just three second half minutes gone their number 10 broke forwards and took a shot, which was easily snapped up by Butland. The signs were there though, as Blues couldn’t get the ball forward, and Leamington continued to press looking for the equaliser. That came on the 64th minute from Asa Charlton, who rifled home from close range following up his team-mates deflected shot.

Josh Hawker had a chance to put the Blues back in front after the ball luckily broke to him in the area after a few crunching tackles from various players on the edge of the box; however Evans was equal to his shot, pushing it wide of the post. The game was really taking a physical edge now, and Callum Reilly saw yellow after another tough challenge. Leamington started to stream forwards, and only a fantastic block from young American Will Packwood kept the scores level. However, with seven minutes to go, Leamington scored what proved to be the winner. Some good work down the Leamington right saw their winger cross the ball in, Butland flapped at it and Corbett finished from 4 yards.

There was still time for drama as deep into injury time Mitch Hancox chased a hopeful ball into the Leamington 18 yard box only to collide with their keeper. The Blues players and the coaching staff were incensed by the challenge which left the young left back on the floor in a heap, and there was a call for a stretcher. Thankfully, Mitch walked off the pitch but his face was covered in blood. Luckily, I was positioned close to the TV camera where Blues AV assistant Chris Coles was covering the game for Blues TV and he confirmed on a replay it was a pen. Unfortunately, the ref didn’t see it that way and he gave a goal kick – which turned out to be the last kick of the game.

I’m sorry to say that once again I saw Jack Butland not have the best of games for a Blues reserve team; his handling and shot stopping seems okay but he did flap at a couple of crosses including the one for the goal. Man of the match for me was a difficult one to choose; based on his first half performance Ashley Sammons was up there but I think overall Will Packwood just shades it for his sterling contributions from the back. Mitch Hancox deserves a mention for his tigerish display down the left, which was one of the few attacking threats consistently in the game but he needs to cut out the silly mistakes that mar his play. All in all a fair result and a learning experience for a young Blues reserves team.

Jack Butland; Jack Deaman, Fraser Kerr, Will Packwood, Amari Bell; Luke Hubbins, Brice Ntambwe, Callum Reilly, Mitch Hancox; Ashley Sammons (Deqwon Ebanks HT); Josh Hawker

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