RUSS Penn says he’ll take any criticism coming the team’s way following a drab 2-0 defeat at Leamington in National League North.

Play-off bound Harriers were decidedly second best on their travels and went down to a goal in each half against the Brakes.

It was a costly result, too – with Fylde losing 2-1 at York City, the Reds squandered any final hope of taking the fight for third place down to the final day of the season.

As it is, Fylde have that spot nailed down, leaving Harriers to focus on an additional game in the play-offs a week on Thursday.

Russ Penn opted to make nine changes for the Bank Holiday Monday clash, with teenager midfielder Kai Lissimore and recent loan arrival Corey Panter making their first starts for the side.

Penn defended that move in his post-match interview, claiming he couldn’t risk playing the likes of Omari Sterling, Amari Morgan-Smith and Sam Austin on what was a challenging playing surface.

He said the bigger picture of the play-offs remains his priority, saying: “I have got to manage the squad going into the play-offs and we all knew at the start of the week where we were.

“We couldn’t risk anyone on here today because that would have been stupid.

“The buck lies with me, and I’ll take the brunt of it, and we move on. Fortunately, we have a clean bill of health going into Saturday.”

That weekend fixture is the home match against Darlington at Aggborough – the final league fixture of the season before the play-offs get underway.

Harriers will again have to build momentum by picking up points at home after again failing to fire on the road.

The Leamington result means it’s no win in eight away league matches, former Harrier Callum Gittings doing a share of the damage on Monday with a fifth minute thunderbolt that flew into the net.

Brakes youngster Manny Olaloko tucked the ball between Luke Simpson’s legs in the second half to make it 2-0 after causing panic in the visiting defence.

Harriers had to wait until the third minute of added time to seriously test the Leamington goalkeeper when Lewis Montrose’s header was well saved.

“I’m clearly disappointed” said Penn of the day. “We came here with a side to win the game, but we didn’t really get going from start to finish.

“It wasn’t a pitch for free-flowing football, but then again, you’ve got to get used to the conditions and be adaptable, and they did the basics better than us today which was disappointing.

“The second half was slightly better from us [but] it was a long- ball game and whoever could clear the ball better usually got the chances.”