By Ron Fosker
BRAINTREE TOWN 0 TRANMERE ROVERS 3
FA Cup first round
Braintree's FA Cup dream may be over for another year but they can take immense satisfaction from their evening’s work against the team 66 places above them.
They could so easily have opted for a rough and tumble approach to hustle Tranmere side out of their stride, but instead they matched their opponents for skill, outdid them in effort and fell short only on their finishing.
The ITV cameras and a crowd of 1,503 witnessed a performance of spirit and endeavour, one in which every player raised his game, refused to lie down and showed the utmost determination to ensure that the League One side knew they had been in a game.
There will always be what-ifs in a match like this, but manager Alan Devonshire can justifiably point to the ill luck he suffered when James Mulley, so menacing in recent games, was forced off injured after only 28 minutes.
Substitute Luke Daley never posed the same threat and was guilty of the miss of the evening when he was played in after Sean Marks and Dan Holman had split the defence open.
But he found the ball on his weaker left foot and opted to try to poke it in with his right, succeeding only in passing it gently to the goalkeeper.
Iron also lost defensive bulwark Dean Wells after 37 minutes and a third substitution was forced on them when Marks was injured in the second half.
Without those disruptions, who knows?
Iron were at their opponents’ throats right from the start, forced two corners in the first six minutes, saw a Danny Sparkes shot pass wide and a Marks header slip just over the bar.
The Marks-Holman partnership looked at its most potent for some time, not least because the ball was more likely to be played to their feet rather than in the air.
Holman, often at his most dangerous with his back to the goal, showed excellent control to bring a ball down in the tenth minute, but could not get any power in the shot.
He was much closer ten minutes later when he again had to turn and this time fired in a shot that passed narrowly wide of the post.
Behind them, Kenny Davis and Brad Quinton gave the home side a strong spine, holding the ball up patiently and delivering it with intelligence.
Davis looked back to his best with some neat touches on the ball while 34-year-old Quinton showed the energy and perseverance of one ten years younger.
The pressure Iron put their opponents under was illustrated by a corner count of 7-1 in their favour, five of them in the first half when they looked the stronger side.
But they were undone by two superb pieces of skill.
Midway through the first half an acrobatic overhead kick by Jake Jervis brought an outstanding save from Danny Naisbitt.
But he was only able to push the ball upwards and was still on the ground when it came down, where Joe Thompson reacted quickest to poke it into the net.
The second goal had echoes of Holman’s earlier effort.
Cole Stockton was in a similar position, wide on the left on the edge of the area, controlled the ball well then lashed a shot into the corner of the net.
It came just eight minutes into the second half and had something of a deflating effect on Iron’s confidence.
They continued to press but rarely so penetratingly as in the first half.
The final goal came in the 90th minute from Max Power after Adam Bailey-Dennis had slipped on the wet turf.
It produced a cruel scoreline that did not in any way reflect the effort that Iron had put in.
Braintree: Naisbitt; O’Connor, Paine, Wells (Bailey-Dennis 37), Habergham; Mulley (Daley 28), Quinton, Davis, Sparkes; Marks (Sheppard 67), Holman.