By Ron Fosker
BRAINTREE TOWN 1 HAVANT AND WATERLOOVILLE 2
FA Trophy First Round
Braintree once again showed their uncanny ability to lower their game to suit the opposition as they crashed out of the FA Trophy against a team in the relegation zone of the Blue Square Bet South.
It was a performance to rank alongside their FA Cup defeats in past years to Brackley, Carshalton and Kingstonian, all at least one division below, and their struggle earlier in the season to overcome a ten-man Lowestoft.
The contrast with their last cup match on this ground against League One Tranmere was stark.
On that occasion they drew praise from their opponents and from the television commentators for their spirited and cultured approach.
This time they left both spirit and culture in the dressing room.
They sent their passes to the opposition, miscontrolled the ball, hoofed it with no apparent motive and were often yards slower getting to the ball than their snappier opponents.
Havant’s league position is something of a mystery.
They did not play like a side heading for the Ryman Premier League.
They looked lively from the start and it was little surprise when they took the lead.
Christian Nanetti tucked away a well-placed penalty in the 16th minute after a foul by Sam Habergham, and when they went two up 20 minutes later it was again little more than they deserved.
The dangerous Chris Arthur not for the first time gave Matt Paine several yards start and stormed past him on the wing.
He swung over a cross to the far post where Stefan Bailey directed it into the narrow gap between goalkeeper and the woodwork.
In the 41st minute, Kenny Davis fired in an angled shot straight at keeper Clark Masters.
It was Iron’s first shot on target in the match.
With their eardrums still presumably ringing to the sound of manager Alan Devonshire’s half-time critique, Iron started the second half as if they intended to prove which was the premier division side.
Within seven minutes of the restart they had pulled a goal back.
Dan Holman worked hard to get in a shot on the turn which was going wide until Sean Marks, whether by accident or design, diverted it into the net.
They enjoyed a flurry of attacking activity for a short period thereafter and came close to an equaliser when first Davis’s fierce half-volley was tipped over by Masters and then a Paine header was headed on to the bar and away.
Dan Sparkes shot wildly over the bar and then Holman had two attempts blocked.
But the Havant defence held firm and the visitors twice came close to putting the game to bed when first Ollie Palmer and then Nanetti broke free of the Iron back line.
Palmer was thwarted by an excellent save by Danny Naisbitt while Nanetti ran out of room, but Braintree were not able to capitalise.
They threw everything at the Quag End in the final ten minutes but their efforts possessed little finesse and much desperation.
A draw would have been more than they deserved.
The match drew a crowd of 192, less than a third of the average gate this season and the lowest, apart from Essex Senior Cup matches, since September 2009.
Those who stayed at home knew what they were doing.
Braintree: Naisbitt; Paine, Wells, Bailey-Dennis, Habergham (Peters 38); Mulley, Davis, Symons, Sparkes (Sheppard 83); Marks, Holman (Cowan 67).