By Ron Fosker
BRAINTREE TOWN 2 NUNEATON TOWN 1
With one of their most impressive performances of the season, Braintree took a giant six-place leap into the play-off positions last night.
They replaced their opponents in fifth place after totally outplaying them for virtually the whole of this match.
The corner count of 12-1 in Iron’s favour is a more accurate reflection of the match than the scoreline, which fails to record the number of missed chances and desperate blocks that denied them further reward.
Nor does it take note of the fact that Nuneaton had one shot at goal, from which they scored.
This was a committed, tenacious performance, with no little skill.
Iron chased every ball, harried the opposition, scooted around them at speed and looked more like a team who had just returned from a fortnight in the sun rather than one playing their eighth match in less than three weeks.
It may have taken a piece of good fortune to put them in the lead in the seventh minute, but they had already shown their attacking teeth by then.
A minute earlier Dan Sparkes missed a more than presentable chance to open the scoring when he ran on to Dan Holman’s excellent through ball, but with only the keeper to beat, shot wide of the post.
Nuneaton’s relief lasted only a minute and it was a minute defender Theo Streete will not wish to remember.
James Mulley, back to his most industrious, neatly beat two players on the right wing, sent over a hard low cross which Sean Marks could not quite reach.
It came through to Streete, who, although under no pressure, appeared momentarily nonplussed and meekly turned the ball into his own net.
No luck was involved in the second goal, just two pieces of consummate skill.
A neat flick-on from Marks set Holman racing in on keeper Dale Eve from the left.
He kept his head and slid the ball past Eve to double the lead.
On past occasions Braintree have sat back after establishing a lead and allowed the opposition to come at them, but it was not a mistake they made this time.
They carried on as before, continued to press and came close to adding to their lead in the minute before the interval when first a goal-bound Kenny Davis flick from a corner was blocked and then a fierce Mulley shot was turned round the post by Eve Chances continued to present themselves after the interval.
A cross into the centre was flicked on by Marks but headed clear before Holman could reach it, a through ball from Matt Paine was only just out of Mulley’s reach as he raced in on goal, a Holman shot on the turn was narrowly wide, a Chez Isaac drive blocked and a quick move out of defence led to some neat play from Marks and Holman but Mulley could not keep his shot down Then out of the blue, Nuneaton struck.
With 70 minutes gone, David Hibbert took advantage of some hesitation between Davis and Dean Wells, moved inside and sent a sweet shot inside Nick Hamann’s right post.
It could have been the signal for a Nuneaton revival, but Iron were not going to let this one go.
Within a minute, Holman had a header cleared off the line.
Nonetheless the minutes ticked away painfully slowly and Hamann had to be at his sharpest towards the end when he dashed well outside his area to clear a through ball.
It was fitting that the game ended with Braintree on the attack.
They just had time to take their twelfth corner when referee Wayne Barratt blew his whistle for the final time.
Braintree: Hamann; Peters, Paine, Wells, Habergham; Mulley, Isaac, Davis, Sparkes; Marks, Holman (Jakubiak 80).