BRAINTREE TOWN 1 DARTFORD 0
It may have been a slender victory, but what this result could mean to Braintree Town is huge.
Kenny Davis’ wonderful strike in the first half, added to some last-gasp heroics by keeper Nick Hamann meant Braintree took three points that could prove massive in their bid to make the Skrill Premier play-offs this year.
They were made to fight every step of the way by a Darts team battling for their Skrill Premier lives, but it was the end result that most in the 1,200-strong crowd desperately wanted.
Dartford arrived deep in relegation problems and knew three points would be vital for their survival, while the Iron had similar need for the points, albeit for a different reason.
Their 0-0 draw against Gateshead on Tuesday had left them three points outside the play-off places and a win was a necessity to get them back among the top five.
In the end, Davis’ sublime first-half strike was enough to claim the points and with Gateshead only drawing against Southport – having twice trailed in their game – Braintree got right back into the heart of the play-off race.
They stayed sixth in the table but are now only one point behind Gateshead and it was an incredibly important three-point haul.
After Grimsby could only draw 3-3 at Alfreton, Braintree know a win at Barnet on Monday and a victory against the Mariners at the Amlin Stadium next weekend would see them into the play-offs.
Braintree Town made three changes to the side that had drawn with Gateshead in midweek as the previously suspended trio of Hamann, Sean Marks and Davis all returned to the starting line-up.
Dropping to the bench were Dan Holman, Nathan McDonald and Jordan Cox.
While Hamann coming in between the sticks for McDonald was a straight swap, the other two were due to injuries.
Holman had hurt his wrist and was wearing a cast that allowed him to be available, but boss Alan Devonshire opted not to chance him, while Cox had a recurrence of the back problem that has plagued him since Christmas.
The changes didn’t really seem to do Braintree too many favours in the early exchanges, though.
It was a scrappy opening by both sides with neither really able to impose themselves and clear-cut chances were few and far between.
When play did open up a lack of cutting edge kept it scoreless as Marks failed to get a shot away when well-placed and Danny Harris then scuffed a shot when the Darts striker broke clear.
However, there was no lack of quality in the 24th minute when Davis hit a peach of a shot to put the hosts ahead.
The Iron skipper controlled the ball from Marks’ knock down and hit it beautifully on the half volley from 25 yards to give Dartford keeper Alan Julian no chance.
The goal gave Braintree a noticeable lift and they looked far more composed going forwards after it with only a point-blank save by Julian denying Marks from making it 2-0 at a corner soon after.
It stayed just the one until half-time, but Braintree looked lively after the restart and within two minutes it took a good stop by Julian to prevent Marks from doubling the hosts’ lead after he had been released by a great through ball from Dan Sparkes.
But it was the Darts who started to look more and more imposing and the aerial presence of Mikel Suarez was troubling for the Iron’s back line.
The Dartford striker was inches away from an equaliser as the visitors pushed forward from a free-kick, but Braintree kept their slender lead.
They almost found the elusive second goal in the 70th minute when Jordan Cox got a good header to a corner only to see yet another superb save by Julian keep the ball out.
It meant the game stayed poised on a knife-edge as Dartford desperately looked for a way back into the game and the Iron pushed on looking for one to kill it off.
In the end, Braintree had to settle for just the one, but they were indebted to Hamann for their win in the game’s dying stages.
With the clock on 95 minutes, first Suarez and then Stevenson tried their luck from point-blank range but an unbelievable double block by Hamann kept them out and the Iron’s supremacy was preserved – just.