By Ron Fosker
THE main reason for Braintree Town’s lack of success this season was last season.
If that sounds like something out of Samuel Beckett, it is not difficult to explain.
The success that the team had in 2015-16 put their players and managers in the shop window.
Other richer clubs liked what they saw and were able to offer tempting deals.
As a result manager, assistant manager and all but three of the regular first team squad - Simeon Akinola, Michael Cheek and Chez Isaac – departed, and Akinola left for Barnet at the end of December.
Replacing that many players in such a short time was a task that needed good judgment and a wide circle of contacts.
It was a task that proved too much for Jamie Day, who took on the manager’s job before most of the departures and may have had second thoughts if he had known what lay ahead.
With only a short close season to assemble a new squad, Day had to act quickly but many of his signings looked second rate compared with those they replaced and his search had the look of desperation about it.
Nor was he able to galvanise them into action and after gaining only nine points from the first 12 matches, Day’s time was up.
The season then entered phase two, the recovery under Hakan Hayrettin.
It started with two more defeats but then began a slow climb up the table from third from bottom to what looked like relative safety in lower mid table.
Over the next 17 matches, 28 points were gained, a rate of return that would have brought 76 points over a full season, good enough for seventh place.
But then came phase three, the downward slide - that eventually cost Hayrettin his job.
It is tempting to suggest that this came about when they realised their limitations after the embarrassing 5-2 defeat at Dulwich Hamlet, then a mid-table Ryman League team, nearly 40 places below Braintree.
It may indeed have dented their confidence, but they went on to win the next two matches, at home against North Ferriby, who eventually finished bottom, and, in one of their best results of the season, away to Eastleigh.
Then everything went wrong.
Of the remaining 15 matches, they won just three and drew two. Their last eight matches included seven defeats while in the same period their relegation rivals began to thrive.
Woking picked up 15 points in their last eight matches, Torquay 14 and York, ultimately in vain, also 14.
Braintree’s wins were at Bromley, who played with ten men from the 15th minute and nine from the 31st, and against strugglers Southport and Guiseley.
The points haul over those 15 matches was an average of 0.73 per match, even lower than Day’s 0.75 in his short spell.
Day’s most important failure was in ensuring a strong backbone.
Iron’s success over the past 12 years, since the Ryman League championship in 2005-06, has been based on strength at the back.
From the days of Ollie Adedeji and Paul Lorraine in the Ryman championship team, through Russ Edwards, Matt Paine, Dean Wells and Alan Massey, Iron have always been strong at centre-back.
Supplemented by the likes of Billy Burgess, Phil Starkey and Ryan Peters on the right, with Mark Jones and Sam Habergham on the left they have invariably had one of the strongest defences in the division they’ve been in.
This season, 76 goals conceded tells its own story.
It was a problem Hayrettin tried but failed to solve with no fewer than ten different players lining up at centre-back - or 11, if the occasions when injuries forced Jerome Okimo to move over from left back are counted.
Of those, Jake Goodman showed the most promise, particularly in the air, but he will need to work on his footwork, as his clumsy control that led to Barrow’s second goal in Iron’s last home match illustrated.
It is the most important area to be addressed during the summer.
The other end of the field will also need attention with top scorer and supporters’ player of the year Michael Cheek almost certain to move on, with Lincoln and Southend rumoured to be among the suitors.
Hayrettin never produced a system to make the best of Lee Barnard’s talents and it will be a surprise to see him in an orange shirt again, but Jack Midson is one of the season’s few success stories.
The best was not seen of him when he was played out of position on the wing at the start of the season but once he moved into the middle, his drive and tenacity won admirers.
Not long out of the Football League, he may not fancy a drop into the National League South but his is one name that would be welcomed on the retained list.
Another would be Okimo, who played like an accident waiting to happen in the first few games of the season, but settled into a solid defender with the speed to make probing runs down the wing.
Sam Beasant has kept up the high standard of recent Iron keepers and was responsible for saving the game on more than one occasion.
But most of the rest of the squad flickered only occasionally.
Amid all the gloom, there were some highlights, most notably in the cups, an area that has traditionally been a disappointment, particularly in recent years.
Braintree reached the second round of the FA Cup for the first time and equalled their previous best of reaching the last 16 of the FA Trophy.
They reached the second round of the FA Cup with a 7-0 win over Eastbourne, their highest win in the competition for 85 years, and went on to give a good account of themselves in a 5-2 defeat in the next round at League One play-off contenders Millwall.
Their departure from the FA Trophy was far less satisfactory.
After that drubbing of Eastbourne and a comprehensive 5-2 win at National League South East Thurrock in the second round of the Trophy, Iron at last looked as if they had learned how to deal with lesser sides.
But the ghosts of Stourbridge, Havant and Waterlooville and Farnborough came back to haunt them when they could only draw at home to Dulwich Hamlet before crashing out in the replay by the same score that they lost at Millwall. Conceding five goals at Millwall is one thing, at Dulwich quite another and it could be when they began to doubt themselves.
The performances over the two legs were a portent of things to come as Iron slowly slipped into the relegation places, never to recover.
Leaving aside the time they opted to drop down from the Eastern Counties League to the Essex and Suffolk Border League for financial reasons in 1954, it is the first time in their 119-year history that Braintree have been relegated.
It comes at a time when, with great irony, Maidenhead are being promoted into the National League with a team managed by former Iron boss Alan Devonshire and including seven former Iron players.
The club website, looking for positives after the final defeat of the season, referred to ‘Braintree Town’s remarkable six-year stay in non-league football’s top flight.’ They are right to do so.
It has been remarkable that a club with Braintree’s slender resources and small crowds could hold their own among the likes of Luton, Bristol Rovers, Wrexham and Lincoln.
Now they have been victims of their own success and will face an uphill struggle to regain that status.