Vanarama National League South

Braintree Town were able to avenge a 5-3 defeat at East Thurrock United earlier in the season by hitting their Essex neighbours with a 4-0 result in the return encounter at the IronmongeryDirect Stadium.

Goals by Billy Crook and Luke Allen and a Reece Grant double saw the Iron ease to an important win after three consecutive draws against other Vanarama National League South promotion contenders.

However, they did ride their luck at times in the first half when the Rocks were unable to take advantage of some sloppy defending by their hosts.

They were made to pay for not taking the opportunities, though, as Braintree proved clinical when going forward.

Braintree made two changes from the side that started the 2-2 draw at Chelmsford City on New Year’s Day, with Luke Allen returning to the starting line-up for the first time since the end of October.

Roman Michael-Percil was also back in after scoring a late equaliser against the Clarets, while Christian Frimpong was unavailable and Samir Bihmoutine dropped to the bench.

Boss Brad Quinton had demanded that his team cut out costly mistakes that had led to goals over Christmas, but they lived dangerously in the opening part of the game.

As early as the first minute, the ball was given away cheaply by the Iron on the edge of the box and the hosts were fortunate that Max Cornhill rather snatched at his shot and skewed it wide of the target.

Then on four minutes, Joe Ellul failed to connect with a clearance and the ball fell to Sam Higgins, who attempted to catch Nathan McDonald off his line but the ball went over the bar.

There was then a scrambled clearance from a corner as East Thurrock looked the most likely to break the deadlock.

However, Braintree did settle more and started to pose problems at the other end of the pitch.

From a corner, the ball fell to Reece Grant, who pivoted well and his shot flew just past the post, while some eager running from Allen and Marcel Barrington started to open the visitors up down the flanks.

It was an attacking line-up for Braintree, who kept the same defensive unit as they had in their previous three games.

The Iron were playing with a 4-4-2 formation against East Thurrock with Billy Crook and Allen in the middle, Barrington wide left, Roman Michael-Percil wide right and Roberts and Grant up top.

At the other end, though, there was a massive let off for the Iron after another mistake.

Marc-Anthony Okoye gifted the ball to the Rocks as he slipped in midfield to leave Higgins with a clear run on goal.

The East Thurrock striker opted to shoot and pulled his effort well wide when he could have squared the ball to an unmarked Max Cornhill, who would have had a simple tap in.

It left the hosts breathing another sigh of relief, while the Rocks were left frustrated and were ruing not making more of their chances.

And that feeling was doubled in the 25th minute when Crook volleyed home an opening goal for Braintree from a corner.

It gave the hosts a foothold in the game, but they were almost immediately pegged back when more hesitancy at the back gave Higgins a chance but McDonald kept the effort out with a great stop.

Having diced with danger and somehow come through unscathed, though, the game was suddenly turned further in Braintree’s favour in two minutes before half-time Their second goal came on 38 minutes as Ricky Gabriel crossed long from the left to where Crook hooked the ball back across the face of goal to Grant, who tucked it into the net.

And with the home fans jubilant, they went and added a third to take control of the game.

With just over a minute more on the clock, Roberts got away down the right and his cross eventually found its way to Allen, who marked his return to the side with a goal that put the hosts 3-0 up at the break.

After the frantic ending to the first half, it was a more cautious start after the break.

Braintree were more reserved in defence to shut the Rocks out and looked to break against their opponents to further strengthen their position.

From on such swift break, Gabriel advanced down the left and laid the ball off to Allen, who tried to pass the ball into the net but Thurrock keeper Lukas Lidakevicius got down to make the stop.

Another lovely break on the hour mark saw Roberts get clear on the right and square across the face of goal to where Grant stretched out and made contact but he could only direct the ball into the side netting.

However, there was no stopping the same combination on 72 minutes when another lovely cross by Roberts had Grant finding the back of the net this time for his second of the game.

If the result wasn’t already sorted, it was now and Braintree were able to see the game out in relative comfort with their four-goal lead safely intact.

Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Ricky Gabriel (Matt Baxter 84), Jon Muleba, Joe Ellul, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Luke Allen (Mahrez Bettach 73), Billy Crook, Phil Robert, Reece Grant, Marcel Barrington, Roman Michael-Percil (Ben Wyatt 66).

Subs not used: Karl Oliyide, Samir Bihmoutine.

Referee: Ryan Atkin.