Vanarama National League

Braintree Town became the unwelcome bookends to a lengthy winless run for Aldershot Town as the Iron were edged out by a single goal in what could turn out to be a crunch relegation battle.

It had been 18 games since the Shots had last won a game in any competition, with their last success coming with a 1-0 win against Braintree in early November.

That winless run had sucked the Shots into the relegation zone alongside Braintree and had turned this encounter into one that neither could really afford to lose.

It helped turn it into a scrappy encounter and it was decided by a single scrappy goal that was scored by a former Iron favourite – Reece Grant – to give the Shots a much-needed three points.

The Iron, meanwhile, were left to reflect on a day when they perhaps didn’t reach the levels they had in recent weeks as their survival dreams were dealt a blow.

Braintree made three changes from the side that had started at Eastleigh seven days earlier.

One of those was enforced as Fulham loanee defender Robert Atkinson was ruled out after sustaining a concussive injury the previous week, while Courtney Richards and Ifeanyi Allen dropped to the bench.

Those changes saw Daniel Matsuzaka make a first Iron start as he slotted into the back line in place of Atkinson and there were also returns for Lyle Della-Verde and Luke Allen to the starting side.

With both sides struggling to get clear of relegation danger and so much on the line in terms of a result, it was an understandably nervy start from both sides.

It took a while for things to settle and much of the play in the opening minutes was scrappy with neither able to get on top.

The closest either went was on eight minutes when a long ball forward from Aldershot saw Reece Grant get in behind his former side's defence but his angled shot went across the face of the Iron goal.

Aldershot began to push the hosts back without really threatening Ben Killip’s goal, but better pressure from the Iron on 20 minutes ended with a Korrey Henry shot that was deflected just wide.

That was swiftly followed by more lovely play by Ricky Gabriel as he got forward on the left before crossing the ball into the danger area where Lyle Della-Verde's side-footed shot went past the post.

At the other end, the Iron were defending their own area pretty effectively.

Despite the change they had been forced to make, their shape was good at countering the Shots’ movement, with Matsuzaka slotting seamlessly into the back line.

However, the visitors did get a decent sight of goal on 36 minutes.

Gabriel slid into a challenge but didn't make the clearance and Jake Gallagher got in a shot that Killip had to rush out to block away.

It was probably the closest that either side got to breaking the deadlock in a largely scrappy first 45 minutes, but that was almost broken within seconds of the restart after the break.

There was a quick press from Braintree and good work by Henry and Della-Verde set up Cameron James, whose shot curled just past the post in an early scare for the visitors.

It was the Shots who were soon getting on top, though, and they began to press the hosts back.

There was a let-off for Braintree on 62 minutes when a free-kick into the home area wasn't cleared by the Iron and Aldershot striker Scott Rendell was able to get a shot away but it flew straight into the arms of Killip.

It was a touch of fortune for the Iron but that didn’t last as they were soon behind.

Just two minutes had passed when a ball into the Iron box fell to Grant, who skipped inside to find space before curling the ball in to give his current team the lead against his former employers.

Braintree now had to show a response and they looked to take the game to their visitors, but a wall of luminous yellow shirts were massed ahead of them.

They proved tough to break down, but the Iron were handed a lifeline with five minutes to go when Aldershot were reduced to ten men.

It was unclear immediately what it was for, but after being informed of something by his linesman, referee Will Finnie brandished a straight red card to Aldershot skipper Scott Rendell.

It was obviously for an off-the-ball incident and, for the second week running, Braintree finished the game battling to overturn a goal deficit against ten men.

Just as had been the case at Eastleigh, though, they were unable to find the crucial breakthrough and the Shots held on to their slender lead at the end.

Braintree Town: Ben Killip, Andrew Eleftheriou, Daniel Matzusaka, Ricky Gabriel, Lyle Della-Verde, Kodi Lyons-Foster, Cameron James, Sam Kelly (Ifeanyi Allen 83), Callum Morton, Korrey Henry (Danny Rowe 65), Luke Allen. Subs not used: Mo Sagaf, Oscar Borg, Courtney Richards.

Referee: Will Finnie.