Vanarama National League South

If Havant & Waterlooville miss out on Vanarama National League South promotion by a couple of points this year, they may well rue their two meetings with Braintree Town.

There have been some dramatic endings at Cressing Road this season but surely none can match the one that saw Rhys Murrell-Williamson fire home a 30-yard free-kick in the 96th minute to snatch a draw against Havant.

Braintree had beaten them 3-1 in the away fixture in September, but the high-flying Hawks looked set to have shown their promotion credentials late on in their pre-Christmas clash in Essex.

Having come from behind to lead 2-1, Havant were then pegged back when Murrell-Williamson fired in an 87th minute leveller for Braintree.

That was eclipsed two minutes later as the visitors went ahead again, but the thrills weren’t over and Murrell-Williamson was the home hero as his free-kick was powered in deep into time added-on at the end to kick-start the festive joy for the home side and their fans.

Huge credit was due to the club and its groundstaff for getting the game on at all.

Much of the local non-league footballing programme had been wiped out by heavy rainfall in the days leading up to the Saturday action, but not so at Braintree.

The major investment the Iron’s board have made in pitch drainage at Cressing Road had helped to overcome the soggy surface problems that had blighted the club in former years.

A crowd of 430 took advantage of that and they were richly rewarded.

They saw a much-changed Braintree side lining up from the one that had started their previous game – at Slough Town – two weeks previously.

That game had been played in the wake of the unexpected departure of player/manager Jake Hutchings and George Borg had taken the reins for a 1-0 defeat.

The fortnight break had afforded Borg the chance to review his squad options, so that, along with the exits of Jack James and Michael Clark the day before, led to alterations for the start against Havant & Waterlooville.

Coming in straight into the line-up were new signings goalkeeper Marcin Brzozowki, Brendan Ocran and Stevie Sheehan - who was handed the captain’s armband on his debut.

Meanwhile, fellow new additions Gavin Hinds-Cadette and Jordan Chiedozie were on the bench.

The game started with Braintree looking to be positive against their high-flying opponents, but the opening exchanges saw neither able to establish a real dominance.

But Havant arrived at Braintree sat top of the National League South’s form guide over the last six games and their confidence was apparent as the home defence was kept busier of the two.

The only action for Iron’s new keeper Brzozowski, who had come in on a short-term loan deal from Queens Park Rangers as cover for the previously ever-present Michael Johnson, was to make an easy save from a tame header by Jonah Ayunga.

Borg had said that Johnson remained his number one, with Brzozowski covering for him as he recovered from an injury, but it was a quiet opening for the QPR man.

That was further emphasised as an injury to one of the two linesmen after just ten minutes of play led to a ten-minute delay in proceedings while the officials were reconfigured.

When play did resume it was Braintree who emerged quickest out of the blocks and they took just three minutes to gain the lead.

The goal came from a wonderful flowing move down the left that saw the Iron turn defence into attack in an instant.

Charley Barker threaded a perfect pass forward to Murrell-Williamson, who laid the ball across the face of the Havant goal to where Alfie Cerulli prodded it home from close range.

It was just the boost that Iron needed but the inevitable pressure soon came from the visitors and Braintree were fortunate to hold on to their lead when Ayunga headed over from six yards at a corner in the 33rd minute.

However, the Hawks’ striker wasn’t so wasteful three minutes later when he found space in the home box and drilled a low effort past Brzozowski into the bottom corner to restore parity.

They then almost went ahead and it took a goal-line clearance by Cameron Green to deny Ayunga a second in quick succession and Brzozowski made a great save from a fierce effort by Sam Magri in stoppage-time at the end of the half.

It meant it stayed locked at 1-1 at the break, but it was Braintree who posed the bigger questions at the start of the second half.

The Iron saw greater possession than they had for spells in the first half and were compact and organised when they were without the ball.

However, the visitors gradually cranked up the pressure and they gained the lead in the 64th minute.

It was an excellent strike that put Havant ahead as Josh Taylor made the most of being given space 25 yards out and unleashed a shot that gave Brzozowski no chance.

Braintree now had their work cut out to deny the Hawks a fifth straight win.

They looked the more likely to add to their tally, with Danny Kedwell only denied by a great save from Brzozowski on 76 minutes, but it was at the other end where the drama came next in the 87th minute.

The game had become very stretched and Iron took full advantage of the space as Murrell-Williamson cut inside from the right, rounded a couple of challenges and fired the ball low into the Hawks’ net.

However, Havant haven’t got themselves into the heart of the promotion race for no reason and they looked to have had the last laugh as Alfie Rutherford powered home in the 89th minute a goal that looked like it would be the winner.

Far from feeling sorry for themselves, though, Iron kept pressing and got their reward in the fifth of five minutes added at the end.

It was Murrell-Williamson who was the hero again as he stepped up to fire a 30-yard free-kick into the top corner that gave Hawks keeper Ross Warner no chance and sent the home fans into rapture.

It was little more than their team deserved and just seconds had passed after the restart when referee Jack Packham brought proceedings to a close with the final whistle that ended an enthralling 3-3 draw.

Braintree Town: Marcin Brzozowski, Brendan Ocran, Cameron Green, Christian Frimpong, Stevie Sheehan, Dan Matzusaka, Tyler Christian Law, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Rhys Murrell-Williamson, Alfir Cerulli, Charley Barker (Jordan Chiedozie 64).

Subs not used: Gavin Hinds-Cadette, Michael Johnson, Frankie Stone, Issac Skubich.

Referee: Jack Packham.