FEW clubs can have experienced the contrasting fortunes of Braintree Town over the last six seasons: twice in the play-off places, four times in the relegation zone. And nothing in between, writes RON FOSKER.

Last season was declared void after fewer than half the matches had been played but on a points-per-match ratio, Iron were rock bottom.

The previous season they finished second from bottom but were saved from relegation by the Covid outbreak.

Before that they were relegated from the National League premier division in 2019, promoted from sixth place in the National League South in 2018, relegated from the premier division in 2017 and knocked out in the premier division play-off semi-finals in 2016.

In the four years before that, under Alan Devonshire, they rather boringly finished in a comfortable mid-table position. How they must wish we could be bored again.

The squad have had something of a mixed return from their friendly matches with manager Ryan Maxwell mostly commenting that he was satisfied with the way things were going.

"The players are implementing what we tell them and how we want them to play our fast, aggressive style," he said after what was on the face of it a disappointing defeat to Bishop’s Stortford, from the Isthmian League premier division.

However, reality appeared to bite after a draw with Grays Athletic, one division below Stortford, that left Maxwell distinctly unsatisfied.

"For practically the whole 90 minutes it was totally unacceptable and I’ll make sure it never happens again," he said.

Up to then some sort of line-up was beginning to take shape with a squad of mostly new faces – though he avoided the blanket clear-out that Iron fans have become used to in recent seasons.

Kyran Clements, Correy Davidson, Preston Edwards, Luke Holness, Matt Johnson, Mack Miskin, Gabriel Piorkowski and Johnville Renee all appeared in competitive games last season and there have been useful additions, such as Ezra Ikebuasi and Jay Porter at full-back and Anderson Pinto and Gianni Crichlow up front.

Maxwell’s most important move, though, was in persuading Femi Akinwande to return after making seven appearances for Stevenage in League Two last season.

So influential in Glen Driver’s brief spell at the helm at the start of the 2019-20 season, Akinwande’s departure signalled a gradual deterioration in the team’s performances that eventually left them in the relegation places.

The hope must be that Akinwande, a bustling presence up front with speed and control thrown in, can stay long enough to have a similar positive effect this season. According to his Wikipedia entry, he has had 14 moves in a seven-year career.

Re-signing captain Matt Johnson was another shrewd move as his drive in midfield was central to Iron’s improved performances once Maxwell took over from George Borg in November.

Iron lined up with eight new players in Maxwell’s first match in charge and garnered 1.4 points per match from that point, enough to leave them in mid-table had it been repeated over a full season.

Maxwell instilled a greater work ethic in the side once he took over and he has maintained that stance in pre-season.

He will now hope it can be translated into a full season that elevates them up into the boring stretches of mid-table.