IT may have ended in disappointment but there is no doubt that this season has been one of the best since Braintree Town gained promotion to the National League (Conference as it then was) in 2006, writes RON FOSKER.

In terms of improvement, the ten-place rise from 17th to seventh deserves to rank alongside the jump from 14th to third in the premier division in Danny Cowley’s only season in charge.

That was built on a solid base (12th, ninth and sixth in the previous seasons) whereas this season followed four successive relegation campaigns, the drop from the premier division followed by two seasons when the club was saved by Covid and last season’s eventually successful scramble away from the drop zone led by Ryan Maxwell.

It was a success few people could have seen coming. Hopes were not high in August when a virtually new squad – only Kyran Clements and Alfie Payne remained – took to the field under Angelo Harrop, a manager untried at this level, or indeed the next level down.

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He had impressed as joint manager of Sudbury in the Isthmian League North – but how would he fare in the higher pressure of the National League?

Very well, turned out to be the answer.

It had looked all too familiar as the season started with four points from the first four matches, a ratio that would have seen them finish two points above the relegation places if they had kept it up.

Instead they rallied with a 2-0 home win against Tonbridge and then made everyone sit up with a 5-0 away win at Cheshunt.

Another away win, 3-1 at Concord, took them up to fifth place and despite a few wobbles, they stayed in or around the play-off places for the rest of the season.

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They even managed to avoid their customary early exit in the FA Cup although success at the second attempt against Isthmian League North Heybridge was hardly the stuff of legends.

Defeat against Hornchurch, then top of the Isthmian Premier, soon followed.

There was also a victory over Brackley Town, Iron’s nemesis on three previous occasions in cup competitions, in the FA Trophy before an eventual dignified exit in the last 32 against National League Premier side Eastleigh.

Added to that was the memorable run in the Essex Senior Cup, taken more seriously by Harrop than by some of his predecessors.

Victory over Chelmsford and a dramatic comeback to beat Colchester’s under 21s took them to the final against Concord at Colchester’s JobServe Community Stadium, a huge 2,428 crowd – about two-thirds of them from Braintree – and a well-earned 2-0 win.

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Ironically that win came in the middle of Iron’s poorest league run of the season, six matches without a win, that had followed an incredible run of 15 matches – including two Senior Cup ties – without defeat that had propelled them into serious promotion contenders (the three draws at the end of the unbeaten run were the first three games in the run of six without a win).

It was typical of the Braintree of old that the unbeaten run ended with defeat at Hungerford, who were to finish bottom, while the winless run ended with an away success at eventual play-off finalists St Albans, to be followed by the season’s highlight, a victory against newly crowned champions Ebbsfleet, who had been unbeaten for more than three months.

It was a season in which the sum was greater than the individual parts, a success that has to be down to the manager.

Man for man his young side did not appear much different from those of the previous few seasons, yet Harrop managed to instil a spirit that had them performing above expectations.

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Much credit must go to captain John White, a seasoned professional brought in from Southend and Harrop’s most important capture of the close season. He brought a calmness and authority to the side that had previously been lacking.

Alongside him at the back Kyran Clements continued to mature and 22-year-old Baris Altintop, the supporters’ player of the year, brought some fire and grit that led Harrop to award him the captain’s armband in White’s absence towards the end of the campaign.

Behind them Jack Sims, 24, had an outstanding season in goal.

Kyron Farrell developed into a very effective attacking full back, with an outstanding dead ball delivery while Alfie Payne, 23, was transformed from a player who appeared to be lucky to keep his place the previous season into a commanding midfield general, thoroughly deserving his choice as the manager’s player of the year.

Up front Aaron Blair, 23, was a mercurial spirit who conjured up some unlikely goals while the mid-season signing of Alfie Pavey gave Iron a target man they had lacked.

Blair was on a season’s loan from Dagenham and Redbridge and will presumably not be available next season.

But if Harrop can hang on to most of the rest of the squad – and if Braintree can hang on to Harrop – there is no reason why next season should not be as promising as this one