BRAINTREE Town supporters return to the fray this weekend with the unusual emotion of wondering if their team can do as well as they did last time, writes RON FOSKER.

Not since Brad Quinton’s side were promoted in 2018 have they been able to enjoy the close season on something of a high after four years of grubbing around in the relegation zone.

Another unfamiliar feeling will be welcoming back a number of old faces.

Virtual or complete overhauls have been the order of the day in recent years but this time the backbone – or at least its lower half – has been retained, with John White and Kyran Clements at the back and Jack Sims in goal.

All three were vital cogs in the wheel last season. White in particular brought authority to the back line and keeping his 37-year-old body in working order – he had a number of spells out injured last season - could be a key factor in the team’s progress.

Braintree and Witham Times: Braintree Town

Midfielder Alfie Payne, probably last season’s most improved player, has also been retained as have full back/midfielders Leon Davies and Chris Regis.

Most importantly, manager Angelo Harrop and his assistant Steve Pitt are also staying.

But some important faces will be missing, not least Baris Altintop, who made such an impression on the manager that he was given the captain’s armband in White’s absence at the end of the season.

He will be aiming to help Dartford avoid another play-off heartache.

Alfie Pavey, who joined only in February and gave focus to the front line, has also departed, to Farnborough, as have Lamar Reynolds, to Maidstone, Matt Rush to Aveley and dead-ball expert Alfie Matthews to Hemel Hempstead.

There has been no eye-catching signing to compare with White’s decision to drop down from Southend last season and indeed Harrop has gone in the other direction in the hope of finding some goals.

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Nnamdi Nwachuku was scoring freely for Sudbury last season. History is littered with free-scoring players who have found the step-up a difficult transition.

But there have been successes too, notably Sean Marks, who joined from Heybridge in 2008 and quickly found his feet at Cressing Road.

Nwachuku will be joined up front by Will Davies, who is stepping up one level from Leiston United, where his 30+ goals helped them finish third in the Southern League Premier Central last season.

Strengthening the back line will be Joe Grimwood, another player joining from Harrop’s old club Sudbury, Toby Stevenson, from Billericay, who made one appearance for Iron in a brief loan spell in 2021, and Josh Dawodu, who made his way up through Sheffield Wednesday’s youth teams before spending last season at Southern League Premier South Hendon.

Braintree’s squad has something of a threadbare appearance at the moment and Harrop may have to dip into the loan market as he did last season, notably with Aaron Blair, whose scurrying presence will be much missed up front.

Braintree and Witham Times: Harry Beadle

Young centre-back Harry Beadle has arrived on loan from neighbours Colchester United, while Luton Town defender Ben Tompkins has also signed.

Harrop has gone on record as saying that the replacements will be an improvement on those who have left, something of a hostage to fortune.

If the team does not improve, he could be criticised either for making the wrong choices or failing to integrate them into the team.

But Harrop surprised just about everybody last season. Who would bet against him doing it again?