THERE has been a curious symmetry in Braintree Town’s openings to the season over the past three years, writes RON FOSKER.

This season started 1-2, 3-2, 1-2, 1-1, while last season was 1-2, 1-1, 3-1, 1-3, in both cases a haul of four points The previous season started 1-1, 3-0, 2-2, 2-2, giving them six points.

It is what happened afterwards that is more interesting. In 2021-22, Ryan Maxwell’s side won their next match to give them nine points from five, a ratio good enough for second place if they had kept it up over the season.

But they didn’t. They lost the next eight matches to plummet to the bottom of the table and then pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to finish nine points clear of relegation.

Last season Angelo Harrop’s team recovered from their four points in four matches, a ratio that would have seen them relegated, winning their next three games and rising to fifth in the table, eventually slipping back just a couple of places.

This season, matches five and six – a draw and a defeat - were just as uncomfortable and once again five points in six games was relegation form.

Then things started to go right and a slow march up the table began that even with the disappointing 3-0 defeats by Chelmsford still leaves them in touch with the play-off places.

It’s a position most fans would have settled for if offered it in advance.

After four years of failure, last season’s rise was as unexpected as it was welcome but with the usual exodus of players in the close season, there was concern that it was not sustainable, a fear the opening matches seemed to confirm.

But with some judicious loan signings, Harrop appeared to have got the team in a groove – until Chelmsford came along.

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But it wouldn’t be a Braintree team without some inexplicable ups and downs.

Defeats to Gloucester City in the FA Trophy and lowly Slough in the league - both 3-0 – were disappointing especially as they had followed three consecutive home games where they had scored four – against Havant, St Albans and Welling.

The FA Cup brought its own mini switchback, a struggle to get past Canvey Island, a division below Braintree with six defeats out of six in September, followed by an excellent win in the traditional fixture against high-flying National League North side Brackley – the two have now met five times in cups in 17 years – and then down to earth again to exit at Chesham, another team a division below them.

But there is nothing fans like better than popping bubbles, as Luton and Mansfield found out in seasons past. This time it was Worthing who came to town earlier in the season as league leaders and left with their tails between their legs, 4-0 worse off.

It was the start of the revival and coincided with the return of Aaron Blair, with Iron on loan the previous season and now a fully-fledged signing.

He was at the heart of everything against Worthing and went on to further memorable performances that lifted the team’s spirits.

He was probably at his best playing off a strong front man and Will Davies fitted that role precisely. Moving up a division from the Southern League, he settled to such an extent that interest from bigger clubs was almost immediate.

His form dipped after a move to Barnet fell through, but he quickly knuckled down and subsequent performances attracted the interest of National League Premier side York City, who signed him in November. He was brought off the bench at half-time in his first match for them and scored in his second.

Others to make an impact have been Joe Grimwood, a strong centre back who stepped up two divisions with ease, speedy winger Tom Blackwell, who has confused a number of full-backs, Reggie Lambe – Bermuda’s most capped player – who has often held the midfield together, Ipswich Town loanee Matt Ward, another player whose speed on the wing has opened up defences, and notably 19-year-old Ben Tompkins, on loan from Luton, and a very mature head at the back.

Negotiating an extension to Tompkins’ loan, which expires soon, would be a major plus, although the unexpected return of Baris Altintop, last season’s player of the year, has given Harrop other options at the back.

The team will hope to put Chelmsford behind them and now have three consecutive home games to set the record straight.