Vanarama National League South

THERE had been nothing to split Braintree Town and Dartford in the Vanarama National League South table and that proved the case on the pitch as the front-running pair shared a pre-Christmas draw in Kent.

Just as had been the case when these two met at the start of the season, there was nothing to separate them at Prince’s Park and the first-against-second clash ended in a 1-1 stalemate.

Marcel Barrington’s goal just before half-time cancelled out one from Dartford’s Andy Pugh and despite the Iron pressing hard after the break, nothing could ease them clear.

It was a result that saw the Darts hold on to the top spot on goal difference and while Braintree dropped from second to fourth, they are part of a five-team group tied on 39 points at the summit heading into Christmas.

There were four changes for Braintree from the midweek trip to Brackley Town in the FA Trophy, with Joe Ellul returning to the line-up after being cup-tied on Tuesday.

Also coming back in were Barrington and Samir Bihmoutine, while Reece Grant made a return up front after a loan spell at Kingstonian.

Dropping out were Mahrez Bettache and Ben Wyatt, with Roman Michael-Percil and Karl Oliyide starting on the bench.

Despite the changes, though, there appeared no hangover for the Iron from their midweek disappointment in the Trophy.

They made a positive start and took the game to their hosts as they looked to make sure it would be them who sat top of the table at Christmas.

Captain Marc-Anthony Okoye headed just over from an early corner, Barrington was just beaten to a dangerous Bihmoutine cross by the home keeper and Ricky Gabriel then saw a cross deflected away.

It was all Braintree for the opening quarter of an hour, so it was frustrating that it was Dartford who took the lead on 16 minutes.

It came against the run of play as the home side broke quickly and Andy Pugh turned the ball in from Tom Murphy’s low cross and was a blow to the Iron, who then struggled to regain their composure.

The Darts were clearly buoyed and Braintree had keeper Nathan McDonald to thank for keeping them in the match with a superb save with his legs from a close-range header on 21 minutes.

They did hold on, though, and crucially worked their way back into the game before half-time, with an equaliser coming on 44 minutes.

It came as Gabriel fired a ball low and hard into the box and Barrington was well-placed to tuck the ball in to restore parity.

The goal sent the Iron into half-time with renewed confidence and they brought that back out with them after the interval as, just as they had in the first half, they made the better start.

Barrington was just unable to double his tally as he headed over from a cross from Roberts and Billy Crook had an effort saved as the early flow of play continued towards the home goal.

Roberts was then just unable to steer the ball into the goal from an acute angle, while Grant saw a header saved as he latched on to a cross by Bihmoutine and the game ended with a Roman Michael-Percil overhead kick going just over the bar as the Iron had to settle for a share of the spoils.

Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Samir Bihmoutine, Joe Ellul, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Christian Frimpong, Ricky Gabriel, Jon Muleba, Billy Crook (Luke Allen 83), Phil Roberts (Matt Baxter 90), Marcel Barrington (Roman Michael-Percil 73), Reece Grant.

Subs not used: Osa Obamwonyi, Karl Oliyide.