Vanarama National League South

Braintree Town were hit by a last-gasp sucker punch as they once again tasted Vanarama National League South frustration against Hemel Hempstead.

The previous meeting between the two teams in September had seen Braintree have a mad six-minute spell that saw them concede three goals on their way to a 4-3 defeat.

It was an infuriating day for manager Brad Quinton, who said that he was looking for his players to avenge that defeat and things looked good when Phil Roberts put them ahead in the first half this time around.

However, the Tudors hit back before half-time with an equaliser and after a scrappy 45 minutes in tough conditions, the hosts conceded in time added-on at the end to go down to a 2-1 defeat.

The game had looked in doubt during the earlier part of the day as heavy rain refused to give up, but the Iron’s pitch covering system, hard work by the club’s ground staff and fans and a brave decision by referee Wayne Cartmel meant it got the go ahead.

All involved should be given credit for their work and decision to get the game on as the pitch was fit for purpose at the scheduled 3pm kick-off.

Braintree made two changes from the side that was held to a 1-1 draw at Chippenham Town the week before, with Christian Frimpong and Ben Wyatt returning to the starting line-up.

Their returns saw Roman Michael-Percil and Luke Allen move to the bench.

Looking at the Hemel squad, there were a couple of inclusions that would have been recognisable to Braintree fans, with Scott Shulton and Tyler Campbell included.

Both had started the season at Braintree before making switches to the Tudors and there was an early welcome back for Shulton as he felt the force of a challenge by Marcel Barrington in the opening 30 seconds of the game.

It left the former Iron midfielder clutching his ankle and requiring treatment, but he was OK to continue and no action other than a free-kick was taken.

Other than that, it was a quiet start to the game as both sets of players – literally – found their footing on the heavy pitch.

It led to a fairly even opening spell, with few sights of goal, but that changed dramatically on 18 minutes as the Iron scored from a superb break.

It came as wonderful tenacity and vision by Reece Grant saw him win the ball wide on the right before placing it into the run of Phil Roberts, who showed great composure to lift it past advancing Hemel keeper Laurie Walker and into the net.

It was a lead that gave the Iron something to build on, but even after the goal neither side was really able to dominate on the heavy pitch.

Braintree seemed happier to soak up Hemel forward pressure and hit their visitors on the break.

Just to prove that point, a great break from the Iron almost saw them double their lead on 32 minutes.

From a defensive position, the ball was moved swiftly through Billy Crook, Roberts and Grant and on to Marcel Barrington, but Walker was out to smother the ball before the shot could be made.

And the Tudors’ keeper was in action again soon after as a tremendous effort from 35 yards by Barrington was only kept out at full stretch by Walker tipping it over the crossbar.

A lovely break down the right by Crook then saw him pull the ball back into the middle, but Grant was unable to keep his footing and could only prod the ball wide.

Having been unable to improve their lead, the Iron were left ruing not making more of their chances as they were pegged back before half-time.

On 40 minutes, a long ball into the middle was headed down by James Kaloczi and Nathan McDonald made a great low save, but Spencer McCall was quickest to react and stabbed in the loose ball.

It made it level again at the break and all to play for in the second period.

It wasn’t long before Shulton was involved again as on 50 minutes, Ricky Gabriel went over in the box under a challenge from his former team-mate but referee Cartmel wasn't moved despite strong appeals from the home contingent.

The ex-Braintree man was playing the role of pantomime villain perfectly for the home fans as he engaged in battles all over the pitch, in particular with his opposite number – Crook – in the middle of the park.

In a more creative capacity, though, a lovely through ball from Shulton almost brought a second goal for Hempstead as he got Alex Osborn in behind the Iron defence.

However, Osborn’s shot was superbly saved with his feet by Braintree keeper Nathan McDonald to maintain parity.

With the game on a knife edge, play became increasingly scrappy as the heavy pitch took its toll on the players’ legs and scoring opportunities became rarities as the defences stayed on top.

However, just as it seemed Braintree would record their fifth draw from their last six games, they were hit by a last-gasp sucker punch from the visitors.

A long hanging cross from the left dropped to substitute Eddy Nelson-Abby at the back post and with the home defence caught napping, he poked the ball into the net.

It came in the third minute of stoppage time and with no time to respond, the final whistle quickly followed and Braintree were left to reflect on another disappointment against the Tudors.

Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Ricky Gabriel, Jon Muleba, Joe Ellul, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Christian Frimpong (Mahrez Bettache 66), Ben Wyatt, Billy Crook (Luke Allen 69), Phil Robert, Reece Grant (Karl Oliyide 75), Marcel Barrington.

Subs not used: Matt Baxter, Roman Michael-Percil.

Referee: Wayne Cartmel.