Match Data 2007/2008
Braintree Town 1
Mo Harkin (Henry, 67)
Richard Pacquette (Watkins, 77)
Robbie Martin (Good, 90)
Richard Jolly (Ofori, 90)
After George Borg’s antics at Wesleigh Park and the exhausting two-leg play off semi-final, last season seems to be all about Braintree when reviewing the significant moments. But apart from those two inconclusive games, eventually won by the Iron on penalties, there is little or no history between the Hawks and the Iron to make today’s game a meeting of two great rivals. With Borg gone out one door and Ian Baird another, the only bitterness that remains lingers around the aloof presence of some of Braintree’s more vocal board members, but even they seem preoccupied at the moment in securing what could be an extremely beneficial move to a new ground.
For the ardent Hawks fan, one of today’s pressing questions was whether summer transfer target Robbie Martin would have been the star signing he appeared to be when rumours of his move to Westleigh Park were abundant back in July. At the time the Hawks were in dire need of a fast paced nimble midfielder, and Martin fits that bill, but in these more enlightened post-Potter days with Charlie Henry now back at full fitness, it’s easier to realise that a good nippy midfielder perhaps isn’t the holy grail of non-league football it seemed in the past. Besides, Henry put on a much better show for his twenty-five minutes today than Martin, looking a shadow of his more buoyant 2006/07 season figure, did for the entire game. Perhaps even enough to gain him a starting place in future.
Of that initial eleven, Neil Sharp returned to the heart of the defence today having missed last Saturday’s clash with Basingstoke to become the proud father of a baby girl. That meant a place on the bench for Nathan Peprah-Annan, and also Jamie Slabber, who switched places with Richard Pacquette.
In sharp contrast to the 1539 who turned out the last time the Hawks visited Cressing Road, today’s sub 400 left an atmosphereless vacuum about the place, the hosts apparently reliant on a bunch of twenty or so trainee fans with an average age of 12 to do the shouting for them. Unfortunately the lessons in how to support a football team don’t seem to be going that well, and having doggedly pursued the visiting Hawks supporters around the ground they were moved on by stewards when, after the goal, the continual baiting turned into misguided and irrelevant insults. Must be something in the school milk up that way, Bishop’s Stortford have a similar problem at their place.
That said, no one could criticise the teenage mind for drifting during what was a fairly flat first half for the hosts, although the Hawks faired better. Home keeper Nicky Morgan was kept busy for a spell early on, capped fifteen minutes in when Tony Taggart’s cross from the right fell to Jamie Collins for a beautifully dipping shot that Morgan only just managed to tip over the bar.
Lee Burns returned fire when he sent the final header in a string of several wide of the post, then crossed again for AFC Wimbledon loan signing Richard Jolly to flick the ball awkwardly back the wrong side of Andy Porter.
As the half progressed it was obvious the referee was giving away very little, with defenders getting the benefit of the doubt in free kick decisions on both sides; evidenced clearly eight minutes from half time when Ryan Moran’s interference with Richard Pacquette left the striker upended in the box, with a free kick given the other way.
Pacquette did get the chance to shoot a few minutes later, trapping a long throw from Collins expertly on the edge of the box and turning on the spot to attempt a low shot that towering keeper Morgan had trouble dropping down on.
Braintree Town 0
Havant and Waterlooville 0
Having enjoyed the benefit of Braintree’s new stepped terracing at the top end of the ground, turning what used to be the porch of the club bar into something worth watching a football game from (although what the view out of the bar’s windows now is I’d hate to think), sauntering down the slope of the ground to take up residence in the tin shed at the bottom end comes as an even greater contrast than it was last season. Perhaps the efforts in putting new terracing in might have been equally well served down at the lower end of the pitch too; at least balancing the view from both ends.
The effect made Morgan seem even taller, but the keeper could do little about Gary Elphick’s skimming header that whistled wide of the far post after the Hawks defender got to a Taggart corner early in the second half.
Taggart then latched onto a near vertical clearance as it dropped, looping the ball back in for Sharp to connect with a better header that looked set for the bottom corner of the goal, had it not been cleared off the line by Billy Burgess.
Mo Harkin flashed a shot wide, and at the other end Martin sent an effort spiralling wide of the goal after he attempted to slot a shot inside the post he was approaching with his run. Mark Jones then hammered a similar effort wide after Sharp awkwardly cleared a throw from Burgess to the edge of the box.
The hosts looked the better side overall in the second period. Burns worked the ball up the right, twenty minutes in, and managed to find the versatile QUINTON on the edge of the six yard box for a driven shot that rose into the roof of the net on the far side.
The goal roused the hosts noticeably and in the minutes that followed, further less accurate efforts were sent over the bar by Burns. Scriven’s badly taken free kick dropped straight into the Iron midfield and was sent back for Jolly to break through unchallenged, but again his terrific chance was wasted with a shot that didn’t even find the target.
Late substitutions did enliven the Hawks a little, Henry’s presence on the right bringing a turn of speed to matters absent since Alfie Potter’s departure. His relentless running kept in a near lost cause as a long ball hurtled to the line, and his cross back picked out Craig Watkins for a shot miscued and sent wide.
Watkins then got another chance as he lurked behind Burgess, angling another Henry cross back at goal from close range that Morgan only managed to keep out with a reflex save made with an outstretched foot.
So finally, after five consecutive draws between the sides, comes a game with a definite result. Surprisingly celebrated on the final whistle by the dwindling home support with the fervency of a cup win, Hawks fans left the ground knowing full well that Braintree’s indifferent season so far may well have been their own fate had it not been for the odd cup win themselves. It is perhaps odd that two of the league’s leading lights last season, battling it out in the penultimate game of the campaign for a final shot at promotion to the Blue Square Premier, should end up in such a plain mid-table affair just eight months later. But the Hawks at least maintain a chance of reliving that end of season excitement if their games in hand materialise as points, but wherever Braintree’s season ends up now could be anyone’s guess.