We started today in second place but itís all about self-belief. Against Tranmere, Braintree didnít look like a side who would pack a defence and lumber their way up the pitch. This was a good sign. As a largely part-time outfit, it was not unreasonable to expect they would be tired, especially if we subjected them to a lot of running in the early stages. We are coming off an excellent 5 - 1 win against Woking, so all the signs were good. What could possibly go wrong?
Itís such a shame that Braintree are not nicknamed "The Trees" or better still "The Brains". Imagine the club logo. The Town team to face The Iron this afternoon was:
McKeown - Hatton, Shaun Pearson, Pond, Thomas - Cook, Thanoj, Disley, Marshall - Neilson, Hannah. I felt comfortable with this line-up. Colbeck was injured and unable to play, but this looked a well balanced side. This is the post-Elding era.
After twenty minutes, I wondered if anything was going to happen. Next to me, Celine had fallen to sleep, clearly not enthralled by the battle for midfield supremacy. Worryingly, progress was slow and there were signs that like the Macclesfield game a few weeks earlier, the game was going to get bogged down. In fact a pattern was emerging. The Brains were picking up the ball in midfield. Town were playing too deep. But there was no danger as Townís midfielders were cramping the Brains and picking off passes. Disley in particular was mopping up and instrumental in setting up attacks. Town looked especially dangerous on the right side with Cook and Hatton all looking to get forward and set up Neilson and Hannah, who looked alert and dangerous. Marshall was struggling to get his length up the left but Town were always active and showing good skill on the ball. The Brainsís goalkeeper Naisbitt, who seems to be on a mission to play for every East Anglian non-league club, was tested several times with crosses and a Hatton long-range free kick. It was as if Townís management had spotted a weakness. The Brainsís defence looked static and slow. Town had a goal disallowed after about half an hour when a cross was nodded on by Pond to Pearson and into the net but there was a clear push.
Hannah anticipated well on 39 minutes when running onto a great ball over the top from Cook, but not being made of rubber, he couldnít twist enough to turn it into the net. Townís persistence paid off on 42 minutes. Neilson won a corner, and Pond received the ball on the right. With consummate composure, Pond stopped and instead of just firing in an aimless cross, he stopped and waited for Hannah who ran onto the inch-perfect cross and scored with a bullet header. Town 1, Brains 0. Town pressed on and Hatton caused Naisbitt to fumble a long-range fizzer but the score remained the same at half time. Without doubt the goal provided a release from the tension which would otherwise build up in the second half.
Town started the second half in enterprising fashion. The passing interplay was excellent and there was plenty of variety with Hatton and Thomas working up the flanks, Cook and Thanoj working up the middle and Neilson causing problems everywhere. On 51 minutes, after a good, purposeful build-up, which led to an explosive run by Thomas from a Disley pass, Town won a free-kick on the left. Neilsonís fierce cross was headed on by Disley through a packed defence. Town 2, Brains 0. To this point, the Brains hadnít had a meaningful attack on goal and McKeown had nothing to do, but now they started playing with purpose. A header was missed but the ball bounced back to Wells who from 6 yards somehow managed to spoon his shot onto the Osmond stand roof. It was a warning, but Town continued to pass and more importantly, probe and create hispanically. It was a pleasure to watch.
As the second goal was inevitable, so was the third. Another fluid move and a good run by the improving Marshall on 65 minutes finished at the feet of Hannah on the edge of the box on the left side. Hannah took aim and drilled his shot low into the bottom right hand corner. This was a proper strikerís goal. Town 3, Brains 0. With three substitutions and the game all but won, Town lost their shape for the final few minutes. Pond was booked for stupidly kicking the ball away after the Brains won a free kick. There was a scramble in the Brainsís penalty box with about 10 minutes to go, but with time ticking on Mr Scott gesticulated wildly with annoyance as Town failed to close down on the advancing Brains who to their credit never gave up and went close with two chances. The 18 away supporters, who received generous applause from the 3,704 Town fans for their commitment, did not have the satisfaction of seeing their side score and Town held out. So the final score was: Grimsby Town 3, Braintree 0.
Town played well. With Newport losing at home, we are top of the table. Thatís the first time since writing these pieces (Iíll let you decide pieces of what) that Iíve ever been able to make that statement. My Saturday eveningís entertainment consisted at gazing in wonder at the Blue Square Bet table. And based on todayís performance, we deserve to be there. We played with imagination and a freedom which would have caused most teams problems. Skill, inventiveness and risk-taking were allowed, which meant that the Brains could not predict what we were going to do. Whatís more, our control was good. Individually, I thought Cook, Disley, Neilson, Hannah, Pond and Hatton were all excellent, but I agree with the official verdict that Shaun Pearson was our man of the match. Once again he was gigantic in defence, his anticipation and positional play was good and his ball control is first rate. Instead of clearing the ball aimlessly, Pearson weighed up his options, which frequently meant pushing forward and setting up attacks. At half time Dave Boylen and Clive Wigginton came onto the pitch. They are Town heroes. This team could become heroes too. Maybe. For now itís great to report that weíre at the top of the tree. Letís press on and stay there.
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