St Albans City concluded the away leg of their troubled season on Tuesday evening with a 10th Ryman League defeat on opposition soil which has left the Saints needing a victory over Hitchin Town and a favourable result elsewhere this Saturday to secure a top eight finish.
Such a relatively lofty final placing would have been hard to believe given City's first half performance from this their first league encounter at Cressing Road but with a spirited showing after the interval, particularly during the latter stages, the Saints refused to let this lie as a typical end of season affair.
Indeed St Albans began the match, played in comfortably warm early summer conditions on a very dry pitch, in encouraging fashion as they spread the ball around confidently and used Danny Honeyball well down the right as the wingback frequently got into good attacking positions. This ploy, however, did tend to leave City exposed and Braintree Town saw their chance to improve upon their recent run of just one win in seven games.
Although the Saints began positively the first serious attempt on goal came the way of Town midfielder Brad Green whose low shot was blocked by Richard Wilmot's outstretched legs. Ten minutes later City's dismal run of one win from nine away games was set to be extended as a tremendous long punt downfield by home keeper Paul Catley eluded Ryan Moran in the centre of the City defence, Brad Quinton was quickly onto the ball but had his effort blocked on the edge of the penalty area by Wilmot but the City keeper could do nothing to stop Tommy Noble from scooping home the rebound for his 14th goal of the season.
City's best chances of the half came the way of defender Corey Campbell who played his first full 90 minutes for three months. Campbell headed wide from a Gary Wraight free kick and then put a powerful header just over the bar from a Wraight corner. Good work by Simon Martin almost set up Mike Bignall only for Brett Girling to put in an excellent last ditch tackle at the expense of a corner while Rob Smith seized on the close skills of Younes Nabil only to have his shot comfortably gathered by Catley.
Braintree moved into a two goal lead in the 37th minute when a cross from the left fell invitingly for former Saint Robbie Reinelt to score his 90th goal for the club in just 145 games with a crisp drive over the exposed Wilmot.
With that second goal City appeared out for the count but the half time introduction of Steve Cook and Rob Kean, and a change in tactics, saw City tighten up at the back and move forward with greater menace.
Five minutes after the restart Catley had to be alert to claw away a swirling Smith free kick that threatened to drop just under the bar but seconds later it was City who had a let off as a Reinelt shot went just over the target. On 57 minutes Bignall expertly turned his marker in the penalty area and saw his deflected shot heading for the corner of the goal only for Catley to fingertip it away at the final moment.
City's persistence was rewarded on 74 minutes when Smith ended a goalmouth scramble with a calm shot to Catley's left for his ninth goal for the Saints after a Kean cross had picked out Gary Ansell whose poor touch led to the mayhem. With just four minutes remaining City looked to have rescued a point when a Wraight free kick was headed home with some aplomb at the back post by Moran who was furious that the linesman ruled him to be offside.
During three minutes of injury time the home goal survived several anxious moments but the best chance came the way of Bignall who couldn't keep down his header from an Ansell cross and the chance was lost.
Report by Dave Tavener