February 25, 2015
BRISTOL ROVERS 2 v 1 BRAINTREE TOWN
Braintree Town’s brave rearguard action eventually came to nothing as they were unable to halt Bristol Rovers’ climb to the summit of the Vanarama Conference Premier table. The Iron were hindered by the loss of Matt Paine to a red card with an hour of the game to play and falling behind to a penalty given in the incident that saw the Braintree midfielder sent off.
The ten men rallied, though, got back into the game with a spectacular Simeon Akinola strike before half-time and looked to have withheld a barrage from the hosts after the break. However, as Braintree legs tired, the pressure from Rovers finally told and they snatched an 83rd minute winner to go to the top of the table for the first time this season.
With Remy Clerima unavailable, Alan Devonshire made just one change from the side that started the 1-0 defeat at FC Halifax Town on Saturday. Bernard Mensah came in for his first start since re-joining the Iron on loan from Watford but the Iron named an inexperienced bench with three products of the club’s Academy included.
It was a fairly even start to the game with neither side really taking the initiative. Mensah did have a good chance in the 15th minute but it flashed just past the post with Rovers keeper Steve Mildenhall rooted to the spot. And when they broke seven minutes later, Dan Sparkes was able to drill in a low effort that saw Mildenhall get down well to make the save.
However, the hosts broke the deadlock in the 31st minute. A long ball into the penalty area was brought down by Matty Taylor’s good touch but Paine pulled him down and was shown a straight red card. Referee Dean Treleaven pointed to the spot and Taylor picked himself up to slam the ball into the back of the net.
The goal and the fact they were now playing against ten men saw Rovers look to dominate but they hadn’t reckoned on the Braintree spirit as a spectacular Akinola goal brought the visitors right back into the game in the 38th minute. From just inside the Bristol box Akinola fired an acrobatic shot that sailed past Mildenhall and into the net to make sure the half ended on level terms.
Rovers rearranged their line-up at the break and charged forward as they looked to make their advantage count. Their pressure in the minutes after the restart saw the Iron on the back foot and only an athletic save on the line by Alan Massey stopped the hosts from going back ahead.
However, Braintree weren’t prepared to make it easy for their hosts and Akinola hooked the ball towards goal in the 50th minute with only a last-ditch save by Mildenhall keeping the ball out. It was a brief respite for the Iron though as Rovers’ numerical advantage started to tell and Braintree were pushed into deeper positions.
The play was almost totally in the Iron half, but Bristol struggled to break down Braintree’s resolute defence and clear-cut chances were rare despite all their possession. When opportunities did present themselves they weren’t taken with Ellis Harrison heading wide from a superb position when it should have been 2-1 to the hosts.
As the clock ticked down the hosts became increasingly frustrated at their inability to break Braintree down. However, the pressure finally told when Harrison broke and slid the ball under Nick Hamann to put Rovers ahead with just eight minutes to go. It proved to be a killer blow for the tired ten men of Braintree and they couldn’t force a way back into the game in the final few minutes.