Braintree 2-0 FC Halifax Town

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Kevin Roberts was sent-off as 10-man FC Halifax Town lost 2-0 at Braintree.

Town got off to the worst possible start by conceding inside the first minute from Kenny Davis before Michael Cheek added a second after the restart.

Halifax had started the second-half brightly after an underwhelming opening 45, but the dismissal of Roberts halted any momentum the visitors had built up.

Not many at Cressing Road will have been expecting another 6-3, what with Braintree scoring and conceding the fewest home goals in the Conference.

Town’s nightmare at home to Braintree started after just four minutes in November, but they were behind after just 33 seconds here.

Straight from the kick-off, Sim Akinola charged at a statuesque Halifax defence before his low shot hit the post, but Davis was well-placed to smash in the rebound high into the net.

The visitors had yet to touch the ball; maybe another 6-3 wasn’t so far fetched after all.

Town had clearly identified Davis as a danger man, with Kevin Roberts handed a man-marking role on the midfielder, who sent a superb cross through the six-yard box moments later that just evaded a team-mate’s touch.

Work rate has been a major feature of Jim Harvey’s Halifax, but Town met their match in Braintree, who were ferocious in closing down The Shaymen and picking off any loose balls or stray passes.

Jordan Burrow couldn’t turn in Scott McManus’ fine cross on the stretch, but that was all Town could muster by the mid-way point of the first-half in reply.

A superb run by Billy Whitehouse, who looked the away side’s best route to goal down the left-flank, earned Town a free-kick, from which Hamza Bencherif headed straight at keeper Tom King.

Halifax had gained a foothold in the contest by now, although it wasn’t difficult to see why the hosts, who were diligent and well organised, had such an impressive defensive record.

As with recent meetings between the clubs, barring November’s goal-fest, there was little quality on show, with both teams struggling to break into much free-flowing football on a poor surface.

Burrow at one end then Akinola at the other both went close with headers as half-time neared.

Then Bencherif was spared his blushes when top-scorer Cheek, who had not scored since that win at The Shay, caught him in possession to run clear on goal, but side-footed the ball wide.

It was 4-3 to Braintree at half-time in the return game; even with those late chances, there was never any danger of a repeat performance here.

Harvey’s thoughts on the first-half were displayed with a double substitution at half-time as Richard Peniket and Jake Hibbs replaced Whitehouse and Josh Macdonald, with Town switching to a diamond in midfield.

And Halifax looked better for those changes, immediately attacking with more purpose and aggression.

Remarkably, Hibbs then James Bolton were both booked for diving by referee Alan Young within the space of a minute, first inside the Braintree box then just outside it; both decisions looked very harsh.

Then just at the wrong time, Roberts received a second yellow card for what looked a strong but fair tackle.

Just to prove he wasn’t just picking on Halifax, Young, who was a late change from the original referee, then booked Akinola for diving, which he appeared to think was happening with increasing regularity in the game; again, it seemed a strange decision.

Perhaps Ian Hussin wasn’t so bad after all.

Peniket’s caution was the ninth of the game by the hour mark although that was the first call Young had got right in a while.

If Roberts’ red card was the turning point, Cheek’s goal was the clincher, even with a quarter of the game remaining, as he pounced on hesitancy between Bencherif and Matty Brown before rounding Johnson and tapping home.

Cheek and Davis went close to increasing Braintree’s lead, which now looked irretrievable.

Burrow should have halved the deficit with 10 minutes left after a mistake in the Braintree defence, but dragged his shot wide when one-on-one with the keeper.

It said much about Young’s performance that by the time Nicky Wroe and Bencherif were booked late on, most people had lost count how many there had actually been.

Braintree: King, Clerima, Fry, Phillips, Habergham, Davis, Issac (Brundle 79), Woodyard, Sparkes (Gardner 78), Cheek, Akinola (Miles 86). Subs not used: Edgar, Crowe.

Scorers: Davis (1), Cheek (66)

Shots on target: 5

Shots off target: 6

Corners: 8

Halifax: Johnson, Bolton, K Roberts, Brown, Bencherif, McManus, Wroe, James, J Macdonald (Hibbs 46), Burrow (Hughes 79), Whitehouse (Peniket 46). Subs not used: Porter, Walker

Shots on target: 2

Shots off target: 6

Corners: 7

Town man of the match: Scott McManus