FC Halifax Town moved up to second in the Conference Premier after their 0-0 draw at Braintree.
This was one of Town’s most forgettable away days last season but the Shaymen can reflect on this visit with more satisfaction, despite neither side ever really hitting their stride.
On this evidence, it’s little surprise there was only goal between these two sides last season, and that was a penalty.
It’s now three games unbeaten for Halifax, and this point will look even better if it’s followed up with a win at Alfreton on Tuesday.
Last season’s encounter was a scrappy affair to say the least, and this contest started off in a worryingly similar vein.
Neil Aspin’s line-up hinted at a nod of respect to Braintree’s potential threat, with the hosts scoring in every home match so far and keeping clean sheets in four of those five games.
Danny Hattersley was deployed at the tip of a 4-3-3 formation, and was as bright as anyone else for the visitors in a first-half devoid of goalmouth action, holding the ball up well and bringing others into play.
Chances in the opening 20 minutes were restricted to headers wide at corners from Simon Ainge and Steve Williams; indicative of the paucity of opportunities in open play.
Marc Roberts then saw a goal-bound header blocked as Halifax out-muscled Braintree at every set-piece.
Town may have been expecting a stern examination, and looked up for the battle, none more so than stand-in skipper Roberts, who needed a change of shirt after a clash of heads.
Unfortunately ‘Roberts-watch’ was more interesting than the game itself as the defender disappeared into the changing room for a few minutes after receiving treatment on the touchline.
Not all of the Shaymen’s away performances can be as exhilarating as the 3-0 win at Chester; this was a game which called for substance over style.
Although Town created little outside of set-pieces, Braintree created little full-stop as the visitors effectively nullified the hosts’ pacey attack and coped comfortably with their limited advances.
Like Town, Braintree lost a talismanic striker in the summer in the shape of Dan Holman, and there seemed to be a Holman-shaped hole in their attack.
Such was the lack of action to enliven the crowd, Matt Pearson’s screams of ‘encouragement’ could clearly be heard throughout the opening half.
But even the omnipresent Pearson couldn’t stamp his authority on a contest that generated a solitary shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
Roberts emerged for the second-half with a Terry Butcher-style bandage on his head, which seemed to encapsulate the story of the first-half pretty well.
The game suddenly threw up a flashpoint shortly after the restart when Adam Smith produced an awful tackle on Braintree left-back Sam Habergham and was lucky to only be booked.
Pearson was next in the book for a poor tackle on Kenny Davis as the yellow card count started to significantly outnumber the shots-on-target count.
A double-change on the hour-mark suggested Aspin sensed a third away win in the offing, and there was almost an immediate dividends when the tireless Hattersley’s shot was deflected just over.
Those two substitutions made for a more open game as the lively Dan Walker began to find space on the left flank, firing across goal with only an outstretched boot needed to divert it goal-wards.
Town looked a little more vulnerable without the protective shield of Ainge but offered more of a threat going forward.
Both sides still lacked some composure in the final third though, with the prospect of any mistakes proving decisive and wiping out an afternoon’s hard work perhaps inhibiting the two teams.
But Town were in the ascendancy as the clock ticked down, with Richard Peniket and Jamie Jackson adding an extra dimension to their attack.
After all those corners, it was nearly a free-kick that won it but Nick Hamann reacted well to parry Paul Marshall’s curling effort.
Braintree looked out of ideas as Halifax ended the game strongly, with Marshall flashing another shot over.
Substitute Michael Bakare then fired over shortly before James Mulley did the same as Braintree rallied late on.
Braintree: Hamann, Peters, Habergham, Brundle, Massey, Mulley, Davis, Walker (Bakare 72), Isaac, Akinola, Cox. Subs not used: Smith, Maybanks, Case; Pentney.
Shots on target: 0
Shots off target: 5
Halifax: Glennon, K Roberts, M Roberts, Ainge (Jackson 59), Williams, McManus, Smith (Peniket 59), Marshall, Pearson (Schofield 81) Boden, Hattersley. Subs not used: Senior, Hibbs.
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 7
Town man of the match: Marc Roberts