FC Halifax Town 0-0 Braintree

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FC Halifax Town failed to score at home in the league for the first time this season as they were held 0-0 at home by Braintree.

Both teams will live to fight another day in the battle for the play-offs, but may feel a tinge of regret at an opportunity lost to gain vital ground on others.

Matt Glennon didn’t have a shot to save for the second game running but neither side did enough to earn all three points in a game which served to reflect the increasingly wafer-thin margins separating those sides competing for a place in the top-five.

A draw probably does Braintree more favours than the Shaymen though, who now have little breathing space in their remaining fixtures, with another crucial game at Nuneaton to come on Saturday.

Given Halifax’s sensational home form this season and their winning run of late, Braintree could hardly be blamed for wanting to take the sting out of the game early on.

The Essex side had proved a tough nut to crack in the return fixture in November and proved to be again from the opening exchanges.

Barring a Scott McManus drive which fizzed over the bar following a rapid counter-attack, the first 20 minutes offered little action as the visitors repeatedly punted balls in behind the Town defence, forcing the hosts to concede ground.

It wasn’t difficult to see why Braintree had kept clean sheets in three of their last five away trips as they reached the midway point of the first-half relatively trouble-free.

Indeed they could have gone in front at that stage when Dan Holman should have added to his 11 goals from his last 14 games when he broke in behind the Town defence before firing wide.

Cue the obligatory chant of ‘You’re Not Lee Gregory’.

There wasn’t quite the same verve about Town which had so thrillingly swept Luton aside five days ago, with the odd stray pass here and there preventing them from building up any momentum.

Holman then fired across goal again after breaking free of Marc Roberts as he and strike partner Sean Marks began to see more of the ball.

The visitors certainly didn’t look like a side who had travelled more than 1,500 miles in the past week as they edged towards the interval having enjoyed the better chances.

Referee Anthony Backhouse’s rather pedantic display certainly contributed to the stop-start nature of the contest, with James Bolton collecting an early booking after two fairly innocuous challenges.

Roberts headed wide from a Town set-piece but the defender had his hands full at the other end against the impressive Holman, who Braintree will do well to keep hold of should promotion elude them this season.

Nik Hamann was then forced into his first save of the night when he parried Lois Maynard’s shot behind shortly before Mr Backhouse was booed off and back onto the pitch either side of half-time.

The price of victory was a leap up to third in the table, but both sides will have been aware of the cost of defeat as the match wore on.

The rare experience of Town struggling to get into their stride at the Shay saw a reshuffle after an hour as Scott Spencer came on for his debut in place of Adam Smith.

The switch to 4-4-2 certainly made Neil Aspin’s intentions clear, but Town’s second change was more worrying, with the withdrawal of Roberts midway through the second-half.

The defender was forced off after picking up an injury earlier in the half, with substitute Danny Lowe appearing for the first time since the 3-2 defeat at Hereford in November.

Spencer ballooned two shots over in the space of a minute as the prize of third place still dangled tantalisingly in front of both sides.

Both sides showed more than enough desire to grab it but neither produced enough quality to do so.

The ball flew around like a scrap of paper in a force nine gale as both sides lost their composure with the clock ticking down.

Paul Marshall and the ever-industrious Matt Pearson both brought saves out of Hamann late on as the referee increasingly became centre of attention with a series of unfathomable decisions that raised the heckles of all involved.

Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, Ainge, Roberts (Lowe 65), McManus, A Smith (Spencer 61), Maynard, Marshall, Pearson, Crowther (Jackson 82), Gregory. Subs not used: Senior, Wilson.

Shots on target: 3

Shots off target: 9

Corners: 4

Braintree: Hamann, Peters, Isaac, Paine, Habergham, Daley (Jakubiak 80), Massey, Wells, Sparkes (Laurent 46), Marks, Holman. Subs not used: McDonald, Cox, Holdsworth.

Shots on target: 0

Shots off target: 4

Corners: 4

Attendance: 1,535

Town man of the match: Matt Pearson