A Game of Two Halves

Match report by ALAN ESSEX

Braintree Town 1 Pools 1 (National League)
Saturday 14 August 2018
Cressing Road

There are some industries and corporations that have dominated an area to the extent of being major employers. Ford’s production of cars and vans at Dagenham, ICI chemicals at Billingham, Nuclear Fuel reprocessing at Sellafield, Moorcroft potteries in Stoke and Oxfam’s procurement of prostitutes in Haiti and Chad.

Braintree lays claim to being the home of Crittall, manufacturers of steel window frames. These window frames have been used extensively worldwide but notably in this country on buildings such as The Houses of Parliament, The House of Lords, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and the once home of Hartlepool United supporter Wallace and Gromit who informed me that they were useless as they corroded badly in the East Anglian murk and as a result could not be painted.

I used to live but a few miles away from Braintree (in Great Dunmow), I used to shop in Braintree, had a lock up garage in Braintree for my Morris Minor convertible, the band I play in regularly plays in Braintree and I used to drive through Braintree en-route to Witham where I was working for a few years. In all this time I had never seen any sign of a football ground – no floodlight pylons, no street signs, nothing. Fortunately, through a combination of sat-nav and the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit, who lives just a Hugh Robertson free kick away, I found the ground, placed behind some Art-Deco houses along a road I had driven down hundreds of times.

The ground is real grass roots, surrounded by trees on 3 sides, the other side backing onto the gardens of the art deco homes. There was no supporter segregation and you could walk around the whole ground and stand / sit where you wanted. There are just 2 covered areas – one with seats that holds just over 500 and one opposite which is small and standing only. The capacity stands at 4,222, there were only 606 in attendance for this game. As there were no separate turnstiles for away supporters it’s difficult to know how many Poolies were there but judging from the replica kits on show it was a good turnout boosted by many southern based supporters. I’d say they made up at least a fifth of the crowd.

You’ve probably all read the match reports and team line ups so I’ll just give my take on things. Pools started very brightly and there were only a couple of occasions I can remember in the first half that had Braintree in our penalty area, they had no shots on target and didn’t look like getting any. Despite Myles Anderson in the line up Pools played with just 3 at the back with Magnay at centre and Kioso and Kitchen either side. Anderson and Donaldson played wide in midfield with Noble and Woods as attacking midfielders and Featherstone in the holding role, while up front were Nico Muir (who is surely the love child of Nico from the Velvet Underground and Frank Muir, debonair comedian) and Luke James.
"it came as no surprise, following a couple of close efforts, when they equalised through Bettamer in extra time."

In the 9th minute Luke James was cynically fouled when clear on goal resulting in an early penalty, Noble ,who was captain, took the kick himself and although well placed, their keeper Ben Killip saved well, low to his right-hand side. A harsher referee could have sent off their defender as James was clear on goal. Having said that the referee and his assistants had good games - a rarity at this level.

The 25th minute saw Pools get the least that their endeavours deserved with a great move starting with Donaldson, who was having a very good game, passing to Noble, crossing for Kitchen to tee up Muir for his second goal for the team. For the whole first half Pools played some exciting and highly entertaining football – some great passing, winning possession in midfield, pinpoint passing, great movement – all a joy to watch. Their keeper, Killip, was in good form and deserved his team's man of the match award. No one could fault anyone in the Pools side, or the way the team was set up. All that was needed was a second goal to take off what little pressure there was.

It does have to be said that Braintree were terrible and I cannot think we will face a worse side. They were so bad that their manager, Brad Quinton, an ex-player of theirs with over 500 appearances, kept them on the pitch for the beginning of the half time break – he was not a happy man.

And so to the half time break – most supporters took advantage of the ‘free travel arrangements’ in the ground and swapped ends or positions. Make the most of it, it will probably end when Brexit kicks in and you will need to show your Poolie passports!

The second half was a different game. The transition took a while but Pools' influence was waning and Braintree grew in confidence as so often happens when teams in the ascendency don’t kill a game off. There was some good work between Muir and James – they seem to have quickly found a good understanding and both have good skills on the ball and find good passes that confuse the defence. But as I said, Braintree were coming back into the game. This forced a change in the Pools defence with Donaldson playing right back and Kioso moving inside as a further centre back, albeit an adventurous one.

Pools still had chances to kill the game off but Woods missed a couple of chances, one especially that he should have got, and Kioso had a strong header from a corner just wide. The game was now going in Braintree’s favour and it came as no surprise, following a couple of close efforts, when they equalised through Bettamer in extra time.

A frustrating game as we should have had it all sewn up at half time. We showed we are well equipped to play some good football, albeit against poor opposition. I don’t think it was fitness that did for us, just not coping with Braintree’s change of style and increased enthusiasm. I thought Kioso was good, Muir better than my expectations but Donaldson was my Poolie man of the match, having had to defend, play in midfield and support the attack. His attitude, sometimes questioned in the past, was exemplary.

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