Salford City pick up their league campaign on Saturday with a first visit to Braintree Town.
Two weeks on from the draw at FC Halifax Town, The Ammies will be keen to keep the pressure on Leyton Orient who are three points clear at the top, but there is also one eye over the shoulder with Solihull Moors level on points and a place behind, and both AFC Fylde and Wrexham a point behind.
On the proverbial football paper, a visit to The National League’s bottom-placed side is a dream tie but as we know that’s not how football works. While Braintree haven’t quite managed to re-find their feet in the top flight after a season in the National League South, they won’t be willing to go down without a fight. This is a club who within the last five years have finished in sixth and third in The National League…
Danny Searle has had some time to work with his side too after filling the managerial role vacated by Hakan Hayrettin so they will be fresh and no doubt ready to take as many points from the last 15 games to see if they can mastermind a great escape.
The season didn’t begin too brightly for The Iron, and when they visited in October they had only scored nine goals and won once, with manager Brad Quinton, who guided them up from the National League South, relieved of his duties the week before.
Hayrettin returned to the club to help out initially and picked up seven points from nine in his first three games, but gradually results reverted and it was late December before The Iron found another win, away at Maidenhead United.
The rule of Hayrettin came to an end last month though when he accepted the Head Coach role at Maidstone United to work with John Still again, leaving Searle to take charge of affairs, but the highly-rated former West Ham coach appears to have plenty of enthusiasm and is hopeful of creating something solid from the melting pot.
It will be two weeks since Braintree’s last game by the time kick-off comes on Saturday, and Searle’s first match in charge ended in a 2-1 defeat away at Hartlepool, but as before he has had time to work with the squad. This week he added his former West Ham trainee Korrey Henry after the striker left Yeovil Town in January.
Iron fans will be hoping they can build on an impressive 4-0 win against Barnet on their last outing at Cressing Road when loanee Callum Morton scored a hat-trick. It was just their second win at home in the league this season after Dover Athletic were dispatched 2-1 back in October.
One to Watch – Cameron James
The 20-year-old signed on loan from Colchester United earlier in the season but was re-called in November as cover for The U’s, however the versatile defender-come-midfielder wanted a return to the club in order to keep playing and recently expressed his desire to try and keep Braintree safe.
Nine points from safety, or 10 to account for current goal difference, it will be a big ask but it is the sort of determination that Braintree and Searle will need draw upon if they are to give it a go.
Back in October James played in a holding midfield role and had a significant role in stifling Salford’s attempts to play through the middle.
The last time we met Rory Gaffney scored a brace, one goal right at the start and one right at the end which salvaged a point against a clinical Braintree. Mo Bettamer equalised from the penalty spot at the end of the first half before giving The Iron a lead in the second with a cool finish, and Reece Grant tried an ambitious effort from distance that came off the crossbar. But Gaffney poked in an equaliser for Salford in the third minute of added time, and Carl Piergianni went close with a head a couple of minutes later that Ben Killip saved.