Braintree's Iron resolve

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The Independent Online

In their first Ryman League Premier Division season Braintree Town have exceeded all expectations and are riding high at the top of the table, ahead of far more fancied rivals.

A strong Essex challenge for the title was expected this campaign – but from Canvey Island, who were runners-up to Farnborough Town last term and also won the FA Umbro Trophy. Two goals from the former Ipswich Town striker Neil Gregory earned Canvey a 2-0 home win on Tuesday over Maidenhead United, which moved them up to second place, but they are still in the shadow of Braintree.

It is only 10 years since Braintree, once the works team of a window manufacturing company, left the Eastern Counties League. The Iron, as they are known, initially moved up to the Southern League, but for financial reasons they switched to the Ryman in 1996. In just five years they have climbed from the Third Division to the top of the Premier.

Last Saturday Braintree demonstrated their resilience by recovering from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 home win over Hampton & Richmond Borough. But despite the excitement of his side's superb start to the season, the Iron's manager Ben Embery is not getting carried away. Asked for his priority now, he said: "We've got to avoid relegation." Embery has built a squad full of experience. His captain, the midfielder Nicky Smith, played in Colchester United's Conference and Trophy double-winning side. The defender David Culverhouse is another veteran. Braintree's top scorer, with 74 goals in 105 games, is Robbie Reinelt, who in 1997 scored the goal which saved Brighton & Hove Albion from relegation from the Football League.

Tomorrow Braintree must avoid defeat if they are to stay at the summit of the Ryman. They are away to third-placed Gravesend & Northfleet, who like Canvey are two points behind the Iron. The Islanders are at home to Ernie Howe's capable Basingstoke Town side.

Times are not so happy at another Ryman club. Kingstonian, relegated from the Conference last term, are in crisis. The hard-up Surrey club are on the brink of administration.

Kingstonian have sacked nine players because they cannot pay them but now face breach-of-contract lawsuits. The former Spurs midfielder Steve Sedgley has stepped up from his coach's job to replace manager Bill Williams, who has returned to his former club Dover Athletic.

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