‘Braintree Town are the Leicester City of the National League’, says Cheltenham Town boss

Cheltenham's Dan Holman

Cheltenham's Dan Holman

Braintree Town have been described as the “Leicester City of the National League” by Cheltenham Town boss Gary Johnson, whose table-toppers visit Cressing Road this afternoon.

Iron occupy the final play-off spot in the division, on goal difference from Tranmere and Eastleigh, but trail Cheltenham by a huge 21 points – the Robins chasing an instant return to League Two.

Today could well be a battle of attrition, not least because Cheltenham (24 goals) and Iron (26) have conceded the fewest goals in the division. Iron have only let in 11 goals, in 19 home fixtures.

“Awkward is a good word to describe Braintree. They are better than that of course, but they are awkward,” admitted Cheltenham boss Johnson.

“They are the Leicester City of the National League, in that nobody expected them to be up there challenging.

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“They just keep getting results. They don’t seem to concede goals and they have something about them to win games. We had a tough game against them at home (1-1) and we know that we have a big game against them again and we have to be on the top of our game to get a result.

“They have a good spirit, you can see that in their game. The two (Cowley) brothers that run the team are very enthusiastic and they will be ready for a tough game.

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“It’s going to be a proper football match, two teams that are going for promotion going head to head and it’s a tough week with two banana skins for both of the teams at the top.”

Iron will have to contend with a red-hot Dan Holman, when the league leaders visit this afternoon.

Holman has plundered 23 goals in 36 appearances in the non-league’s top tier this season, 14 of them during a loan stint at Woking during the first half of the campaign, while still on the books of Colchester, and now nine in just 10 games for high-flying Cheltenham.

And the striker, who had two fruitful seasons at Braintree, between 2012 and 2014, arrives at his old stomping ground fresh off a four-goal blitz against Woking last weekend.

The 25-year-old scored 24 goals in 69 appearances for Iron, before his switch to Colchester, although he never really had a chance to shine in the Football League with the U’s, making just five substitute appearances.

“I’ve come to a top side, with top players, and I know I can score goals, if I play well. We’ve just got to keep it going,” said Holman.

Alan Devonshire brought Holman to Braintree, from Histon, in 2012. It proved to be an inspired signing, with Holman forming a prolific partnership with Sean Marks up front.

Devonshire’s successor, Danny Cowley, is conscious of the big task that his team face today.

“We pride ourselves on being difficult to beat, and I think we have only conceded five goals in the first half all season, which is an incredible effort from the group,” said Cowley.

“We were good defensively against Gateshead (0-0 in midweek), and that is important to us, because at this level we are never going to out-score teams.

“Cheltenham will be a massive challenge to us, playing against the best team in the league.

“But it’s a game that we look forward to, and a game we can go into without any pressure.

“We nearly took all three points at Cheltenham (1-1).

“We scored in the 92nd minute and they score in the 95th, which shows the real fortitude that they have about them.”

Iron have injury concerns over Matt Paine, Kenny Davis and Marks, who all limped off during the goalless draw with Gateshead.

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