Local derby promises to be a top-of-the-table cracker

JUST weeks after it could have been a clash between the top two teams of the Blue Square Bet South, Chelmsford City will go into tonight’s local derby against Braintree Town looking to get their stuttering promotion bid back on track.

A run of just four wins from their last 10 matches has seen City slip to fourth - and 11 points behind their opponents at the Melbourne Stadium tonight (7.45pm ko).

At the same time, Braintree have shown the consistency of champions, winning 10 of their last 12 games and opening up a six-point lead at the top with a game in hand on second placed Ebbsfleet United.

Although Town had more modest expectations at the start of this season, they now stand on the verge of possible promotion to the Blue Square Premier and matches against Wrexham, Cambridge United and Luton.

Tonight will prove another big test for Rod Stringer’s men with Chelmsford something of a wounded animal at present.

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A run of three games without a win was followed by an impressive nine points from nine this month. But a draw at Thurrock and Saturday’s defeat against second placed Ebbsfleet United - when they had taken a two-goal lead - means Glenn Pennyfather must again look to find the necessary consistency.

He has strengthened his squad with three new acquisitions in the last couple of weeks. Striker Ali Chaaban signed from Boreham Wood while Pennyfather also brought in young Colchester United loanee midfielder Jordan Sanderson.

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And he followed this up with the temporary signature of 19-year-old Millwall winger Kiernan Hughes-Mason who came on for his debut on Saturday.

While obviously disappointed by the nature of the defeat, with the sending off of defender Sami El-Abd a crucial turning point, Pennyfather praised his players for the chances they created in the first half against Ebbsfleet.

Former Southend United striker Wayne Gray scored twice at the weekend and his fledgling partnership with Chaaban should again be relied upon tonight.

But Braintree are certainly not short of firepower themselves with Sean Marks’ 22 goals making him the second highest goalscorer in the league.

Behind him, former Ipswich Town youth player Jai Reason, who also played in the Conference play-off final with Cambridge United, has become a key man for the league leaders this season who also boast the meanest defence in the league.

Chelmsford, who lost the corresponding tie 3-0 in August, are hoping for an attendance around the 1,000-mark, if not more, and Braintree have confirmed that they are laying on an additional coach to cope with their supporters’ demand.

n For full coverage of this cracking local derby, buy tomorrow’s East Anglian Daily Times and follow davegoods on www.twitter.com

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