Relegation staved off for league leaders Braintree

SITTING pretty at the top of the league, six points clear at the halfway stage, all thoughts are facing up for Braintree Town.

Leading the Blue Square Bet South, fans have started dreaming of conference football and away days at Luton Town and Wrexham.

But one man heavily connected with the Essex club is a lot more shrewd than that. While Braintree have shocked everyone to lead the sixth tier of English football, chairman Lee Harding admits he is just glad they have gained enough points to stay up.

To understand Harding’s thought process, you have to go back eight months and the heartbreak of missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the season.

Within days of that massive setback, Harding made the difficult but necessary decision to cut the playing budget prompting manager Robbie Garvey to walk away from Cressing Road.

Harding recalled: “We had to regroup in May so we sat down to look at our income and expenditure, and considering things like the economic downturn, we decided to reduce the playing budget.

“We set out a two-year plan - the first year was about being competitive and surviving and then trying to get into the play-offs in the second year. What has happened since has been beyond my wildest expectations.”

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From such humble aspirations, Braintree have shocked everyone with some fantastic flowing football and consistency to match.

Sean Marks has led the way with 19 goals while former Ipswich Town trainee and Cambridge United player Jai Reason is pulling the strings from midfield.

Off the pitch, Rod Stringer took over from Garvey and, complemented by ex-West Ham and Northern Ireland defender Keith Rowland as coach, he got Harding’s frugal vision from the start.

The chairman revealed: “Rod came in and was impressed by our stability and also our sensible and sustainable approach. He has a good business head on him and Keith is a shrewd tactician and a devotee of playing good football. So it is working very well.”

As for the future, Harding revealed that the club had passed the necessary regulations to achieve promotion to the Conference but then face spending �100,000 to carry out improvements once they get there.

But first Braintree have to achieve promotion to the Blue Square Premier. Local rivals Chelmsford could cut their lead in half if the Clarets win their game in hand while Bromley, Farnborough, Welling United and Eastleigh are among the chasing pack.

Town have some difficult games coming up including tricky trips to Woking today and Dartford on Tuesday night as well as home and away matches against Chelmsford.

Reflecting on their success so far, Harding added: “We have an honest manager, an honest group of lads and a realistic set of supporters, but the most important thing is that we are debt-free. There are no false promises and if the unthinkable happens and we get promotion, then we will take it from there.”

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