Vanarama National League

As defeats go, this one at Eastleigh was a tough one to take for Braintree Town as they were just unable to get a deserved point against a side pressing for the Vanarama National League play-offs.

It was a heroic loss for the Iron, but was ultimately a frustrating game as they paid for conceding from two early corners and were unable to profit from the chances then created.

Two headed goals from the prolific Paul McCallum headers at almost identical set pieces saw the Spitfires into a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes, leaving Braintree having to show all the fight that they will need if they are to win their struggle against relegation this year.

Cameron James did halve the deficit before the break, however, other chances weren’t taken and that again was costly for the Iron.

Callum Morton was denied from the penalty spot by a great save, while Rob Atkinson saw a late effort cleared off the line and even with the hosts reduced to ten men for the final part of the game, the Iron just could not get an equaliser to take a point that their effort had merited.

There was one change for the Iron from the side that had beaten another high-flying side - Salford City - seven days earlier and it was one enforced by the midweek departure of Justin Amaluzor.

He had exited to link up with former Braintree boss Hakan Hayrettin at Maidstone United in signing a deal with the Kent side until the summer of 2020 and that saw an opportunity for Ifeanyi Allen to make his first start for the Iron.

Despite the way their previous game ended, Braintree had to weather a lively start from the hosts, but they did just that and managed to take some of the sting out of the home side.

With the Spitfires not looking threatening in open play, it took a set play for Braintree’s defences to be breached and it came from Eastleigh’s first corner in the 13th minute.

It was taken by former Colchester United midfielder Mark Yeates and met by the head of MCallum who powered the ball in for his 18th goal of the season that gave Iron keeper Ben Killip no chance.

It was a blow for Braintree and one that they failed to learn from as just four minutes had passed when the hosts extended their lead in identical fashion.

The second goal came from another corner delivered by Yeates and met too easily by another bullet header from McCallum as he scored his fourth goal in two games to leave the Iron with a mountain to climb.

The ascent could have been shortened on 20 minutes as Morton latched on to a mis-placed pass by the home defence and it took a save from Eastleigh keeper Luke Southwood to deny the Iron striker.

However, a helping hand up looked to have arrived on 25 minutes when Braintree were awarded a penalty.

It came when Eastleigh’s Joey Jones made a challenge on Korrey Henry that referee Sam Allison felt was a foul and pointed straight to the spot.

Morton stepped forward to take it after converting from the spot as part of his hat-trick in the 4-0 win against Barnet, but this time he saw the ball saved superbly by Southwood before the ball was hacked away in a frantic scramble in the Eastleigh area.

Still finding themselves two behind after two good chances was frustrating for the visitors and they almost fell further back on 35 minutes.

A poor pass from Courtney Richards allowed McCallum to break through one-on-one with Killip, but the Spitfires man fluffed his lines this time as he put the ball wide under pressure from Rob Atkinson.

At the other end, though, another mistake from Jones saw Sam Kelly get in on goal, but he was unable to find the target as Eastleigh somehow held on to their advantage.

That didn’t last, though, as Braintree did make the breakthrough on 42 minutes.

It was from another corner and came as Ricky Gabriel swung a cross to the outside of the box where James hit the ball on the volley into the bottom corner of the net.

Morton then had a great chance to pull Iron level as he raced forward straight from the restart and it took yet another great stop by Southwood to keep the hosts ahead at half-time.

After their strong finish to the first half, Braintree found themselves under pressure again at the start of the second and it took a decent punched clearance by Killip to deny Chris Zebroski.

However, the Spitfires were unable to restore their two-goal lead and Iron were lifted again when Eastleigh were reduced to ten men on 62 minutes.

Having already earned a yellow card for dissent after half-time Cavaghn Miley added to the hosts’ build-up of cautions when a poor challenge on Henry saw him earn a second booking and a red card.

It left his team-mates to battle on with ten men.

With Eastleigh looking to slow the pace of the play down, the Iron went tirelessly looking for an equaliser and it took some frantic defending from the hosts to finally clear from a corner on 80 minutes.

It was all Braintree by this stage as they pushed hard for a leveller and thought they had it when Morton beat Southwood to the ball in the home area.

However, an Andrew Boyce header off the line from Atkinson’s shot somehow maintained the hosts’ lead.

The Iron continued to throw everything at the Eastleigh goal, including a long-range effort from Oscar Borg that flew just over the bar, but with the hosts shutting up shop, a breakthrough just wouldn’t come and Iron were unable to pull themselves level at the final whistle.

Braintree Town: Ben Killip, Andrew Eleftheriou, Rob Atkinson, Ricky Gabriel (Lyle Della-Verde 89), Kodi Lyons-Foster, Cameron James, Courtney Richards (Oscar Borg 79), Sam Kelly, Callum Morton, Korrey Henry, Ifeanyi Allen (Luke Allen 79).

Subs not used: Mo Sagaf, Daniel Matzusaka.

Referee: Sam Allison.