‘A watched pot never boils’, said someone once. While I’ve been busy keeping my eye on the drama of the non-league rounds of the FA Cup and my local Isthmian teams something has been boiling down the road. The O’s of Leyton have picked up some momentum. They’re now the top non-league club in the country, or as most people would say they’re top of the National League. Their ascent is somehow expected and surprising at the same time.
Orient are a big club by non-league standards. Most would see them as a Football League club experiencing a couple of fallow years and slumming it in non-league while they get themselves back on their feet. The surprising element of their success is that they’ve turned it around so quickly. They were inconsistent last season, often following impressive wins with poor defeats. So far this season they are unbeaten. The first test of their reign at the top was a trip over to Essex to take on Braintree Town. Newly promoted Braintree were second from bottom but had shown signs of life in recent weeks.
Competition: National League
Ground: Cressing Road
Dogs spotted: None
Who are ya, Braintree Town?
The Iron, as they are known, were formed as Manor Works in 1898. They were the works team of the Crittall Window Company, hence the name. After some time in local leagues, they were renamed Crittall Athletic and in 1928 joined the Spartan League. Seven years later they were founder members of the Eastern Counties League. After WWII the Iron joined the London League and were fairly successful, so much so they initially turned down a return to the Eastern Counties League.
In the 1960s they became Braintree & Crittall Athletic and played in the Eastern Counties and Metropolitan Leagues. In the early 1980s, the Crittall was dropped from the name and ‘Town’ was added. Success soon followed the name change. They won the Eastern Counties League twice and joined the Southern League. They were switched to the Isthmian League for geographical reasons and began their progress up the leagues. In 2001 they were promoted into the Premier Division. Five years later they were champions and joined the National League South.
The Iron won the National League South in 2011 and entered the top tier of non-league football for the first time. They finished third in 2016 and made the promotion play-offs. This success was followed by failure as they were relegated the following season. Braintree Town made it back from the South division at the first attempt following a sixth-place finish and a playoff victory over Hampton & Richmond Borough last season.
Top against nearly bottom
There were signs of life in this part of North Essex. The Iron had just won their first league game with an impressive away victory at Gateshead. They’d followed it up with a good home performance against Maidstone where they were unfortunate to lose the game in the dying seconds. There weren’t many signs of goals, however, as they’re last four games had all finished 1-0. Orient, on the other hand, had won four of their last five games including a 3-0 win away at Harrogate Town from whom they’d taken top spot.
There were also signs of a good crowd. Braintree’s highest gate of the season so far had been 807 for the Maidstone game. Orient sold tickets for twice this amount for the away end before the turnstiles were even open. The final attendance was 2,574 with Os fans packing out the away end and the corners as well a congregating in enclaves all around the ground.
Thankfully everyone was on their best behavior and there was just enough room to move around Cressing Road. The ground has two terraced ends, a covered seating area on one side and some covered terracing opposite. It’s on the traditionally non-league end of the spectrum for National League grounds, but almost entirely full it made for a good atmosphere. Well, I think it did, but it was hard to hear over the exceptionally loud tannoy. More on that later.
On to the other new ground (my 87th in case you’re counting) essentials. The programme covered all bases. Good quality printing, plenty of articles and all the important information you’d need. Braintree’s website was also good fun. It has the look of a fanzine but online. I’m not sure if this is intentional or if it’s just a little dated, but it’s worth a look and is very informative – with the exception of the absence of information about public transport. I was driving anyway, so I’ll let them off this time.
Clinical Orient stay at the summit
The game began with the sounds of Meatloaf still ringing in my ears thanks to the loud tannoy. Orient started brightly roared on by their large following. They soon had the lead. Braintree Town defender Joe Elull appeared to clear the ball and then catch Koroma with his follow through. The ref was quick to point to the spot. Bonne stepped up and scored. Braintree still looked to play. For large portions of the first half they had control of the midfield area through Clark and Della-Verde. They soon found themselves level. Not one but two Braintree Town players tried to level the penalty count by throwing themselves to the ground. The ball then fell to Della-Verde who took the referee’s opinion out of the equation and put the ball into the bottom corner.
The rest of the first half was fairly equal until Orient regained the lead from a long throw. Killip, in goal for the Iron, couldn’t keep hold of the ball, he then made up for it with a superb save. Unfortunately for the keeper, the ball then fell to Ekpiteta who smashed it home. Orient went into the break with the lead and I looked for some ear protectors as the tannoy came back on.
The visitors took control of the game in the second half. The quick runs of their strikers into the channels created endless opportunities. It was a strong contrast to the Braintree Town forwards who were often caught flat-footed under aerial balls that were dealt with easily by Coulson and Ekpiteta. Koroma scored the third as he beat Killip to a through ball and skillfully lobbed the ball over him. Bonne added another as he tapped in from another long throw
Bonne soon completed his hat-trick as he cut in from the left and his deflected effort beat the unlucky Killip at is near post. Braintree Town kept going until the end of the game and had a few openings late on. Their substitutes, hilariously introduced over the tannoy’s announcements sponsored by ‘Mr Kebab’, looked bright but were unable to find a consolation goal.
Orient passed their first test as the top team in the National League. They ultimately had a bit more class at the top end of the pitch than their opponents. Braintree’s season will likely be decided against the teams around them rather than the top sides. Unfortunately, Dover picked up a point at Sutton leaving the Iron bottom of the table for now.