31 March 2012
ALFRETON Town have clambered up to their highest ever position in their 53 seasons, after leaping over Tamworth to claim 15th spot in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
With 24 teams in the division, this compares favourably with the Reds' first three seasons in Conference North when their highest finish was 14th from 22 teams, and indeed Nicky Law could only guide Alfreton to 16th spot in his first season back in 2007/08.
Braintree Town, who were promoted in tandem with the Reds from Conference South, were the latest victims in an incredible March that has seen Alfreton gain 19 points from 24 available as well as clocking up four successive away wins.
The win was gained in tricky conditions with a swirling wind and a rock-hard pitch, but goals from Adam Cunnington and Anton Brown were enough to see them through.
And despite facing Wrexham, York City and Luton Town in the next three games the Reds are all but mathematically assured of a second term at football's fifth level.
Braintree were the first to press with Jai Reason firing over from the edge of the area, then in response Cunnington just failed to connect with Theo Streete's pass in front of goal.
Home keeper Nathan McDonald held Cunnington's deflected free-kick before Jamie Mullan's low drive was held in the 20th minute.
A swift break saw Reason's cross blocked by Adam Quinn, but Alfreton took a 23rd minute lead when Mullan set up Cunnington for a half-volley high into the net from 16 yards that took a slight deflection off a Braintree defender.
Nine minutes later the Essex side were back on level terms when Billy Gibson lashed home from 12 yards from a Reason cross.
Reds' keeper Jon Stewart had to turn behind an angled drive from Sean Marks five minutes before the break, then Gibson was only just off target following a second successive corner.
McDonald fumbled Anthony Wilson's towering header from a Josh Law free-kick under pressure from Brown before clutching at the second attempt, then Brown's nod down almost fell for Wilson from Law's cross.
Brown turned and hooked over as the second half commenced, then Brown played Mullan to the by-line only for McDonald to stand his ground and concede a corner that was wasted.
A long punt from Stewart in the 57th minute found Wilson, who side-stepped a couple of defenders before seeing his shot deflected wide, but five minutes later Alfreton found themselves crucially 2-1 ahead.
Cunnington was sandwiched between defenders close to the by-line and Law's free-kick picked out Brown at the near post for an unstoppable header to send the visiting
A superb save by McDonald from Law's 70th minute volley, after the keeper had parried from Seamus Conneely, kept Braintree in contention.
Six minutes later Stewart saved Ben Wright's low drive, then Aswad Thomas dragged his final touch wide after a strong run.
Another great save by McDonald prevented Jake Moult fom scoring in the 79th minute after a pull-back from Cunnington, but the loose ball bounced a fraction too high for Wilson who headed over from close range.
This latest good save by the Braintree keeper spurred the hosts on and it was down to a trio of saves by Stewart that Alfreton were able to take all three points back to Derbyshire.
Gibson's angled drive was tipped around the post in the 82nd minute, then a low shot from Brad Quinton was held, but Stewart's best save was reserved for the 90th minute when he somehow stopped Matt Paine's full-blooded smash from point-blank range.
Alfreton Town Team:
Jon Stewart, Josh Law, Connor Franklin, Theo Streete, Adam Quinn, Seamus Conneely, Anton Brown, Jake Moult, Jamie Mullan, Anthony Wilson (Paul Clayton 86), Adam Cunnington.
Substitutes not used: Dan Lowson, Greg Young, Nicky Deverdics, Daniel Meadows.
Braintree Town Team:
Nathan McDonald, Aswad Thomas, Adam Bailey-Dennis, Matthew Paine, Pat O'Connor (Nicky Symons 72), Dean Wells, Jai Reason, Kenny Davis (Brad Quinton 72), Billy Gibson, Sean Marks, Ben Wright (Jamie Guy 78).
Substitutes not used: Haxell, Peters.
Braintree Town - Billy Gibson (33)
Alfreton Town - Adam Cunnington (23), Anton Brown (63).
Alfreton Town - Anthony Wilson (59, foul on Nathan McDonald).
Man of the Match: Adam Cunnington
Referee: Mr Steve Martin of Stafford