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Luton Town 2 Braintree Town 2
Braintree Town made a promising start to their first ever season in the third tier of English football with a 2-2 draw away to Luton Town at Biggleswade on Sunday.
The Irons, in the South East Combination on the back of five successive promotions, went two goals down early on to the Hatters, who were competing in the Premier League last season, but drew level before half time. Braintree had to dig deep to keep out a Luton barrage for much of the second half but went close to taking all three points on a couple of occasions.
After an even start, it was the home team who dominated, Bex Kane broke free on the left to drive in a low shot which Braintree keeper Hannah Streetley pushed out and Laveena Betts fired over. Nicki Livingstone also shot narrowly over just after and Jody Lapish went close with a header on 16 minutes.
Betts then gave the Hatters a deserved lead with neat control and a cool finish from a well flighted free kick on 20 minutes. The goal seemed wake up the Braintree attack and Sian Hall made a fine save to deny Nicola Carty before Kane doubled the lead after some defensive indecision.
Back came Braintree and again Hall dived to save well but Zoe Rushen reduced the deficit with a well placed header from a corner to end a hectic ten minutes. The match was fairly even as the break approached but a Hall handling error on 42 minutes gifted Ella Tooley a simple equaliser.
After the break, Luton, playing with the strong breeze, poured forward and forced a succession of corners which tested Streetley. The tall Braintree keeper stood firm under intense pressure, punching, catching or smuggling away a series of great deliveries helped by a very resolute back four and midfield.
Luton played the ball around very impressively with Betts, Kane, Michelle Byrne and Amy Summerfield linking very effectively to create dangerous situations but the finishing was less incisive.
Lapish again went close with a header from a Nicola Henman free kick and Michelle Byrne shot just over as Braintree struggled for a while to find an outlet to relieve the pressure but gradually the hard work of Helena Golding, Rushen and Beth Irwin amongst others managed to give the back four a little more respite.
Tooley hit the Luton bar with a 30-yard free kick on the hour and Rushen was just over from even further out soon after as the away team threatened sporadically . However, Luton looked the more likely to grab the winner late on, Byrne twice going close, especially with a snap volley just over on 81 minutes, but Braintree held on with great resolution to the final whistle for a well earned point against a good Luton team.
The home side will be disappointed to have dropped points against the newcomers but their team play was impressive for much of the match. Braintree gave a gutsy, resolute performance which suggests that they will compete well at this higher level.
Luton Town: Sian Hall, Helen Brown, Jade Mc Entaggart, Carly Cowell, Nicola Henman, Jody Lapish, Nicki Livingstone, Michelle Byrne, Amy Summerfield, Laveena Betts, Bex Kane. Subs: Katie Davis, Maisie Wyatt, Leah Maddix.
Braintree Town: Hannah Streetley, Aimee Drane, Naomi Berners, Jodie Osborne, Kallie Ferrari, Helena Golding, Alex Bailess, Ella Tooley, Nicola Carty, Zoe Rushen, Beth Irwin. Subs: Danielle Croxford, Daniella Taylor, Jessie Anderson, Sindy Godbold.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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