All you need to know about tomorrow's opponentsThis weekend is another first for Bristol Rovers as they face Braintree Town for the very first time. Sitting just above Rovers on the table, the Iron are coached by former West Ham hero Alan Devonshire.
Devonshire was recently linked to the Colchester United vacancy and it is no great surprise as he has done such a great job with the Essex team.
Formed in 1898 as Manor Works they took over the fixtures of the disbanded Braintree F.C. in the North Essex League. In 1935 they were founder members of the Eastern Counties League. They won their second ECL title in 1983–84 and retained it the following season. In 1986–87 they won the Essex Senior Trophy and the following season they won the League Cup.
After a chequered league existence, in 2005–06 they earned promotion to the Conference South. They reached the play-offs in their first season in the Conference South, but lost 1–0 to Salisbury City in the final.
They also reached the play-offs the following season, but lost to Eastbourne Borough in the semi-finals. In 2010–11 they finished as Conference South champions, earning promotion to the Conference Premier.
Devonshire has warned Iron supporters that last season's top-six finish does not guarantee Conference Premier survival this time around. It was a highest-ever finish for the part-time outfit.
Fellow part-timers Southport came seventh two years ago, but followed that up with finishes of 20th and 18th - something Devonshire wants to avoid. Speaking before the start of the season he said, "We have to make sure that doesn't happen to us, we need to get that 51 points as quickly as possible and move on from there."
The Iron have lost striker Dan Holman to Colchester and defender Dean Wells to Stevenage, "The players have given me everything over the three years," said Devonshire, "Everyone says 'what can we do after finishing sixth?' I'm still a realist."
In their latest game Braintree returned from the Impact Arena on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Alfreton Town in front of 442 spectators. A dour first half saw the teams go in level at 0-0.
Just after the hour a Dan Sparkes left wing cross found Kenny Davis whose header went back over the defence into the far corner of the net. On 70 minutes Devonshire made a double substitution in attack bringing on new signing Simeon Akinola and Sean Marks.
The Iron made the game safe on 78 minutes when from a long Sam Habergham throw-in on the left Marks caused mayhem in the home area with a header that fell behind but only into the path of Sparkes who drove the ball low into the corner of net giving keeper Cameron Dawson no chance.
Talking about his new signing, Devonshire said, “Simeon gives us something different up front. I’ve watched him a few times and he has great potential.”
The former West Ham midfielder is still looking at signing a defender, “I am talking to a club below our level about a player and I hope to have him on board later. I’m looking at players all the time which is part of my job to try and improve what we already have and try and make us stronger.”
Written by Gerry Prewett.