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Ebbsfleet Utd 1-1 Braintree
EBBSFLEET United mathematically secured their Conference status with a draw against Braintree Town on a drizzly Easter Monday afternoon at Stonebridge Road.
In an uneventful game, the main talking points came from the referee, who awarded first half penalties to both sides before controversially deciding against giving the hosts a second spot kick when it appeared Calum Willock had been fouled.
Ebbsfleet manager Liam Daish made two changes from the side which lost to Forest Green Rovers, with Tom Phipp and Liam Bellamy starting in place of Ricky Shakes and Neil Barrett.
On the back of a 3-1 victory against Luton, Braintree manager Alan Devonshire fielded a rigid 4-4-2 formation that was solid throughout and very difficult to break down.
The game started quietly with neither side able to carve out many opportunities.
In fact, the first real chance came after a quarter of an hour and fell to Braintree defender Matt Paine, whose header from a corner was straight at keeper Lance Cronin.
Cronin also had to be alert to save well from Ben Wright’s shot following a mistake by Ebbsfleet captain Paul Lorraine.
The hosts then produced a flowing counter-attacking move that ended with Liam Enver-Marum crossing for Willock, but the striker fired over while stretching.
However, Willock made amends for this in the 30th minute, dispatching a penalty past Braintree’s Nathan McDonald after being tripped in the area by Paine.
The lead lasted only four minutes as the visitors were awarded a penalty themselves. Ebbsfleet failed to clear a corner and the ball broke to Sean Marks, who went down after a clash with Ross Smith.
The referee pointed to the spot and Ben Wright powerfully finished past Cronin to ensure the two sides went in level at half-time.
The second-half was a drab affair, with the hosts having the majority of possession but lacking the inspiration to break down a resolute Braintree defence.
Midway through the half, Willock went down in the box after it appeared he was manhandled by defender Ryan Peters.
However, despite protests from fans and players alike, the referee allowed play to go on.
This allowed Braintree to quickly break and Kenny Davis almost added to the controversy, but his shot flashed across the goal and wide.
The game meandered on, with neither keeper being tested until the very last minute of the game, when Enver-Marum’s low free-kick looked like it may have given Ebbsfleet victory.
But McDonald got down well to turn the ball away as both sides were forced to settle for a point.
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Ebbsfleet: Cronin, Stone, Lorraine, Smith, Howe (Herd 56), Phipp (Shakes 71), Marwa, Bellamy, West, Willock (Pinney 80), Enver-Marum. Subs not used: McNeil, Barrett. Att: 938.