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Braintree Town have made a remarkable rise up the women's football pyramid and they can look forward to Combination League football next season after they clinched the Eastern Region League Premier Division title on Sunday with a 1-0 win over rivals Chelmsford City.
After four straight promotions in the team's first four seasons in ladies football, it is fair to say that expectation levels at Cressing Road were relatively high as the team stepped up to the Premier Division for the first time, but the players exceeded even their manager's expectations.
Iron boss David Streetley originally aimed for a top half finish for his squad, saying: "I was always confident that we would be competitive at this level because of the set up we have and the players' attitudes, but the way the season panned out surprised even me."
Two defeats in the first three games were followed by a run of eight straight wins in all competitions as the Braintree squad adapted admirably to the higher level and by the time winter arrived, the team were sitting comfortably in mid-table and still involved in both league and county cup competitions.
Nevertheless Braintree were never out of the running for the title because of a wide open race which saw at least eight clubs still in with a chance until the latter stages of the season. "The break in fixtures didn't do us any favours because we had played fewer league games than just about anyone else," added Streetly, "but credit to the players because they worked hard and when we got back to playing there was a real determination within the squad."
Town would go on and win eight from ten games, taking themselves in the process from mid-table to the leadership and setting up a crucial decider against local rivals Chelmsford City, but by that point Streetley was confident, saying: "We'd been in that situation in the previous couple of seasons and you could see how much it meant to the players. The pressure was on Chelmsford because they had dropped a few points, but we handled everything they could throw at us and in the end could have scored more than just the one goal."
Looking ahead to the prospect of playing in the South East Combination, Streetley was optimistic, saying: "We know it will be very tough, but we aren't going up just to make up the numbers. To win five titles and promotions in five years shows the adaptability of the squad, but I'm looking to add a couple of players because of the level we are playing at now."
The existing squad have individual fitness plans for the summer, and the club will run rehab and pre-season sessions as well for its players. Streetley isn't expecting too much of a break but he is not complaining. "I'll have a week off, but we're already planning for pre-season and next year. We'll publish the information on our website for the players and we're looking to get the squad away for a few days during pre-season, but as you'd expect the whole squad is buzzing and the club are putting on a presentation bash for us which is greatly appreciated."
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