After a number of away games in which Sutton were entitled to be regarded as the underdogs, they returned to Gander Green Lane on Tuesday against a side in the bottom four and without an away win yet this season, but after a first half that suggested the game would go as the formbook would suggest, a needlessly conceded goal on the stroke of half time changed the complexion of the game. They never regained their fluency after the break, and although they probably deserved a point, and with Braintree reduced to ten men with five minutes to go would have still hoped or more, a spectacular strike by Chez Isaac just as the game entered stoppage time denied them even that, and for the first time under Paul Doswell's managerial reign U's suffered a third consecutive league defeat.
With Dean Beckwith nursing a groin injury there was a first appearance of the season for Louis John in the Sutton defence, but it was the more attacking players who had the greater involvement in the first half as U's had much of the pressure. Against the run of play it was Braintree who had the first chance as Simeon Akinola turned Brandon Goodship's cross just over from close range, but that was a rare foray in to U's half and soon afterwards Ross Stearn was fouled just outside the penalty area and Nicky Bailey's free kick went just too high.
The best chance of the half fell to Bedsente Gomis after Chris Dickson had skilfully guided a high ball in to his path inside the penalty area, but the ball wouldn't quite come down in time and a defender's challenge forced Gomis to volley over the bar. The breakthrough did come, though, just over ten minutes before the break when Kevin Amankwaah combined well with Stearn and was cutting in to the penalty area when he was brought down by Isaac, who was booked. Despite Braintree's protests referee Antony Coggins ruled that the contact was inside the area, and Bailey made it three out of three from the spot this season.
That should have seen U's in at half time with a deserved lead, but a nasty collision between defender Jake Goodman and his goalkeeper Sam Beasant as they tried to prevent Dickson reaching a through ball led to a dazed Goodman being replaced, and four minutes of injury time, and that was enough for Gomis to be caught in possession deep inside his own half as U's failed to clear their lines following a free kick, and Sam Matthews put Michael Cheek through to go round Ross Worner, whose challenge sent the former Chelmsford striker tumbling. Worner was booked, and Isaac levelled from the resulting penalty.
The goal gave Braintree something to hold on to in the second half and meant that U's had to regain the initiative, and they were helped when Jon Ashton, who had replaced Goodman, needed attention for a cut head and while the opponents were down to ten men Amankwaah headed back a deep Dan Wishart cross and Gomis saw his header brilliantly turned over the bar by Beasant. Within minutes, though, Braintree had had a chance of their own as Cheek's cross from the left was met by Akinola, whose shot lacked the power to beat Worner.
U's made a double substitution soon afterwards, and there was another stoppage as injured assistant referee Sam Lewis also need replacing, and Roarie Deacon almost made an immediate impact with a run down the right and a low cross which Dickson just failed to reach. Stearn was also just wide with a dipping, curling effort from the corner of the penalty area, but at the other end Akinola's dangerous run ended with a shot that was only inches wide of Worner's left hand post.
The next pivotal moment came with five minutes left, involving U's other two substitutes as Max Biamou won a good header and Dickson's fine pass sent Ryan Burge clear. He only had Beasant to beat when he was hauled back by Ian Gayle, who was inevitably sent off, his earlier booking irrelevant as the referee showed him a straight red, but the foul had occurred yards outsude the penalty area, and Jamie Collins' free kick was disappointingly over the bar.
Burge was denied, this time legally, by Beasant as he again found himself beyond the last defender, and the announcement of six additional minutes gave U's every opportunity against ten men to grab the decisive goal, but scarcely had the board been lowered than Braintree attacked on the break, Akinola squared a pass to Isaac, and as U's stood off Isaac punished them with a missile of a shot from all of 25 yards that flew beyond Worner in to the top far corner and sparked wild celebrations among the visiting supporters now enjoying their team's first away win of the season.
Braintree: S Beasant, J Okimo, I Gayle, J Goodman(sub J Ashton 45+3), C Braham-Barrett, S Corne, S Matthews(sub J Maybanks 82), C Isaac, B Goodship(sub L Barnard 59), M Cheek, S Akinola. Subs n/u B Williams, H Lee. Booked: Gayle, Corne, Isaac, Braham-Barrett. Dismissed: Gayle (foul denying goalscoring opportunity).