The Town made it 10 games unbeaten in the Skrill Premier with a determined 2-1 victory at bogey team Braintree.
Goals from Paul Benson and Andy Parry had the Hatters 2-0 up but a goal from home substitute Dan Holman made for a nervy final quarter but, on a gluepot of a pitch, the Hatters held on to secure a crucial win – their first in three visits to the Almin Stadium – which lifted John Still’s side up to second in the table.
On a bobbly pitch the Town – showing five changes to the side that exited the FA Cup at Welling on Saturday – began well, confidently passing on a surface not that conducive to playing football on.
Mark Tyler was the first of the two goalkeepers to be called into action when he kept out an on-target free-kick from Braintree’s Daniel Sparkes on 11 minutes before the Hatters upped the ante.
As the game swung from end to end, the Town were defending well against the aerial bombardment from the hosts but continued to impress playing football going forward.
Andre Gray, back in the side after overcoming a slight hamstring injury, did brilliantly on 24 minutes with a solo effort which saw him speed clear several Braintree defenders, but the striker was thwarted by a block by the body of the on-rushing Nik Hamann, the home goalkeeper.
You felt that a Town goal was on its way and, on the half-hour mark, it came. Gray was key, racing around the Braintree defence to lay on a shot for Alex Lawless. His shot was cleared off of the line by Dean Wells but the ball was sent back into the penalty area by Parry and his effort was tapped home by Benson two yards out for his sixth goal of the season.
It was no more than the Hatters deserved, but Braintree should have equalised on 36 minutes when Wells somehow nodded wide of the target from two yards with the goal at his mercy after the Town had allowed a left-wing corner to bounce menacingly in the six-yard box.
Braintree ended the first period on top, and a number of clearances – notably from Steve McNulty – kept the hosts at bay as the Town ended a spirited first 45 minutes in front.
The Town came close to finding a second 11 minutes after the restart when Benson and Gray combined well down the right but the latter’s low cross was acrobatically cleared by Kenny Davis as Jake Howells and Benson attempted to get to the ball.
As the Hatters continued to push for a second Gray almost fashioned another chance out of nothing when he took on the Braintree defence. His cross was flicked goalwards by Howells but his effort got stuck in the muddy goalmouth and Gray’s fierce follow-up was deflected wide.
However, the Town didn’t have to wait long for a second as, on 75 minutes, Parry fired home after Benson’s effort following a Howells corner was cleared off the line.
The Hatters’ two-goal cushion, however, was short lived as 30 seconds later Braintree pulled a goal back when substitute Holman stuck a shot that swerved from distance and arched over a stranded Tyler.
It was all Braintree as the Town came under pressure and the Hatters needed to substitute the injured McNulty for Jim Stevenson.
As the hosts pressed for a leveller, a left-wing cross from ex-Hatter Newman Carney caused panic in the Town defence when any touch would have tested Tyler, before the goalkeeper needed to be alert to keep out Holman’s poked effort from the edge of the box.
Time continued to tick down and Braintree threatened from set pieces, with both centre-halves, Paine and Wells, heading over from good positions following right-wing corners.
The Town scrapped and fought for every ball in the dying stages. Tyler pulled off a fine save from substitute Luke Daley in the third of four added minutes.
Braintree pushed and pushed and pushed but the Hatters held on in the face of the barrage of high balls in the box and after a tense final minute of added time the Town clung on to a vital three points.
TOWN: Tyler; Henry, Griffiths, McNulty (sub Stevenson 62), Lacey; Smith, Parry; Lawless, Howells, Gray; Benson (sub Cullen 78).
Subs not used: Justham, Guttridge, Whalley.
ATTENDANCE: 1,518, including 728 backing the Town.