Bath City FC vs St Albans City

Struggling City slump to solid St Albans

This late October afternoon saw us return to Twerton Park, home of the mighty Romans, Bath City FC. The home side, coming off a disappointing FA Cup exit to lowly Banbury United, had to put recent performances behind them as they faced a visiting St Albans team in good form. Winners of their previous three games, the guests from the east were expected to give City a challenging day.

I was joined by my regular City companion Caleb, and his son, who has been to his fair share of games at Twerton Park. He’s a veteran of the terraces these days. When he’s not busy assessing the shade of Ryan Clarke’s goalkeeper kit (an eye-pleasing yellow), he’s sizing up the opposition and looking for their danger-man.

St Albans had one such player in their squad, 29-year-old striker Shaun Jeffers. Prior to kickoff I’d read that Jeffers had already bagged 12 goals in all competitions this season. Jeffers was the one to watch out for, that much was clear.

The match began and St Albans quickly established a foothold in possession, without seriously troubling Clarke in the City goal. It was Bath that looked to break the deadlock, when Cody Cooke was through on goal and rounded the ‘keeper, only to be brought down in the box. Penalty appeals burst from the fans around us but apparently the referee saw nothing unlawful. We were a bit mystified by that decision, from our vantage point anyway.

City slowly grew into the game but something wasn’t right. There was a disjointed feel to their movement and build-up play. Were they concentrating their efforts through the middle, or down the wings? It was hard to see what the plan was from the stands. You couldn’t fault their effort, particularly from Joe Raynes, who crunched into multiple tackles from his position at right back. But something was off, for sure.

St Albans’ pressure paid off shortly before half time, when a long pass was flicked into the path of Jeffers, who had the simple task of slotting home to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage. We couldn’t really argue with it based on the run of play but the momentum City had built up to that point evaporated when Jeffers’ clinical finish hit the net.

City played better in the second half and had a great chance when midfielder Lloyd James let fly from just outside the area, but saw his fierce drive sail inches wide of the post. The hosts had found a way to effectively disrupt St Albans’ forays forward but City still struggled to create much in attack. Free kicks in promising positions continued to be wasted; unease and frustration crept into the supporters around us.

Just as City were arguably enjoying their first period of dominance, St Albans and that man Jeffers struck once more. On 77 minutes the captain broke clear of Bath’s backline and converted easily to double his side’s lead. It instantly took the wind out of City’s sails and effectively sealed another defeat, Bath’s third in a row.

The final whistle blew and fans filed past us quickly. It had not been a vintage City performance by any means and the disappointment among the crowd was evident; understandably so after this recent stretch of defeats. Ken Loach, the BAFTA award-winning film director and long-time City fan, caught our eye and stopped to briefly share his thoughts with us. Ken sensed perhaps all was not well in the camp, a sentiment we also shared, and highlighted the absence of central defender Ben Gerring.

Gerring, an early captain for City this year and an ever-present in the lineup, had been left out of the squad entirely. Rumblings and rumours on the terraces suggested Gerring and manager Jerry Gill may have fallen out, and the defender’s Twitter post after the match seemed to suggest this to be the case (since deleted).

We said goodbye to Ken and made for the exit. A home defeat like this called for a remedy, and ours came in the form of a trip to McDonalds. Caleb’s son did everything he could to cheer me up. He even gifted me the toy from his happy meal.

A football match can’t guarantee you happiness and victory, not every time, but a happy meal and chicken nuggets will usually do the trick.

Until next time City. We’ll always return to back the Romans.

Bath City FC vs Dartford FC

Exhilarating performance but no result for City boys

Bath were up against it on this glorious summer afternoon in September, hosting league leaders Dartford. The visitors arrived at Twerton Park in fine form, with four straight victories and already on track to fulfil their preseason promotion prediction.

Since my last trip to see City, a comprehensive 3-0 win over Billericay, the Romans have stumbled. A good win away at Tonbridge Angels was followed by a close loss at home to Chelmsford, then an unpleasant 5-1 thrashing away to Oxford City. Jerry Gill’s side were keen to put those losses behind them and a big crowd was on hand to push the home team forwards, with over 1,137 supporters packed into the ground.

I was joined on this day by a blog regular, Tranmere-supporting Matt, who was in town to accompany me for a trip to Twerton. Matt has been to see City a few times and we rarely need an excuse to watch a match together. With the weather so wonderful, we enjoyed pre-match ice creams, to really make the most of these dwindling summer days. Caleb was in attendance too, of course, and met us on the terrace as the game kicked off.

City had a couple of new faces in the squad since my last visit, with Bristol City loanees Josh Owers and Marlee Francois now donning the stripes. Dartford, in a luminous pink Puma kit, had one familiar name on their team sheet that jumped out at me instantly; Jack Jebb, formerly of Arsenal’s academy, was in the Darts’ midfield to pull their strings.

We had barely settled into our positions when the action got underway. Dartford got off to a fast start and came close to taking the lead within a couple of minutes. A cross from the right wing somehow found its way to Dartford striker and National League South veteran Jake Robinson. His point blank effort was superbly saved by Ryan Clarke but the ball still bounced goalwards. And yet, Robinson’s secondary prodded shot fell harmlessly wide. Our group let out an audible sigh of relief. 

Five minutes later and it was City in the ascendancy, and they should have found themselves ahead. Midfielder Tom Smith saw the ball fall to him on the edge of the area and his attempt was cleared off the line by Dartford captain Tom Bonner. Bath continued to play well and had another great chance, when midfielder Omar Holness was put in the clear by an Alex Fletcher pass. Holness’ bursting run from deep found him with just the ‘keeper to beat but his shot crashed low off the outside of the post. The three of us in the stands put our hands to our heads in disbelief – the Romans should have been ahead twice already.

It was a wake up call for Dartford. After two near-misses they went up a gear, and soon established control of the game. With just under half an hour played an uncharacteristic mistake by Bath captain Ben Gerring allowed Robinson to cross to an unmarked Ade Azeez. The striker’s close range header hit Clarke on its way in and Dartford were 1-0 ahead.

The visitors continued to show their quality. With the end of the first half in sight, Dartford doubled their advantage. Jebb curled in a shot from outside the box that was destined for the top corner but Clarke’s acrobatic save denied him. Sadly, the ball was only cleared to Azeez at the back post, who instantly hooked the ball back into danger and Robinson was there to head home to make it 2-0.

It was a big blow for Bath, at the worst possible time. Jebb almost made it 3-0 with a shot that went narrowly over the bar in injury time. Thankfully the referee blew his whistle to bring an end to the suffering. During the break we discussed the early chances City had and how Dartford recovered well to take over the game.

We were in agreement about one thing – City needed a change, in personnel or approach. 

It wasn’t all bad though, because Caleb knew I had enjoyed my birthday recently. He generously gifted me a copy of ‘Football in Sun and Shadow’ by Eduardo Galeano, a classic among football books that I cannot wait to dig into. 

I didn’t have very long to browse my new book as the match soon got started again. City needed to mount a response to reduce their two-goal deficit and within seconds of the restart Fletcher and Cody Cooke combined to sting the gloves of the Dartford goalkeeper. A City corner then found the head of the young loanee Francois, who got free of his marker but saw his headed attempt blocked on the line by Jebb. 

Francois was involved again just moments later when his cross found Fletcher fifteen yards from goal. Fletcher unleashed a vicious shot that was well saved but the rebound fell to Holness, whose diving header was chested off the line by Dartford captain Bonner. Protests for handball were quickly dismissed by the referee. The match had only gotten back underway for a handful of minutes but Bath had enjoyed multiple chances to get back into the tie.

City’s pressure continued to increase and with half an hour remaining they got the goal they so desperately needed. Cooke followed the flight of a long pass and out-jumped his defenders to win the header, nodding the ball into the path of Fletcher. City’s number 7 had the perfect first touch, twisted between two defenders with his fast feet, and shot past the ‘keeper to send the home fans into rapture. It was an outstanding goal, full of poise and composure. From my vantage I was pleading to Fletcher, “shoot, please SHOOT” during each turn and feint, but I needn’t have worried. 

Dartford were on the ropes and the roar of the home crowd only helped cement City’s dominance. Moments later Fletcher should have levelled the score but saw his header wide. Dartford almost put the game beyond reach against the run of play but Azeez was stopped by the impressive Clarke. 

With less than fifteen minutes remaining City had their best opportunity to bring the score level. Francois, my player of the game and a menace all afternoon, attacked the Dartford left back with a strong drive to the byline. With some cute stepovers and his deadly pace, Francois beat his man and crossed to Cooke. The City striker found himself unmarked with only the keeper to beat but Cooke couldn’t control the speed of the cross and turned the ball over the bar.

Cooke stayed down with his face in the grass for a few seconds, as the weight of the miss clearly dawned on him. We couldn’t believe it either. I looked at Matt and Caleb, and the fans around me, and I knew that was a huge game-changing moment.

Five minutes later Cooke had a chance to make amends, put in the clear by Smith, but his poked shot was well saved. It was not going to be Cooke’s day.

Nor was it going to be Bath’s. A City free kick with less than ten minutes remaining was cleared by the Dartford defence and a counter attack was initiated. Dartford raced the length of the pitch and substitute George Porter had an easy task to turn and shoot to put his team 3-1 ahead. Game over.

The final whistle followed soon after and despite the result, I felt no anger, no sadness, not even disappointment. I had witnessed a thoroughly entertaining contest between two excellent sides. Dartford took their chances and City were wasteful, but it was enjoyable viewing nonetheless.

We applauded the players and coaches, who’d worked so hard to get back into the game after a poor first half. Those final 45 minutes provided plenty of positives, enough for me not to worry about three consecutive losses.

They say form is temporary, class is permanent. In my opinion City showed enough class against a strong Dartford team to dispel any worries about where they’re headed this season. 

We’ll be back at Twerton Park to follow them again, that’s for sure.

Bath City FC vs Billericay Town

Home side starts season in style

17 months is a long time to go between matches, for this football fan anyway. March 2020 feels like a different era. Since I last graced the terraces of the ground I call home, Twerton Park, a lot has happened. A lot.

Bath City hosted Weymouth at my last match; the Terras aren’t even in the same league anymore. England spent the summer getting our hopes up; they came so close to bringing it home. Arsenal won the FA Cup, a genuine trophy, but now the club appears to be in the worst shape of my lifetime. Oh, and Lionel Messi doesn’t even play for Barcelona anymore. I did say a lot has happened.

With so much change, I was in desperate need of something familiar. On the opening day of this 2021/22 season I was greeted with exactly that – I finally returned to the charming home of Bath City. As I took in the sights, sounds and smells of Twerton Park on this beautiful summer’s day, everything that’s happened in the past year and a half faded away. Football, proper football, was back.

The day began with a pre-match lunch with Caleb, Camila and Nick, my regular City crew. We relaxed and enjoyed our meals before making our pilgrimage to the ground. With it being the first game of the new campaign we anticipated a large crowd, so it did us no harm to arrive a little earlier than usual.

Naturally, it gave us time to browse the club shop, and Nick had come prepared. After a few minutes inside he emerged as the proud owner of a fresh Bath City home shirt. I made him hold it up like a new signing, so we could all admire it. This season’s design features a new sponsor, local software developers Rocketmakers, with their eye-catching graphic adding a splash of character to the traditional black and white stripes. It took all my willpower not to follow Nick and purchase one too. I’m not ruling out a future purchase, however.

Camila and I inhaled ice creams outside the turnstiles before we filed through the gates. We found our customary spot close to the half way line and started to take in the atmosphere. The players were nearby, warming up to the motivational playlist blasting through the stadium speakers, and I spent some time trying to pick out familiar faces. It proved challenging. The squad has seen a lot of turnover since the 2019/20 season. It’s not unusual for non-league clubs to see players come and go more often than their Premier League peers, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s exciting to see new players in the stripes, especially the guys on loan from clubs in higher divisions.

Speaking of which, Mo Touray, the Welsh under-21 international on loan from League Two Salford City, caught our collective eye. The young striker was announced in the starting eleven, along with a host of other new faces, and we couldn’t wait to see them in action against the visitors from Billericay.

After a stirring opening ceremony, complete with a rousing rendition of Nessun Dorma from tenor Anthony Flaum, the match got underway. But not before both sides took a knee, which I did not expect but was pleasantly surprised to see. Fans all around us reacted with applause; it was quite touching to be a part of.

City were almost ahead with minutes and the catalyst was the new man Touray. The Gambian-born forward effortlessly teased and twisted his defender to the byline before cutting the ball back into danger. The Billericay defence panicked to intervene and inadvertently turned the ball goalwards, only for ‘keeper Bailey Vose to instinctively push the ricochet over the bar.

After City’s bright start both sides tried to settle into a rhythm, with the hosts having the best opportunities. After half an hour City’s midfield dynamo Tom Smith saw a vicious free kick saved by Vose, another impressive stop to deny a spectacular goal.

Just before the break City’s pressure finally paid off and it was Touray who delivered. A City corner could only be cleared to Smith, who found Touray on the edge of the area. The forward faced up his defender before unleashing a fierce left-footed shot at goal. Vose could do nothing to stop Touray’s effort as it flew inside the post to give Bath a 1-0 lead. The celebrations that ensued among our group were over a year in the making; it was such a pure release of jubilation, surely the longest “yessssss” I’ve let go in a long time.

Soon the referee blew his whistle to close the first half, with Touray’s fine finish still fresh in our thoughts. What a way to mark your debut.

Ten minutes into the second half Billericay had their best chance to draw level, when a run from the left wing caused some confusion among the City defenders and goalkeeper Ryan Clarke. After some hesitation the ball was eventually secured in Clarke’s gloves, basically on the line, and disaster was avoided. Billericay continued to build pressure but the defence of Jack Batten, Callum Wood, and new captain Ben Gerring were outstanding. Clarke had a relatively uneventful afternoon thanks to the trio in front of him.

With just over twenty minutes remaining City calmed the nerves and doubled their advantage. A free kick from the left wing eventually made it’s way to City striker Cody Cooke in the penalty area. With his back to goal, the club’s new number 9 held off his defender before a neat turn to create space allowed him the chance to shoot. The strike took a slight deflection off the defender and crawled beyond the reach of Vose, inside the post to make it 2-0 to the hosts. Cooke ran straight to us in celebration and we showered him with applause as his teammates mobbed him. Cooke scored seven goals in preseason and he’ll no doubt be elated to have bagged an opening day goal for his new team, at home no less.

City spent the rest of the game looking to extend their lead and had a number of great chances. But with just a few minutes remaining Billericay forward Jai Reason almost brought the visitors back into the game with an audacious long-range lob from close to the halfway line. Clarke scrambled back for position but tripped to the ground, and was grateful to see the ball crash off the crossbar and harmlessly away. Danger averted.

The home fans need not have worried about any comeback, as City secured victory with a third goal just moments later.

With the clock striking ninety minutes City were on the attack, with Cooke finding winger Alex Fletcher in space on the right flank. Fletcher isn’t really a new signing, having joined the club in January during the pandemic-decimated 2020/21 season. Obviously we hadn’t seen him yet so he was another fresh face for us.

Ten minutes previously Fletcher had missed a glorious chance with just the ‘keeper to beat, his mishit shot saved at Vose’s feet. This time though, Fletcher made no mistake. He burst into the penalty area, accelerating past Billericay’s exhausted left back with ease. Fletcher then struck across goal to the far left corner, a wonderful goal to round off a marvelous overall performance for City.

Three goals, three points, and a clean sheet at home in front of a record opening day crowd. You couldn’t have asked for much more. We stood to clap the players off the pitch for as long as possible. It was so good to be back.

After the final whistle manager Jerry Gill said, “credit goes to my players… it’s all about them.” This is a team that plays for each other and their manager, and that was evident for all to see from their collective performance this day.

I know I speak for Caleb, Camila and Nick when I say we can’t wait to get back to Twerton Park for the next one.