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.