Chippenham Town vs Bath City FC

Away Day Victory For City Boys

We were walking away from Hardenhuish Park, home to Chippenham Town, and Caleb’s 6-year-old son looked to me and said, “Ash, how many football games have you seen?”

I paused and realised, I am finally reaching the stage where I’m losing count. Not that I keep count, not really. But I’ve seen so many football matches in recent years that I couldn’t provide an acceptable answer.

Despite seeing so many games, this visit to Chippenham Town was a first. As a group, we had yet to venture away from the comfy confines of Twerton Park to follow the Romans on the road. This New Year’s Day trip to Chippenham was a perfect opportunity to make amends. What better way to ring in the new year than a day at the football?

I had a horrid cold as we boarded the train but was determined to put it behind me. Camila made the trip immediately better when she presented Caleb and I with our Christmas gifts: for the two Gooners, she baked us Arsenal gingerbread men. Vintage 03/04 Ljungberg for me please.

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The train journey from Bath to Chippenham is short, roughly 10 minutes, and we quickly found ourselves walking the path towards the ground of City’s local rivals. A charming little ground that celebrated it’s 100th anniversary last year, the 3,000 capacity home to the Bluebirds can be found in a leafy and welcoming part of the town.

As Camila and I strolled through the main stand I noticed Simon Howe on the pitch, Bath City’s club photographer. Just as I caught sight of him, he was aiming his lens right at us. I wasn’t sure at the time but had a feeling we’d been given the celebrity treatment.

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Camila and I caught on camera

We completed our lap before finding our spot for the first half and overall it was a relaxed atmosphere as we settled in. The first thing I noticed was the incline of the pitch – Bath faced an uphill battle in more ways than one. The visitors were wise to choose the difficult option for the first half and could attack downhill for the final 45 minutes.

The match soon got underway and City instantly established control of the game and kept possession well. Within 10 minutes the visitors should have gone ahead when Ryan Brunt headed home at the back post. The veteran striker wheeled away in celebration but the referee adjudged there to be foul play and unfairly ruled the goal out.

Brunt had the opportunity thanks to an excellent cross from Joe Raynes, and the young right back was everywhere in the opening half. We had a front row seat on the right wing to witness his marauding runs and he was unlucky not to open the scoring himself shortly after half an hour of play. Tom Smith found Raynes in the box and he put his defender on the ground with a neat Ronaldo-chop, shifting the ball onto his left foot in the process. With a chance to shoot at goal, sadly his shot curled just over the bar.

Half time was almost upon us but Chippenham were starting to find their feet. A clearance was headed back towards the Bath goal and managed to evade everyone to find Chippenham striker Chris Zebroski. The forward kept his composure and made no mistake putting the ball past Ryan Clarke to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

The goal came as a shock, totally against the run of play, but to our relief Bath replied instantly. With injury time about to expire, a cross from the right (again) found the head of Adam Mann, whose neat flick behind him met the patient Brunt. The big man simply had to tap into an empty net. This time there was no referee interference, it counted, and the score was tied at 1-1. The travelling support behind the goal were singing Brunt’s praises and City deserved to be back in the game.

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For the second half we moved downfield to be closer to the goal Bath would be attacking. It proved to be the right decision as City were utterly relentless from the moment the game got back underway.

We were stationed close to the away bench and could hear Jerry Gill and Jim Rollo barking their instructions to their team with perfect clarity. It was fascinating to listen to their reactions and feedback as the the match wore on.

It was amazing we could hear anything they were saying, such was the level of noise coming from the away support. I had never heard the City faithful in such high spirits, with song after song being bellowed from behind the goal. The poor Chippenham keeper had a rough time of it all afternoon, tormented by the travelling fans for the smallest of things. The man couldn’t even drink from his water bottle without being heckled.

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City’s dominance on the pitch soon paid off. With just over 20 minutes left in the game Mann collected the ball in his half and took off, running at the retreating Chippenham defenders. They had to haul him down to avert the danger but the free kick opportunity from 30 yards was too tantalising for Tom Smith to turn down.

As Smith and Noah Chilvers stood over the ball, I addressed the group. “Guys,” I said, “this one is going in, top corner.” No one was listening, all eyes glued to the ball as the set piece began. Chilvers rolled the ball to the side ever so slightly and Smith connected perfectly. The Chippenham keeper stood no chance and the ball flew past him into the top right corner, just as I’d proclaimed moments before. We celebrated wildly, Caleb’s son just about staying on his Dad’s shoulders. It has to be one of the best goals I’ve ever seen a Bath City player score, a real peach.

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Still in shock from the goal (and my newfound psychic abilities), it wasn’t long before City had the chance to put the result beyond doubt, when they were awarded a penalty after some nifty footwork from Ross Stearn. Smith put the ball down on the spot to add to his tally but was unfortunate to see his effort saved. To his credit, the Chippenham keeper did really well to palm Smith’s effort away. Despite the penalty miss, Smith still deserved my Man of the Match award for his overall performance. He ran the show and everything positive went through him.

With the final whistle approaching, Chippenham were dead on their feet and Bath finally put them out of their misery. Once again the neat play came down the right flank and Smith crossed a dangerous ball into Bristol City loanee Louis Britton. The young striker controlled the bouncing ball on his chest in the six-yard box, before connecting on a vicious volley to make it 3-1. It was an acrobatic finish for Britton, a memorable goal to open his account for his new club.

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Gill and Rollo raced past us on the touchline when the ball crashed into the net, with Rollo rolling back the years with an acrobatic move of his own in celebration. The two then embraced, safe in the knowledge that their team had secured all the points, lifting Bath up to second in the league.

We stayed a while to celebrate at the final whistle, applauding the team off the pitch. We all agreed it had been one of the best City games we’d experienced, and well worth the 10 minute journey east of Bath.

Here’s to more away days with the Romans in 2020 and beyond!

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Bath City FC vs Wealdstone FC

City Repel League Leaders In 0-0 Stalemate

After the final whistle, Jerry Gill marched his side in our direction so his players and staff could applaud the home supporters, after what had been a challenging afternoon at Twerton Park.

Bath City played host to top of the table Wealdstone on this bleak and breezy December day. Our group spent the hours prior to kickoff fueling ourselves on burgers at Magu Diner so we were suitably prepared for the conditions.

This was a battle of two teams at the top of their division, with Bath unbeaten at home since August and Wealdstone flying high atop the league. The visitors had travelled well and brought considerable support from north London. Their fans were in high spirits as the match got underway.

Sadly for spectators, the game was a pretty dour affair from an entertainment perspective, with very little to get excited about from an attacking standpoint. One for the purists perhaps. This is going to be a short post because chances were extremely limited for both sides. Wealdstone were content to waste time in the second half, apparently happy with a point away from home and a clean sheet.

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Bath couldn’t find their stride and struggled to link play in the final third all afternoon. They improved as the second half progressed but still lacked that extra something to truly test Wealdstone’s disciplined defence. Bath’s midfield dynamo Tom Smith, the reigning Vanarama National League South Player of the Month, was energetic as always but even he couldn’t unpick the lock.

Centre back Dan Bowry, a recent loanee to the club from Cheltenham Town, showed his class with a fine defensive performance and kept the Wealdstone forwards from creating much of a threat. It was our first time seeing Bowry in person and it’s clear his ceiling is beyond this tier of the English football ladder.

In all honestly the match was a largely forgettable affair but Bath will be happy with the result. A clean sheet against the league leaders is impressive and the unbeaten run at home lives on.

Arsenal FC vs Southampton FC

The build-up to this game could not have been worse. The atmosphere at Arsenal has been about as toxic as it’s ever been, on par with Arsene Wenger’s final years certainly.

The players have not been performing. There’s been a distinct lack of style and organisation on the pitch and results have suffered. Recent outrage and controversy surrounding Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil have left the club reeling inside and out. Arsenal FC are once again a laughing stock.

The blame has largely fallen on the shoulders of one man, Arsenal’s head coach Unai Emery.

The fanbase are almost unanimous in their belief that Emery is no longer the man to take this famous club forward. Everyone has their own method of voicing their opinion but ultimately the belief is the same: Emery is not the man for the job.

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Heading into this game, this Saturday 3pm kickoff against Southampton FC, many hoped Emery would be out of the picture but alas the Spaniard is still here, still in charge (seemingly). Our North London neighbours didn’t dither with the uncertainty surrounding their manager; Spurs spent the international break facilitating the release of Mauricio Pochettino and hiring of Jose Mourinho. A match made in heaven.

Arsenal, for some inconceivable reason, are sticking to their guns, stating that Emery has the full support of the board and the club. Results must improve though, because it’s clear he’s on borrowed time. After a string of limp and uninspiring performances, the visit of Southampton had become a must win game – dropping points to relegation candidates is no longer acceptable. It never was.

With that in mind I caught the train into London around midday and met my Dad, brother and nephew for a quick lunch. Central London was in full Christmas shopping mode already, which made finding somewhere to sit down and eat a chore – we settled on a nearby Shake Shack. Good burgers, great fries, and an outstanding milkshake left me a happy man. With our bellies full, Dad and I bid farewell to the others and headed north.

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Usually when I go to Arsenal I like to get there early and take in all the sights, browse the shop, go to the pub and all that. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been before, it’s still part of my matchday ritual. However, Dad isn’t quite as sentimental, so on this occasion we got to our seats with 15 minutes to spare.

Within minutes of the kickoff, we wished we hadn’t bothered going at all.

I’m not going to do a full match analysis. By now you already know what happened and that’s not really what this blog is for.

I will say that right from the start we could tell Emery’s tactics were wrong. He opted to play five at the back but this did nothing to stem the Southampton attacks. Arsenal were outnumbered in midfield and couldn’t deal with the Saints’ press, especially when they insisted on playing out from the back, something this squad are just not capable of doing. When Danny Ings scored after 8 minutes to give the visitors the lead, it felt inevitable. Arsenal simply could not stop surrendering chances.

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Alexandre Lacazette equalised after 18 minutes but despite the fine build-up and finish for the goal, it did nothing to upset the tone Southampton had already set; they continued to press and move effectively through a non-existent Arsenal midfield. The referee didn’t help matters and was generally abysmal in everything he did.

At half time Dad and I discussed changes and I felt one of the centre backs needed to be sacrificed for a substitute, preferably Pepe. Emery must have been listening, as that was exactly the change he made at the break.

Pepe’s introduction initially brought some balance to the side but it was clear to all that the Ivorian’s confidence is dangerously low. He missed what was essentially a one-on-one that could have changed the game entirely, the winger opting to pass instead of shoot, only to see his lame attempt blocked and cleared. Pepe also saw a scuffed attempt ricochet off the bar, after a great run and cross from left back Kieran Tierney. Pepe never recovered from the setback and was largely absent from the action for the rest of the game.

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With just under 20 minutes remaining Southampton were awarded a penalty, and I got to experience my first VAR moment in person. I don’t enjoy VAR when I watch on TV and I am firmly in the “VAR is shit” camp when attending games in person. Bernd Leno made a fantastic save to deny James Ward-Prowse from the spot but the ball fell kindly to the Englishman and he made no mistake with the rebound, 2-1 to Southampton.

Things were turning ugly in the stands, and emotions and anger were poured onto the players and manager from all sections of the stadium. Southampton deserved their lead wholeheartedly and should have increased their advantage more than once. Only wasteful finishing saved Arsenal’s further embarrassment.

Finally relief came, and it was Lacazette on hand again to salvage a point in the dying moments of injury time (an astounding 7 minutes, thanks to VAR and Southampton’s endless time wasting). Gabriel Martinelli, on as a late substitute, crossed from the left to pick out Lacazette in the box and the Frenchman made no mistake poking the ball home for 2-2. He didn’t celebrate though, and the team must have known that rescuing a draw at home to 19th placed Southampton is not nearly good enough.

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More booing from the fans followed the final whistle and despite Laca’s late goal, there was no joy to be found from it. A 2-2 draw is better than a 2-1 loss of course, but given the circumstances and the expectations, this Arsenal performance was about as bad as I’ve ever witnessed. The heat surrounding Emery continues to rise and surely a decision about his future will be made sooner rather than later.

Dad and I filed out of the Emirates with the other supporters and began the journey home. In the week building up to the game I was seriously considering buying the new Arsenal home shirt, as Adidas have done such a great job with our kits this year. I delayed my purchase though, and decided that if the team played well on the day, I would reward myself with buying the shirt after the match was over. If the team played awful, then I wouldn’t give the club more money they didn’t deserve.

So in hindsight, at least I saved myself £60. You can always find a silver lining if you look close enough. Even, apparently, at Arsenal Football Club.

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