Another gorgeous day at Twerton Park was how I spent my Bank Holiday Monday this week, watching Bath City take on Oxford City in an early-season clash in the Vanarama National League South.
Yet again I’m pressed for time but will provide a quick rundown of the day’s events.
A trip to see the local side doesn’t involve much of a journey for me thankfully, about 30 minutes walk to the ground. Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 20’s though, so I was feeling pretty warm by the time I arrived.
Caleb and Camila were my trusty companions for the visit of Oxford, and Caleb’s son was making his first trip to see his hometown team as well, so it was a special occasion for the youngster.
The Bank Holiday Monday helped draw 1,030 supporters on the day, Bath’s highest attendance of the young season thus far. We had a large group around us close to the halfway line as you’d expect but the vocal support further down from us were unusually quiet for the afternoon, which surprised me. I don’t recall hearing any songs throughout the day, which was a shame.
Perhaps Bath’s disastrous loss away to Slough just two days prior had sapped some of the energy from the occasion. City had a firm 2-1 lead until the last few minutes but conceded two late goals and contrived to lose to Slough 3-2, leaving the Romans empty-handed, slumping to their first loss of the campaign.
No food purchased on this day, although the club had hired an ice cream truck as you entered the ground, which I thought was a nice touch. Given the heat of the day, I’d hope the truck got some decent business from the supporters. I’ll admit, I was tempted at half time and regret not getting one.
A scrappy start to proceedings indicated both teams were well matched and it would be a close contest, but the hosts were the ones to break the deadlock.
Bath striker Tyler Harvey did well with his back to goal, controlling the ball and expertly keeping possession, before playing the ball wide to the far post. Midfielder Tom Smith made a bursting run to meet Harvey’s pass and was available to smash the ball first-time, high into the roof of the net.
The goal seemed to awaken something in Bath and they dominated the rest of the first half. Left back Connor Riley-Lowe stood out in particular, constantly posing a threat down the left wing. City forced a multitude of chances and possibly the longest streak of consecutive corners I’ve ever seen, but regretfully missed out on extending their lead as the referee brought an end to the half.
Oxford had shown very little attacking intent in the opening 45 minutes but started the second half much brighter, and leveled the score shortly after the restart. A cross in the 50th minute was bundled in at close range to make it 1-1.
The visitor’s equaliser certainly impacted Bath mentally and they struggled to recapture their dominance. Perhaps it was the heat, or the fact they had played a disheartening 90 minutes in Slough just two days before, but the City players looked rather leggy after being pegged back.
Joe Raynes, the always adventurous right back, almost got City back in front when he hit the post with a vicious effort. Raynes went on a mazy run after cutting in from the wing, before unleashing his shot. Our group were positioned right behind it and had the perfect angle to witness the physics-defying swerve of the ball. Before my very eyes, Raynes had been reborn as younger, right-footed Roberto Carlos, just for an instant.
Only with much better hair.
Raynes’ agony at being denied a goal was only compounded minutes later when his challenge on an Oxford player in the Bath penalty area was adjudged to be illegal. The referee never hesitated in pointing to the spot. Oxford striker Stefan Brown made no mistake and gave the visitors a 2-1 lead.
Oxford, like any smart away side would do, shut up shop. Their compact and resolute defence kept Bath at an arm’s length and they saw out the game for a vital away win. Twerton Park isn’t a ground many teams claim points from but Oxford deserved their win, putting in a disciplined performance after solving their problems from the first half.
Bath’s man-of-the-match was Tom Smith, who earned the award despite the defeat. His goal was well taken, a reward for being in the right place at the right time after his timely run. Smith also had a wonderful Maradona-inspired burst through the heart of the Oxford defence in the second half but his shot was tame.
I won’t envy any athlete who has to play two games in three days, especially in the heat we’ve experienced in these dying days of summer. Jerry Gill and his men will be disappointed to have lost two in a row but the season is young, and there’s a lot of football left yet. In spite of the results, the performances have been largely positive, and there is still much to admire about this Bath squad.
We’ll be back at Twerton Park for more, I can assure you.