The first genuinely warm day of 2019 saw me headed to Twerton Park once again, home of Bath City FC. I was there for my sixth home game of the season, to see the Romans take on second placed Woking in the Vanarama National League South.
Prior to kickoff City held a strong position in their bid for the playoffs and a positive result against Woking on Saturday, themselves chasing promotion, would have been exactly what Jerry Gill and his squad were aiming for. Confidence was high as the hosts began the day on a 10-game unbeaten run at home, as Twerton Park has become a fortress of sorts this year. Even league leaders Torquay United succumbed to Gill’s side, losing 3-2 to City in an unforgettable January fixture.
With the weather so amazing, I left the house in just a t-shirt and light jacket and walked the short distance to Moorland Road to meet Caleb. Moorland Road is roughly ten minute’s walk away from Twerton Park and host to a number of great places to eat, all on a single street. Caleb and I stationed ourselves outside the Velo Lounge and enjoyed a beer in the sun, a perfect precursor to a day at the football. We grabbed food there as well, a Twisted Chicken Club Ciabatta which was absolutely perfect. I could have honestly spent the rest of the afternoon there soaking up the rays but we had a game to get to.
Feeling rather full, we set off and arrived at the ground relatively early. We stopped into the club shop and enquired about the home shirt – my wallet was very thankful they didn’t have any mediums available. The club had warned fans they were expecting another high attendance and recommended arriving early to avoid congestion around the turnstiles, but we were early enough to avoid any of that. By kickoff the numbers around us had increased though, and 1,710 was recorded as the official attendance, the third largest home crowd of the season. It was a beautiful day and everybody was making the most of the sunshine.
The game itself was a scrappy affair and evenly contested. Bath matched their title-chasing opponents in every area but it was an uncharacteristic mistake that allowed the visitors to edge themselves ahead.
Ryan Clarke, so often a pillar of reliability in the Bath goal, scuffed a clearance right to a Woking player, and a simple ball across the box allowed Max Kretzschmar to tap in to give the Surrey side a 1-0 lead. Bath struggled to cope with the setback and the game became a niggly affair. The referee found himself a very busy man all of sudden.
Woking captain Josh Casey was repeatedly involved in minor scuffles, and enjoyed some of the finest non-league shithousery in front of the home fans. Casey earned the wrath of the Bath faithful all afternoon and seemed to revel in the attention. The “curly haired fuck” as he was affectionately known was often in the referee’s ear for Woking fouls, and regularly found himself on his arse thanks to a robust Bath challenge – it was all very entertaining.
Bath had a great chance to equalise just before half time when midfielder Tom Smith had his point-blank header saved, but it was Woking who looked more likely to walk away with the three points after the break. Clarke, redeeming himself for his earlier error, made a couple of superb stops and was very grateful to see a Woking effort clang off his post and into his open arms. Caleb and I looked at each other in disbelief, as it seemed a certain goal, but we were thankful not to be 2-0 behind.
The home fans continued to urge on their team but the boys were struggling to create any clearcut opportunities. Most of Bath’s shots lacked power and drifted wide of the goal, and striker Freddie Hinds struggled to find space away from Woking’s towering centre backs Moussa Diarra and Ben Gerring.
Relief came in the 72nd minute when winger Andy Watkins, a forgotten figure this season, collected a smart pass from James Morton and turned on the ball to get his shot away. From my angle it didn’t looked as if Watkins had connected properly but the ball squirmed under the Woking goalkeeper and hit the back of the net. It was 1-1 and Bath’s unbeaten run at home was still alive.
Watkins’ celebration in front of his fans was richly deserved, as he had worked tirelessly on the wing all afternoon, and was the only City forward who seemed to trouble the Woking defence. He sprinted to the fans in the front row and gave high-fives to all, before he arched his neck and looked to the sky. In that moment you could see the relief wash over him, in what has been a difficult campaign for the 34 year-old. Watkins has over 50 goals for the club, but he’ll no doubt have cherished this one.
The announcement came over the tannoy that the goalscorer had won man of the match but as good as Watkins was, personally I would have awarded it to Robbie Cundy, Bath’s young centre back. The 21 year-old is enjoying his first season at the club and every time I’ve seen him play he has stood out among his peers for his poise and reliability. Against Woking he won every header, made countless blocks, and seemed to be a step above everyone else on the pitch. Cundy is one to watch and could go places, but for now he must be one of Jerry Gill’s first names on the teamsheet, an essential piece on this team.
Both sides pressed for a winner in the final minutes but ultimately had to settle for a point apiece. Woking are a supremely organised outfit and you can see how they’ve been so effective this year, although you feel Bath were the happier team at the final whistle, now unbeaten at home in 11 consecutive home games and with a 6 point cushion in the playoff race with just five games remaining.
Should Bath achieve their goal and secure a playoff position, there’s a strong chance they could meet Woking again.
I hope to be there if that’s the case.