City look set to go into Saturday’s must-win match against Aylesbury United without top scorer John Williams. The 19-goal hitman was knocked unconscious when giving City the lead against Solihull Borough and had to spend two nights in Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital with severe concussion and a perforated ear drum. Fortunately a scan revealed no further damage and the 36-year old is now recovering at home.
Despite a 4-0 victory over Solihull Borough this afternoon that was every bit as comfortable as it sounds, results elsewhere leave City relying on other teams slipping up next week if they are to grab a play-off place. John Williams bravely headed City in front just before half time but had to be carried off unconscious. Midway through the second half Alex Sykes’ 20-yard shot made it 2-0 before on 73 minutes Martin Paul ended the wait for his 100th City goal with a neat finish. Two minutes later Scott Partridge turned home Jimmy Benefield’s cross from close range and City thoughts turned to elsewhere in the Southern League.
But hopes that the win would carry them into the vital top five positions were soon dashed as news that Hednesford Town, Merthyr Tydfil and Tiverton Town had all won, with just Beford Town and Halesowen Town failing to secure victories. The results leave City one of four teams on 66 points but back in eighth place on goal difference. So during next Saturday’s meeting with Aylesbury United thoughts will be directed to South Kesteven Stadium, The Grove, Keys Park, Walks Stadium and Penydarren Park.
City’s talented teenage midfielder Yan Klukowski has had a trial with Coca-Cola Championship side Reading. The 18-year old was spotted by the Royals recruitment boss Steve Shorey whilst captaining the England Under-18 Schoolboy side in a recent tournament on the Isle of Wight. He played the full 90 minutes in a reserve friendly match against Icelandic side Trottur FC, impressing in the game which finished 2-2.
A double substitution midway through the second half helped turn this afternoon’s meeting with Hemel Hempstead Town as Russell Milton and Scott Partridge both came off the bench to fire home the goals that secured a vital 2-0 victory. Although City’s effort could not be faulted the game appeared to be heading toward another disappointing outcome but with less than 20 minutes reamaining Milton stepped up to fire home a 25-yard free kick and register his first goal since August 2003. And four minutes later Partridge took advantage of a defensive error to roll home the second goal. Partridge and Jimmy Benefield wasted good chances after this to increase City’s lead but the result was enough to lift City two places to seventh and, more importantly, another point nearer the play-offs with fifth placed Hednesford Town now just point ahead.
On a night where three of their play-off rivals were in action City could be reasonably statisfied that only one team were victorious and they slipped just a single place. Merthyr Tydfil were the successful side, as a fifth minute own goal saw them defeat fellow play-off contenders Cirencester Town. In the other game Histon ran out 4-1 winners at Kings Lynn which almost knocks the Norfolk side out of the incredibly close race for a play-off spot. The win for the Stutes also puts them right back on the heels of Chippenham Town in the battle for top spot that looks set to go right to the final day of the season when the sides meet.
With three weeks of the season remaining there are still nine teams fighting it out for the three play-off places and join either Histon or Chippenham in the straight fight of a Conference South/North spot. The remaining games for these teams are:
|Bath City||Bedford Town||Aylesbury United|
|16/4 Hemel Hempstead (H)||16/4 Chippenham Town (A)||16/4 King’s Lynn (A)|
|23/4 Solihull Borough (A)||23/4 Chesham United (H)||23/4 Hednesford Town (H)|
|30/4 Aylesbury United (H)||30/4 Grantham Town (A)||30/4 Bath City (A)|
|Halesowen Town||Hednesford Town||Merthyr Tydfil|
|16/4 Grantham Town (A)||16/4 Gloucester City (H)||16/4 Hitchin (H)|
|23/4 Hitchin Town (A)||23/4 Aylesbury United (A)||18/4 Team Bath (A)|
|30/4 Team Bath (H)||30/4 Dunstable Town (H)||23/4 Hemel Hempstead (A)|
|30/4 Solihull Borough (H)|
|Tiverton Town||Cirencester Town||King’s Lynn|
|16/4 Rugby United (H)||16/4 Stamford (H)||16/4 Aylesbury United (H)|
|23/4 Histon (H)||23/4 Dunstable Town (A)||23/4 Gloucester City (A)|
|30/4 King’s Lynn (A)||30/4 Hemel Hempstead (H)||30/4 Tiverton Town (H)|
John Williams’ 18th goal of the season was enough to secure a vital three points for City this afternoon in a 1-0 victory over relegation threatened Hitchin Town. He converted Gary Owers’ cross just 27 seconds into the second half and this was enough to seperate the teams in a desperately dull encounter. A shot wide by Alex Sykes and a blocked effort from Martin Paul was all City could muster during the first half with the home side offering even less. After the goal City did look slightly livelier but they seldom looked like adding a second. Paul Evans was rarely tested, although once again his handling was faultless and he was well placed in the closing minutes to block Cavill’s close range effort and secure the victory. The result sees City climb three places to 8th and move within two points of the last play-off berth.
With other results going their way City moved a point nearer (albeit two places further away) the play-off positions yesterday but it was on the back of another dreadful Twerton Park performance in the 0-0 draw with Stamford. The fact that the result condemned the Lincolnshire side to relegation sums up how poor City were and suggests that the three point gap to the holy grail of fifth place may as well be 30 points. The first 75 minutes dragged by in a blur of tedious mediocrity as Stamford – baffingly given that they needed to win to keep their slim hopes of staying up alive – looked content with 0-0 from the start and slowed the game down at every opportunity. Only the introduction of Darren Hawkins, Ricky Hulbert and Yan Klukowski in the closing stages finally seemed to inject the urgency in City’s game that should have been there from the start. Chances began to arrive, John Williams seeing one header tipped over, Hawkins missing his kick when well-placed and, best of all, Hulbert’s point-blank effort that he blasted staright at the (finally) busy keeper. The almost deathly silence that greated the final whistle showed that the game had drained the City fans of even the will to boo their underachieving team and was a perfect testament to another long and dispiriting Twerton Park afternoon.
City have boosted their play-off ambitions with the signing of Owen Story after his release by Coca-Cola League 1 side Torquay United. The 20-year old right winger, who joined the Gulls from City’s tenants Team Bath in December 2004 but found his chances at Plainmoor limited, is just the sort of pacy player City have been crying out for all season and goes straight into the squad for tomorrow’s must-win meeting with bottom of the table Stamford.
The loan arrangements for centre-backs Chris Holland and Leigh Henry have been extended until the end of the season, although Henry will be unavailable after tomorrow until the final two games due a suspension incurred whilst playing for Swindon Town reserves.