Bath City (0) 1 Oxford City (0) 0 – Vanarama National League South – Monday 22 April 2019 – Twerton Park
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In this case, it was loanee Tom Smith who popped up with a priceless goal to seal Bath City’s first win in seven and, more importantly, a place in the play-offs thanks to their triumph against Oxford City. At the other end, they were grateful for Ryan Clarke’s heroics, earning him a second clean sheet in four days. It was the Oxford resident’s 20th of the season in all competitions, against a hard-working Oxford side, who despite sat in mid-table obscurity showed a bucketload of tenacity at a sun-drenched Twerton Park.
The hosts looked comfortable in the first half and shackled leading marksman Kabongo Tshimanga well. In attack, they didn’t give Craig King many hairy moments. Joe Raynes’ long throw was inadvertently flicked by an Oxford head to Sean Rigg, but he couldn’t adjust quickly enough and his header drifted off target. Oxford’s first glimmer, nine minutes before the break, almost resulted in the breakthrough. James Morton was dispossessed midway inside his own half by Tshimanga, who fed it through to the overlapping Craig Fasanmade. Clarke came to the rescue, throwing himself in the way and parrying behind for a corner. It sparked City into life as they saw out the half largely camped in Oxford territory, starting to pick them apart. Freddie Hinds came the closest, his curling effort from a difficult angle clipping the outside of the post.
The second half saw Bath continue to pen Oxford back but they struggled to test the visiting custodian. Instead it was Clarke called into action when the dangerous Brandon Thomas-Asante collected substitute Zac McEachran’s diagonal ball and shot at the near post, but the Romans stopper was able to deflect it behind. Smith had just let fly with an effort from 25-yards out which flew over King’s bar, but from closer range he made no mistake. Hinds escaped down the left but his centre was just behind Ryan Brunt. The big forward did well to retrieve the situation and float it back across goal, where Smith was on hand to fire in from six yards, thumping the ball into the ground before watching it nestle in the top corner.
Oxford refused to lie down. Jack Self and Thomas-Asante found Clarke in inspired form, snuffing them both out from close range with recently introduced Bobson Bawling playing a part in both attacks. Brunt was replaced to much applause from the 1,164-strong crowd, his replacement Sol Pryce blazing over after Smith’s header across goal fell awkwardly to him. Most of those in attendance let out a momentary gasp as Joe Oastler’s pile-driver from 25 yards whistled just wide in added time, soon before referee Mark Howes signalled the end.
The relief was evident from players, management and supporters alike. The aim to reach the play-offs has been achieved with a game to spare, a tricky one at that against big-spending Billericay, who need a win against the Romans on Saturday to seal a top-seven spot. They’re a team with plenty of goal threat, but against the meanest defence in the league, they’ll have to be on top form to break them, and an evergreen goalkeeper, down.
Mission accomplished for the Romans, they’ll now hope for finishing in the top five and obtaining home advantage.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke, Straker (c), Batten, Artus, Rigg (Watkins 53), Hinds (Stearn 76), Brunt (Pryce 77), Cundy, Raynes, Morton, Smith. Subs not used: H Wiles-Richards, Romanski.
Scorers: City – Smith (60); Oxford – none
City Bookings: Batten (79)
Officials: M Howes, A Berrow, J Clench