Bath City (1) 2 Billericay Town (1) 1 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 4 January 2020 – Twerton Park
Report by Kelston Koppite
A late strike by substitute Ross Stearn earned victory for Bath City against Billericay Town in a tough encounter at Twerton Park. The Essex side made City fight all the way for their three points as they were, once again, forced to come from behind in order to continue their ten game unbeaten run that stretches back to the defeat at Havant & Waterlooville on 16 November 2019.
City were quickly on the front foot and had the ball in the net in the 5th minute, but Tom Smith’s effort from close range following a sweeping move was adjudged offside by the assistant referee.
Billericay signalled their early attacking intent with a 7th minute angled shot from Dejon Noel-Williams that was well saved low down by the diving Ryan Clarke. It was the home side who continued to play neat progressive football, enjoying the balance of possession, and Town keeper Alan Julian had his palms warmed on 16 minutes by Sam Pearson’s firm drive from distance.
Brian Galach turned adeptly inside the Bath box in the 19th minute, but fired his shot narrowly over Clarke’s crossbar. However, Billericay took the lead after 24 minutes, albeit against the overall run of play, with the help of an unfortunate and uncharacteristic error by Clarke. A cross from the right was met with a weak downward header by Noel-Williams, but the ball somehow slipped through Clarke’s grasp and trickled over the goal-line.
City were clearly rocked by this setback, and Town almost increased their advantage three minutes later when Femi Akinwande’s low angled shot deflected off a defender and narrowly past the outside of the far post.
The hosts gradually regained a foothold in the game and struck back on the half hour mark. A frantic scramble inside the Billericay area eventually resulted in the ball running to Frankie Artus 25 yards from goal. The midfielder calmly took aim, and side-footed a precise shot into the corner of the net beyond the statuesque Julian.
As half time approached, Connor Riley-Lowe’s free kick from the right found Artus inside the 6 yard box, but his glancing header flew wide of the far post.
The second half commenced with the game locked largely in midfield battle, and it was not until the 56th minute that there was a further goal threat. Billericay’s Odysseus Alfa won possession of the ball deep in the City half, before Clarke made an excellent diving save at the foot of his near post to keep out the wideman’s well struck shot.
The visitors were successfully closing down The Romans in midfield and, hence, stopping them from finding any real rhythm or forward momentum. Noah Chilvers did produce a run towards the heart of the Town defence in the 69th minute, before slipping the ball through to Tom Richards. The midfielder went down inside the area under a defensive challenge, but vociferous home penalty appeals were waved away by the referee, Mr. Michael Ryan.
Having played more games over the Festive period than their opponents, there were signs that the hosts were beginning to tire, and it now appeared that Billericay were the more likely side to find a winning goal.
Akinwande flashed an angled shot across the face of Clarke’s goalmouth with no teammate able to apply a crucial touch in the 72nd minute, before Jerry Gill made a double substitution in an attempt to introduce much needed fresh legs. Louis Britton and Stearn came on for Ryan Brunt and Artus respectively, with Tom Smith then being replaced by his namesake Zac Smith on 78 minutes.
Despite Town holding the upper hand at this stage, they were almost undone by a poor back pass that wrong-footed Julian, with the keeper doing extremely well to clear the loose ball from danger. Julian was then beaten to a high ball into his box in the 80th minute, and Ronnie Henry had to react quickly to prevent Britton from sliding the ball into the unguarded net. The keeper required lengthy treatment before resuming, and the resulting corner from Riley-Lowe was headed wide of the near post by Stearn.
Billericay continued to pose a threat going forward, and Alfie Potter’s 85th minute free kick from wide on the left drifted just wide of Clarke’s far post. At the other end, Chilvers’ free kick into the away box was flicked goalwards, with Julian making a good diving save low down.
With a draw looking increasingly likely, City found a winner one minute into stoppage time. Stearn picked up the ball on the left hand edge of the box, beat three challenges as he worked his way to a central position, before finding the corner of the net with a venomous drive from 18 yards.
The visitors tried in vain to find an immediate response but were unable to trouble the home defence, and the final action of the game saw Pearson’s goalbound shot deflected over Julian’s crossbar for corner.
This was an extremely hard fought win for The Romans, with both sides playing a full part in a highly competitive match. Undoubtedly, Billericay will feel unlucky to return to Essex empty handed, and it could be argued that a draw would have been a fair reflection of proceedings. However, City were rewarded for their refusal to settle for a single point, and deserve great credit for finding sufficient energy and drive to see them over the winning line. Certainly their character shone through again alongside the confidence that comes from an excellent run of form.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke (c), Raynes, Riley-Lowe, T Smith (Z Smith 78), Bowry, Artus (Stearn 73), Chilvers, Brunt (Britton 73), Ball, Pearson, Richards. Subs not used: Wiles-Richards, Simpson.
Scorers: City – Artus (30), Stearn (90+1); Billericay – Noel-Williams (24)
City Bookings: Raynes (83)
Officials: M Ryan,T Moisey, S Jenkins