Bath City (1) 2 Eastbourne Borough (0) 2 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 14 September 2019 – Twerton Park
An action-packed final quarter-hour might have left those inside Twerton Park feeling they got their money’s worth in entertainment value, but Bath City manager Jerry Gill would have exchanged it all for a scrappy success against an injury hit Eastbourne Borough side. Money’s worth is perhaps the incorrect phrase – the club’s Community Day meant punters could pay what they like, boosting the crowd to nearly 1,500 on a sumptuous day weather-wise.
Eastbourne made the long journey to Somerset winless, and, worse, goalless on the road all season. Over 7.5 hours action without hitting the net in anger, and the run didn’t look like extending in early stages as Elliott Romain’s speculative effort was watched over by Ryan Clarke. Ross Stearn, back into the side at Tom Richards’ expense, bent a free-kick inches wide after Owura Edwards’ run was halted by Kristian Campbell, earning the full-back a caution. Dan Rooney pulled a shot wide following Ryan Brunt’s intelligent knock-down, as City were restricted to efforts from distance. Fortunately, this didn’t prove too much of a hindrance. On 25 minutes, Stearn was allowed to meander forward unopposed and punished Eastbourne’s lackadaisical efforts with a powerful drive which Tom Hadler appeared to have covered, but a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Manny Adebowale wrong-footed the keeper, who couldn’t recover in time. Charlie Walker warmed Clarke’s gloves with a stinging free-kick soon after, before Stearn should have notched a second, failing to fully connect with Joe Raynes’ inviting cross, which whizzed away from the frontman.
Trailing and shy of several first-team regulars could have sent Borough into the doldrums, but to their credit they looked energetic after the interval, with youth teamer Ansu Jennah not looking out of place as a half-time replacement for James Ferry. Clarke again had to show alertness to deny Walker as he stole in from a corner, as Lee Bradbury’s men probed and hassled, whereas City were surprisingly timid and sluggish. They woke up ten minutes into the half when Stearn somehow evaded a few challenges to dribble his way along the byline, before his shot was parried by Hadler at his near post, who was grateful to see Brunt and Tom Smith get in each other’s way and fail to convert the rebound. The early warning signs of the half returned with 20 minutes remaining. Kane Wills wastefully skied straight into Clarke’s hands after Michael West helped the ball back into the penalty area, and Jesse Debrah’s header was nodded off the line by Harvey Smith after the City glovesman failed to gather West’s free-kick amid a mass of bodies. But then, on 76 minutes, the miracle in Eastbourne’s sense happened. They scored an away goal. 526 long minutes without one came to a welcome end in their camp. Gift-wrapped it was, too. Raynes was the culprit, snatched in possession by Greg Luer who scampered on and calmly side-footed past Clarke at his near post. The Sports fans were in dreamland less than 120 seconds later. This time Alex Hartridge dallied, Romain pounced to leave him embarrassed and, with still some work to do, thunderously drilled the ball across Clarke from 18 yards to give his side the lead. Eastbourne hadn’t won away in 13, since January 5 just up the A4 at Chippenham, and on paper, from this situation, few would have bet against them from this position. It could have been stronger when Harry Hamblin joined in with his team-mates’ sloppiness by being robbed by Wills who squared to Dean Cox, but Clarke rescued the Romans with a flying save to his right. It proved vital. A minute later, City won a free-kick on halfway and packed the box. Connor Riley-Lowe’s delivery was a terror to defend, and Hadler appeared to have done enough by blocking Harvey Smith’s header. He was helpless though to prevent Hamblin spinning into position and thumping the loose ball home via the underside of the bar, his first goal in senior football. Stoppage time saw the resurgent Romans threaten to steal three points. Harvey Smith tamely side-footed Riley-Lowe’s hanging free-kick straight at Hadler, and Andy Watkins’ stinging drive was parried by the stopper. A winner would have been desperately cruel on Eastbourne, who have picked up some useful draws on the road in recent weeks.
For Jerry Gill, one win in seven under his leadership will leave him irked, with an FA Cup distraction next week perhaps the ideal tonic as a quarter of the season has already zoomed by in National League South.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke (c), Raynes, Riley-Lowe, T Smith, Brunt, Stearn (Watkins 81), Rooney (Richards 57), Bower (H Smith HT), Edwards, Hartridge, Hamblin. Subs not used: Wiles-Richards, Mann.
Scorers: City – Stearn (25), Hamblin (87); Borough – Luer (76), Romain (79)
City Bookings: H Smith (71)
Officials: D Lamport, G Pearce, J Ainscow