Bath City (1) 3 Oxford City (2) 3 – Saturday 7 May 2022 – Vanarama National League South – Twerton Park
Match Report by Mark Stillman.
Bath City recovered from 3-1 down to claim a point against play-off finishers Oxford City in a breathless encounter at Twerton Park to complete their league season.
Alex Fletcher’s early opener was the perfect start, but the visitors hit back and when Zac McEachran’s fine strike on 58 minutes gave them a two-goal lead, there were fears a repeat of the 5-1 in the reverse contest.
Unlike that Bank Holiday capitulation, Bath stood up to a stern test and showed brilliant character as Fletcher’s second plus Tom Richards’ cute finish sealed a point for the Romans, who finished in 18th place with 45 points.
A bumper crowd in glorious sunshine arrived hopeful that this contest didn’t have an end of season lackadaisical feel with neither club having anything significant to play for.
You wouldn’t have known that as a captivating contest proceeded from the off. Fletcher had already headed over inside a minute before he broke the deadlock on 75 seconds, the quickest goal City netted all season.
Dan Ball’s header from Ben Dudzinski’s goal kick was collected by Cody Cooke, who perfectly slipped it in behind to Fletcher. The attacker showed no nerves as he easily side-footed past the Oxford stopper from 12 yards.
Ball headed over on seven minutes in their fourth attempt on goal during a lightning start, but the visitors recovered to pen City back.
Jacob Bancroft chipped a strike onto the bar with George Harmon’s follow-up blocked behind by former Oxford man Eddie Jones.
Ross Jenkins’ side were rewarded for their efforts on 25 minutes when McEachran’s superb dink over Tom Smith helped create an opening where Harmon’s shot was deflected for Joe Iaciofano, who stretched to steer home from eight yards to net his fifth goal in five games.
Josh Ashby, a nemesis of Bath City in the last four years with his goals from distance, nearly added another from 30 yards with a tremendous fizzing effort which flashed just over the bar.
Instead it was Bancroft who got in on the act, firing the away side into the lead with three minutes of the half remaining.
Ewan Clark’s skills helped him evade Zak Delaney near the byline, aided by a slip from the full-back. He pulled it back and Bancroft thumped into the roof of the net with a first time finish to give Ryan Clarke no chance.
Bancroft and Iaciofano linked up superbly with the latter nutmegging Joe Raynes before the defender recovered with the last ditch challenge to deny a certain third.
During the break City changed their shape to 3-5-2 to match Oxford and it appeared to pay off as Jerry Gill’s men showed more attacking threat with Cooke heading Smith’s cross against the top of the bar.
Smith’s shot was blocked by the back of Reece Fleet in an enterprising start to the half, but it appeared fruitless as Oxford found a third just before the hour.
A tidy move down the left concluded with Iaciofano laying off to McEachran, who stunned Clarke with an arrowing strike from 25 yards which left the keeper standstill.
The unusual statistic about this fixture was coming to fruition again – in the previous 13 meetings the side scoring first had failed to win nine times, five of them seeing the losing team come back to be victorious.
Rather than go into their shells and try and see out the season without further damage, City fought back with a vengeance.
On 62 minutes Elliott Frear’s teasing ball from the left picked out Fletcher, who ignored Harry Kyprianou’s attempt to wrestle him down by powering home a superb diving header from six yards.
Oxford blew a great opening to kill off the Romans. Wonderful footwork by Bancroft started the move before the instrumental McEachran guided the ball into the path of Clark on the right. His shot was too close to City custodian Clarke who batted away from Iaciofano to safety.
It proved costly as Bath levelled on 76 minutes. Frear was the catalyst again, his low ball from the left touched in by substitute Richards with a hint of an own goal from Dan Matsuzaka. The midfielder had no qualms in claiming it his first league goal since August 2019.
In front of the club’s second largest home league crowd of the season, helping them to a highest average since 1977/78, the result clinched City’s first point against a top five side this term and ended the season positively with a five game unbeaten run.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke (c), Raynes, Delaney, Fletcher, Holness, Cooke, Smith, Frear, E Jones (Sims-Burgess 81), Ball, Seymour (Richards 67). Subs not used: Fuller.
Scorers: City – Fletcher (2, 63), Richards (76); Oxford – Iaciofano (25), Bancroft (42), McEachran (58)
City Bookings: none
Officials: A Humphries, H Lavender, A Smith