Braintree Town (0) 1 Bath City (0) 0 – Tuesday 23 April 2024 – Vanarama National League South Play-Off Eliminator – Cressing Road

Braintree Town (0) 1 Bath City (0) 0 – Tuesday 23 April 2024 – Vanarama National League South Play-Off Eliminator – Cressing Road
(After Extra Time)

Match Report by Mark Stillman.

Tom Blackwell’s winner deep into extra time knocked Bath City out of the play-offs in a gut-wrenching fashion.

The midfielder’s close range finish settled a captivating Eliminator tie in Essex.

Despite a late rally from Jerry Gill’s side, which involved Will Buse nearly scoring from inside his own half, it wasn’t enough to force penalties.

Braintree travel to Chelmsford on Saturday in the semi-finals as they search for a place in the National League after a five-year absence.

With 43 clean sheets between the two this season in all competitions, a cagey game was anticipated.

After cancelling each other out in the early exchanges, City’s first opening saw Ewan Clark chop in from the right and dink across to Elliott Frear, who was just beaten to head home by Baris Altintop.

Blackwell dispossessed Raynes midway inside his own half and bore down on goal but wastefully shot over.

Aaron Blair squandered Braintree’s best chance of the first half when Blackwell’s free-kick was headed back by Altintop to their leading scorer, but he drove too close to Will Buse from 10 yards.

City lost Raynes to injury at the break with Jack Batten on in his place, but it didn’t deter their organised backline, with Players’ Player of the Season Dan Greenslade the pick of them in dealing with a lively front three.

They largely restricted the hosts to shots from range with Alfie Payne’s low attempt from 25 yards taken by Buse at the second attempt.

Clark’s well-directed cross was met by the onrushing Cody Cooke whose diving header from just inside the box flew narrowly wide.

A goalless 90 minutes meant extra time at a cold Rare Breed Meat Co Stadium, and while tiredness clearly crept in, the willingness of both sides to search for a winner rather than settle for penalties made it a gripping half hour.

Inside 30 seconds of the restart, Scott Wilson manoeuvred away from Joe Grimwood but blazed miles over.

Wilson and Frear were replaced by Ephraim Yeboah and Isaac Vassell as City freshened up their attack to try and break down the side with the best defensive record in National League South.

In response, Bermuda international Reggie Lambe replaced former Premier League forward Freddie Sears for the hosts.

It nearly had a desired effect early into the second period of extra-time when Blair charged down Jordan Dyer’s clearance to play in Lambe, who hammered inches over Buse’s bar from 20 yards.

Jack Sims was forced into his first serious save of the evening when Vassell cut in from the left and arrowed a shot towards the bottom corner which the keeper reacted sharply to in tipping around his post.

The goal which broke City’s hearts arrived with two minutes of extra time remaining.

Despite clearly struggling through injury, Dom Odusanya mustered up the energy to deliver a glorious crossfield ball for Jayden Davis, who skipped along the byline and hammered across to Blackwell, who couldn’t miss from two yards out.

It rocked the visitors to the extent that several players dropped to their knees, yet when they regrouped they produced an onslaught of attacks to leave the home backline trembling.

One was an unlikely source as Buse’s clearance in his own half took a huge bounce in front of Sims and required the keeper to backtrack and flap wide.

Grimwood got the slightest glance on Clark’s cross to take the ball away from Dyer and James Alabi, introduced just after Braintree’s goal, and added to a plethora of corners in City’s favour.

Alabi shot against the legs of Sims from a tight angle and when the following corner was dealt with, the season for Bath City was drawn to a close as their crestfallen players sunk to the turf in exhaustion as their herculean effort saw them fall just short of an extra shot at promotion.

Att: 1067

City’s Line-Up: Buse, Raynes (Batten HT), Greenslade, Dyer, Parselle (c) (Alabi 120+1), Clark, Hayfield, Cooke, Smith, Frear (Vassell 96), Wilson (Yeboah 98). Sub not used: Idehen.

Scorers: City – none; Braintree – Blackwell (118)

City Bookings: Smith (104)

Officials: N Smith, M Gupta, J Larkin