Braintree Town (0) 1 Bath City (0) 1 – Saturday 7 October 2023 – Vanarama National League South – Cressing Road
Match Report by Mark Stillman.
Celebrations for Jerry Gill’s six-year anniversary in charge were cut short by Aaron Blair’s stoppage time leveller for Braintree Town.
The forward, signed on a permanent deal a day before the game, lashed home when City failed to fully clear the final of Ben Watt’s avalanche of long throws.
Scott Wilson had put City ahead just past the hour with an unerring finish, his third goal in three games.
But having defended resolutely throughout, one minor lapse proved crucial in preventing the Romans reclaiming top spot.
Gill, City’s longest-serving post-war manager, opted for an unchanged XI in his 273rd match at the helm, and his side had to stand firm to an early onslaught from the hosts, who going into the contest had scored five of their 13 league goals inside the opening six minutes.
Blair’s attempted cross from the right nearly dipped underneath Ollie Wright’s crossbar, Reggie Lambe shanked well wide and Will Davies’ 25-yarder trickled too close to Wright in a positive start for the hosts.
Their momentum was stalled with a tactical switch on 27 minutes. Having picked up an early caution, birthday boy Alfie Payne was withdrawn to avoid a potential second yellow as Ben Mason took his place with former Roman Leon Davies moving into midfield.
Dan Hayfield gave debutant goalkeeper Josh Blunkell his first scare soon after when Tom Smith’s precise cross was met with a well-directed header, but the stopper managed to readjust and bat behind.
It was the stand-out moment of a rather forgettable half with two evenly matched sides cancelling each other out, and they remained that way until a beautifully crafted opener by the visitors on 62 minutes.
Joe Raynes, Ewan Clark and Smith combined well down the right before the latter’s telling ball located Hayfield on the edge of the box.
The midfielder, on his 50th league start, patiently waited for Wilson’s perfectly timed run and delicately played it into his path, before the forward lashed home from 12 yards into the top right corner.
Braintree responded with a succession of long throws from Watt, with one from the Norwich loanee met by some Lambe acrobatics but he couldn’t keep his shot down from six yards.
Hayfield bent a free-kick just wide and Smith blazed over when Town failed to clear a free-kick.
The set-piece saw Jordan Dyer land heavily on his arm but he bravely fought on and his commitment was demonstrated on 84 minutes with a telling block.
Substitute Gio Crichlow, on for his second debut, played it into the chest of Will Davies who made a yard of space before his attempt was blocked by the sliding Dyer.
The centre-back was powerless to prevent a leveller in the fourth of five minutes added time.
Watt’s quickly taken throw saw Dyer and Raynes unable to clear the missile into the box, and top scorer Blair showed a striker’s instinct by rapidly cutting inside and slamming into the top left corner from 10 yards, leaving Wright helpless.
It extended the Iron’s unbeaten run to eight while City’s moves to 10 as both will be hoping to add another rung to that ladder next week in the FA Cup.
City’s Line-Up: Wright, Raynes, Dyer, Batten, Parselle (c), Hayfield, Smith, Clark, Thomas (Frear 81), Wilson (Cooke 65), Russe. Subs not used: Greenslade, Lines, Morgan.
Scorers: City – Wilson (62); Braintree – Blair (90+4)
City Bookings: Thomas (15)
Officials: J Crofts, J Aldous, L Wood