Eastbourne Borough (1) 1 Bath City (0) 2 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 21 December 2019 – Priory Lane

Eastbourne Borough (1) 1 Bath City (0) 2 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 21 December 2019 – Priory Lane

Report by Mark Stillman for The Bath Chronicle

A wonder goal from Tom Smith sparked a stunning fightback for Bath City at Eastbourne Borough. Smith’s 30-yard half volley, and Alex Hartridge’s stoppage time ghosting header, turned the contest on its head after Greg Luer’s first half opener looked to have given the Sports a much-needed win. The win was City’s first from a losing position away for over two years, and the first under Jerry Gill. It moves the Romans into fourth, with an eight-point buffer in the play-off spot.

Eastbourne had more of the ball in the early stages but their final product epitomised their modest goals for column, 17 in 20 matches beforehand, with striker Luer isolated. Gill changed formation which helped contain Boro’s attacking full-backs, but as an attacking threat the Romans lacked fluidity, barely troubling Tom Hadler. The opening goal was the stuff of nightmares for the visitors. Ian Gayle’s harmless ball forward saw Dan Ball and Ryan Clarke hesitate, allowing Luer to sneak in and prod home from 18 yards, the ball trickling into the unguarded net. Bath thought they’d levelled in first half stoppage time when Dan Bowry nodded home, but amid confusion he was deemed offside, though it appeared the inactive Smith was incorrectly flagged.

Ryan Brunt and Sam Pearson were introduced at the break for Connor Riley-Lowe and Andy Watkins which had the desired effect immediately as City showed more vigour and imagination going forward. Smith’s fizzing drive was palmed out by Hadler to Joe Raynes, whose dangerous ball was turned past his own post by Tobi Adebayo-Rowling. Pearson volleyed wide from well-placed when Smith unselfishly crossed for the substitute, with the same two combining down the left soon after, this time Nick Wheeler bravely preventing Smith from a tap-in. Louis Britton came on for Frankie Artus as Gill rolled the dice which invited Eastbourne to counter, but they failed to make the most of it. The overworked Luer undercooked his pass to James Ferry, allowing Smith to clear. With the hosts packing the backline, there appeared little way through for City, until Smith’s moment of magic. Eastbourne failed to clear Clarke’s free-kick from the back, and it eventually bounced up for Smith who from 30 yards out, thundered a half-volley into the roof of the net to give Hadler no chance. Borough’s afternoon unravelled further when the excellent Luer went off clutching his hamstring in stoppage time, leaving Charlie Walker to see out the closing stages. He barely had a touch as there was still time for City to secure a winner. Raynes’ crosses caused problems all second half, and his final telling ball saw Hartridge arrive unannounced to plant a header just inside the far post to seal all three points.

By his own admission, Raynes felt the need to improve his service from wide areas. He said: “In the last three or four weeks, my crossing hasn’t been very good. I got the assist in the week but other than that, I haven’t had many opportunities to get the ball intothe box. The management want our full-backs to get some quality balls into the box so I’ve worked on it at training.”

The versatile player was impressed with City’s turnaround. Raynes said: “At half-time we knew we weren’t doing what we needed to do. We came out second half and changed that. Made the subs, they’ve made an impact. The change of formation allowed us to get forward more and there were more players in the box. It was tough. Tough weather out there, conditions weren’t great, but we’ve dug out the win that we came here for despite not being at our best.”

Whilst the Romans weren’t at their vintage best, their recovery will keep the mood in the camp buoyant and full of confidence ahead of Chippenham’s visit on Boxing Day.

Att: 373

City’s Line-Up: Clarke (c), Raynes, Riley-Lowe (Pearson HT), T Smith, Bowry, Artus (Britton 76), Mann, Watkins (Brunt HT), Chilvers, Ball, Hartridge. Subs not used: Wiles-Richards, Richards.

Scorers: City – T Smith (88), Hartridge (90+2); Borough – Luer (41)

City Bookings – none

Officials: R Whitton, C Fidler, A Harris