Club captain Jim Rollo and Matt Coupe have become the latest City to sign contract extensions to the end of the 2008-09 season. They join Darren Edwards, Sekani Simpson, Gethin Jones and Dave Gilroy – who was already on a two-year contract – in committing themselves to City for at least another year. However, one player who is stalling on a new deal is midfielder Lewis Hogg. The 25-year old, who was a target of Blue Square South rivals Newport County back in November, is out of contract at the end of the season and has been offered a new improved deal, but has told City manager John Relish that he want’s to keep his options open.
City make a first trip to Church Road since April 1997, when their one and only visit ended in a 1-0 victory. That tense relegation struggle was against a Hayes side that at the start of this season became one half of a new club, Hayes & Yeading United, following the merger with Yeading. Yeading’s previous ground, The Warren, is still owned by the club, playing host to their reserve side and one of the youth teams, and once it has been brought back up to the required standard will become their home, with Church Road earmarked for a housing development. Crowds at the newly formed side have shown a slight increase – averaging 258 in the league so far this season (which means they are no longer the poorest supported side(s) in the Blue Square South –that ‘honour’ now held by Fisher Athletic) – although they are nowhere near the combined average of the two pre-merger clubs. It was also interesting to see that the handful of fans that made the midweek trip to Twerton Park back in November seemed to be Hayes supporters – with a Hayes flag and chants that made no mention of Yeading, or even the United part of their name that was added to show the unity between the two former rivals.
On the pitch it has been an up and down season so far for ‘United’. It wasn’t until their eighth attempt that they managed to register a maiden club victory, which then became part of a seven match unbeaten run. Since then they have had some excellent results – a 6-1 home win over play-off chasing Bromley and a 4-1 success at similarly inconsistent Cambridge City – alongside some less memorable ones, back to back 4-1 reversals against Hampton & Richmond and Maidenhead United and a 3-0 away loss against a Bognor Regis Town, who had only won one home game prior to the match. They currently lie 14th in the Blue Square table, with a nicely symmetrical record of eleven wins and eleven defeats, although they are nearer to the play-off places (ten points) than the relegation spots (22 points). And they have strengthened their squad in the last few weeks with the arrival of winger Joel Ledgister on loan from Oxford United and teenage defender Frankie Webb via a work experience deal with Leyton Orient. Their current form is difficult to assess, having lost their last two outings at Fisher Athletic and in-form Thurrock but with four successive victories preceding this, including three at Church Road.
Complete record against Hayes & Yeading United
The aforementioned clash between the sides at Twerton Park earlier this season ended in a 2-2 draw. For the first hour of the game it was the United side that took apart Bromley and Cambridge that City faced, and they could count themselves fortunate to only be two goals down. However, the game changed in the space of three minutes when City were awarded two penalties which Lewis Hogg confidently fired home. Even after this double blow the visitors finished the game stronger and City were the relieved side at the final whistle. City should go into the game with a full squad to pick from, although Chris Holland’s ongoing knee problem will mean his fitness can only be assessed nearer the game.
City had to come from a goal behind at half-time against struggling St Albans City to keep their play-off hopes on course with a 2-1 victory at Clarence Park this afternoon. City fell behind on 21 minutes when they failed to deal with a hopeful ball forward allowing Hakin to lash it past Paul Evans. Chris Holland appeared to have hooked home an equaliser ten minutes later but an offside flag halted the celebrations. However, within a minute of the restart Dave Gilory latched onto Scott Partridge’s touch to lift his shot over Eyre. Both sides had half chances after this – City going closest when Gilroy’s shot was cleared off the line – but with just three minutes left the home side failed to deal with Justyn McKay’s corner and Edwards managed to scramble the ball over the line at the second attempt.
City make their first ever trip to Clarence Park on Saturday to face a St Albans City side in turmoil, having gone through three managers and over 50 players already this season and staring a second successive relegation firmly in the face. Despite coming into the season amongst the title favourites they have not been outside of the bottom three of the Blue Square South table all year. Their campaign got off to a dreadful start, they failed to score in five of their opening six league games, and there have been little signs of any real progress since with just four league victories to their name. The season began with rookie boss Richie Hanlon in hot seat, after the resignation of Colin Lippiatt following the club’s relegation from the Conference National in May 2007, but his final game in charge came at Twerton Park in September, when a 3-0 reversal signalled the end of his reign. His replacement came in the shape of former AFC Wimbledon manager Dave Anderson. Understandably, the change in leadership saw considerable player turnover but results showed little signs of improvement. The Saints best run of the season did occur in November/December when they won four out of five games, unfortunately though three of the wins were in the Setanta Shield, and two days into 2008 Anderson met with the same fate as Hanlon. Currently leading the team is Steve Castle, back for his second spell at Clarence Park.
Results under Castle have also failed to improve – with just a single league victory at equally struggling Dorchester Town – and the level of unrest amongst the Saints fans is becoming increasingly apparent. Much of this disquiet is directed at Chairman John Gibson – not surprising for someone who has presided over three managers in about half a season. Whilst he admitted back in January ‘my reputation is as low as it can be at the moment’, he has not be afraid to hit back at supporters, including a bizarre and rambling rant in his programme notes for the match against Newport County. A particularly revealing insight into his grasp of football was to claim that keeper Nick Eyre – who has played in all bar one of the team’s league games – is the best in the league. St Albans City have the second worse goals against record in the Blue Square South this season. You can only think they could already be relegated if they didn’t have such an incredible goalkeeper.
Complete record against St Albans City
The game back in September at Twerton Park that ultimately cost Hanlon his job saw a Dave Gilroy penalty plus second half strikes from Darren Edwards and Adie Harris fire City to a 3-0 win that was not quite as comfortable as it appeared. The Hertfordshire side’s hopes were not helped by the 5th minute sending off of Gary Elphick for pulling down Gilroy on route to goal and then conceding a penalty on 22 minutes when Deen felled City’s top scorer. The visitors saw a lot of possession after this but rarely threatened Paul Evans’ goal and after Edwards had made it 2-0, the result was put beyond doubt when ‘The Greatest Keeper in the World … Ever™’ picked up a back pass and Harris blasted home the resultant free-kick.
As already mentioned the meeting will see City play at Clarence Park for the first time. The ground – which has hosted football since 1894 (the current St Albans City club began playing there in 1908) – was most famous for the oak tree that stood behind the goal at the Hatfield Road end of the ground from it’s inception until as recently as 1998. The large tree, that had a preservation order on it, protruded straight out of the terrace giving the ground a certain ‘rustic charm’. However, it also required continual pruning so it did not overhang the pitch and, more seriously, in 1992-93 when they finished runners-up in the Ryman League was part of the reason they were denied promotion to the Conference (champions Chesham United were also prevented from going up due to ground regulations). The other failing of the ground was that it was not fully enclosed but until the tree was removed there was little point in carrying out this expensive work. In 1995 football grounds writer (and author of the City history book) Kerry Miller prophetically said, ‘Unless there is a change of heart or of policy, then Clarence Park will not see Conference football as long as the tree stays healthy … it’s a shame it’s not a diseased elm’. And when, in 1998, it was discovered the tree was diseased (although some doubt that it really was) the club wasted little time in felling it. Today, a small area of slightly lighter coloured concrete indicates where it once stood and the remains of the tree can still be seen outside, where they have been fashioned into a bench.
The Bath City Supporters Society has come up with an idea which will allow school children and other community groups to come along to a game, perhaps for many this will be their first ever taste of live football. The Family Stand was an addition to Twerton Park from the days of Bristol Rovers playing their home games at the ground. It is a modern all-seated stand with a great view of the game. A number of tickets for children will be allocated free of charge as well as free tickets for their supervisors. Further tickets will also be made available on a 50/50 basis; a school or group sells tickets and keeps half the proceeds. The scheme is going to run for the remainder of the season starting with the Lewes game on 8 March. A sponsor for the community stand either for one game or the whole of the remaining 5 games is also being sought. If there is a local company in Bath that would like to support this initiative then please get in touch with the club. Full details of the scheme as well as an application form can be obtained from the club on 01225 423087 or downloaded here.
After three blank games City got their play-off ambitions back on track as a Scott Partridge double fired them to a 2-0 victory over Welling United at Twerton Park this afternoon. Having failed to score in their last three outings it took just 23 minutes to go ahead, Partridge latching on to a Dave Gilroy flick to lift an exquisite lob over Turner in the Wings goal. The visitors were lucky to still have eleven players on the pitch even at that early stage – Foyema, who had already been booked, catching Sekani Simpson with a crude challenge. Unfortunately, it was so late the referee missed it but Simpson had to be carried off the pitch with a foot injury. City were comfortably in control of the game, although a second goal did not look likely. There was little change after the interval, with the Kent side showing why they are deep in a relegation struggle, and on 72 minutes City secured the win. In truth, the goal had more than a slice of good fortune about it, Partridge’s cross deceiving Turner, who could only ineffectually flap at the ball as it looped into the net. City created several other chances to increase the scoring but will be satisfied to return to winning ways and, with other results going in their favour, back in the play-off places in 4th position.
Phil Walsh has joined Southern League side Tiverton Town on a months loan after the 24-year old slipped down the front-man pecking list with the return to fitness of Scott Partridge. This will be his second spell with the Devon side having spent month there at the end of 2006. Staying at Twerton Park is winger Luke Prince after City secured his services for a second month on loan from Blue Square Premier side Salisbury City.
The Wings 3-0 result at Weston Super Mare last Saturday ended a run of eleven league matches without a win, stretching back to early November 2007, and sets them up perfectly for another trip to the West Country to face an out-of-form City. The victory ensured that they opened up a four-point cushion on the bottom three sides, and marked a first success for newly appointed manager Andy Ford. The former Gravesend & Northfleet manager took over at Park View Road in January three weeks after previous boss Neil Smith had been sacked. Smith, who only joined Welling in the 2007 close season, paid the price for the club’s woes, winning just five of the 24 league games he was in charge, and crashing out of the FA Trophy to Ryman League strugglers Wealdstone. They also made an early exit from the FA Cup, only, ironically given most clubs showed little interest in the competition, tasting some success in the Setanta Shield – reaching the 4th Round before bowing out to Premier side Grays Athletic.
Of course, one of these five league victories under Smith came against City back in September. With City going into the game still unbeaten as a Blue Square South side, and sitting second in the table, a home win looked unlikely. The game itself looked to be going to form, as City always seemed to have the edge without converting this into goals. They twice struck the woodwork – Darren Edwards the unlucky player both times – and had a couple of strong penalty shouts waved away, but with two minutes left the home side grabbed an undeserved winner, an unmarked Sinclair headed home at the far post. This wasn’t the first time City had left Park View Road feeling somewhat hard done by, the most (in)famous being the 1988 FA Cup 2nd Round tie. Leading 2-1 early in the second half City had striker John Freegard sent off for an alleged elbow and then conceded two goals to crash out of the competition and miss a 3rd Round meeting with Blackburn Rovers.
Complete record against Welling United
Saturday will see Welling’s first visit to Twerton Park since the final regular game of the 2003-04 season. The match was a vital one for City as they required a victory to ensure a play-off spot for a place in the newly formed Conference South set-up. By contrast the Wings had already secured their place in the new league and when City got off to the perfect start, Scott Partridge scoring in just the second minute, it looked like it would be a comfortable afternoon for the Romans. However, to their credit the Kent side did not roll over and as the game reached the midway point of the second half City were grimly hanging onto the slim lead. They then won a penalty when Russell Milton’s shot was blocked by a defender’s hand, only for Partridge to see his effort saved. Thankfully though the referee adjudged that Naisbett in the Welling goal had moved before the kick was taken and Partridge made no mistake second time around. Honours have largely been even in previous Twerton Park encounters between the sides, with Welling having tasted victory on four occasions, the last being a 2-0 win in December 2002, against City’s six successes. Unlike some of their large victories in the Kent the biggest of these is only 3-1, which City have twice achieved, firstly in a Bob Lord Trophy match in 1994 through goals from Deion Vernon, Gary Smart and Paul Adcock. In April 1997 City matched this achievement when a brace from Mike Davis (one from the penalty spot) and a Graham Colbourne strike saw them home.
City failed to score for a third game in a row and had to settle for a point in a goalless draw with mid-table Braintree Town at Twerton Park this afternoon. The pivotal point in the match came on 20 minutes when Luke Prince was tripped in the box only for Lewis Hogg to roll the penalty wide of the goal. The rest of the game was a frustrating experience as Braintree showed virtually no ambition to win the match, content to stifle City and time-waste at every opportunity. In that sense the encounter was a reminder of the dark days in the Southern League when the majority of sides came to Twerton Park with such a negative attitude. Five minutes before half-time Scott Partridge almost took advantage of a poor clearance by Morgan only for the massive keeper to recover and turn his shot round the post. The second half saw City restricted to a few half-chances, Partridge and Chris Holland heading wide, with just a shot through a crowded box coming close to giving the visitors an undeserved goal. And when Darren Edwards header went the wrong side of the post in stoppage time it meant another blank for City as their play-off hopes continue to stutter.
After two successive defeats City will be hoping that a little bit of Irish luck can get them back to winning ways tomorrow against Braintree Town. The game will see a visit from the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club as they hold their first meeting of the year in Bath. The group will begin their day in the appropriately named Old Green Tree pub in Green Street at 11.39am before heading to Twerton Park and lending their support to City for the day. City’s links with Northern Irish football goes back to the 1956-57 season when former Ireland international Paddy Sloan made 28 appearances for the club, scoring three times. Unfortunately, City’s only current Irish player, Derry-born Mark McKeever, is presently on loan at Mangotsfield United, although he was ‘poached’ by the Republic of Ireland and made a number of appearances for their Under-18 and Under-21 sides. For further information about the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club you can visit their website at www.soenisc.com/cgi-bin/home.pl.
Martin Paul has joined Southern League Chippenham Town on non-contract terms to get some match practice. This will be Birdy’s third spell with the Wiltshire club, as they battle for promotion to the Blue Sqaure South. City will retain the striker’s Blue Square registration and is likely to feature for the club again this season, especially as he is just one goal away from becoming the club’s second all-time top scorer.
Braintree Town return to league action with a trip to face City at Twerton Park having last week become the final Blue Square South club to bow out of this season’s FA Trophy, their interest in the competition ending at the last 16 stage with a 3-0 defeat against Blue Square Premier leaders Aldershot Town. Their adventure to this round included a replay victory over Workington that involved a midweek round trip of nearly 800 miles. The Iron can now concentrate on trying to resurrect their league ambitions which, despite starting the season as one of the favourites, have been inconsistent to say the least.
Their place amongst the pre-season favourites was predictable after only missing out on promotion last season in the play-off final. Having secured a third place finish and a play-off spot with a 2-1 win over Eastbourne Borough on the final Saturday of the 2006-07 season, they saw off the challenge of Havant & Waterlooville in a controversial semi-final after a penalty shoot-out. However, their luck ran out in the final at Stevenage’s Broadhall Way when a single Salisbury City goal was enough to condemn them to another season in the Conference South. Clearly, expecting to be among the front-runners this season they made a number of summer signings, including Chris Sullivan from Stevenage Borough, Heybridge Swifts skipper Ian Cousins and Leon Archer, who became the club’s record signing in a four-figure deal from St Albans City. All pre-season optimism though soon disappeared when they failed to score in four of their opening five matches – they are still the fourth lowest scorers in the division – and after twelve games had only recorded two league wins. This poor start was clearly putting pressure on manager George Borg, after a 2-0 defeat at Newport County in September he hit back at supporters who he claimed were being unfairly critical of his struggling team, before turning on his chairman and directors a month later.
Borg, who could charitably be called one of non-league’s more colourful characters – although many club’s who have come into direct contact with him would have used less polite descriptions – began the 2007-08 season banned from the touchline after receiving a 6-month ban for an incident at Havant in February 2007 (although if you had looked at the club’s official website you wouldn’t have seen a single mention of the ban). This extreme punishment was imposed after he was sent off and then launched into a furious tirade at home supporters in a match which also saw a player sent off and a Westleigh Park dressing room wrecked. Borg then branded Hawks cheats and bullies in the build-up to the above mentioned Conference South play-off match between the clubs. This was the latest in a long line of misdemeanours from Borg, which had made him – and by association his club – one of the least popular in the Conference set-up. Although four months of the ban was suspended and, somewhat bizarrely it started in July, it meant that he was barred from any involvement in football on a matchday until September 1, which can hardly have helped in their poor start to the season.
Eventually, it all became too much for the Braintree board and Borg was sacked on October 17 and replaced with former East Thurruck boss Lee Patterson. The departure of Borg had an immediate effect on Braintree’s results as they won the next five league matches. Since then their results have been mixed, with three wins, three defeats and two draws in their last eight outings, and they currently sit in 12th place, eight points off the final play-off position. Although the Iron did briefly play in the Southern League between 1991 and 1996 this will be the first time the club’s have met and means City have now faced all 21 other Blue Square South side’s at least once this season. City’s squad will be boosted by the return from suspension of Jason Wood and Chris Holland may feature having missed the Thurrock defeat due to his knee injury.
City held another successful Meet the Manager evening at Twerton Park last night. Around one hundred supporters spent 90 minutes questioning Adie Britten and John Relish on a wide variety of City-related topics. The pair explained the reason for the recent departure of players such as Mike Green, Craig Davidge and Paul Keddle, Mark McKeever’s current loan spell at Mangotsfield, Scott Partridge’s fitness and the chances of signing Luke Prince permanently. Other areas covered included team selection, Lewis Hogg’s disciplinary record, the closeness of the squad, future progress, the cost of having a reserve side, possible reorganisation of the youth set-up, going full-time in the Blue Square Premier and quality of opponents. Another subject discussed was the recent criticism directed at Relish and the players by a small number of City supporters. He made it clear that this sort of inicident does upset him, especially given the high level of success the club has enjoyed under his leadership, and while he accepts he should try to ignore it, it is not in his nature to do so. However, he also made it clear that he knows the vast majority of supporters are fully behind him, and stated how much he and the players appreciate the excellent support they receive, especially away from home.
Ex-City midfielder Rob Cousins reaches the incredible milestone of 900 games this evening when he turns out for Paulton Rovers in their Southern League match with Winchester City at Winterfield Road (ko 7.30pm). Cousins – nicknamed Trigger due to his passing likeness to the Only Fools and Horses character – played at Twerton Park for seven seasons, after being released by Bristol City in the summer of 1989. He made 328 appearances for City – putting him in 12th place in the club’s all-time appearance list – and scored 28 goals during that time. He was player of the year in 1995-96 and at the end of that season joined Yeovil Town for £6000. Four successful seasons followed at Huish Park – where he also played three times for the England non-league side – before he moved onto Forest Green Rovers, Tiverton Town, Mangotsfield United and, currently, Paulton Rovers. He has a further connection with City as his grandfather, Ken, played two seasons for the club just after World War II.
Despite Scott Partridge making his first league start of the season, for the 2nd successive week City slipped to a 1-0 defeat this afternoon to mid-table Thurrock. The decisive strike came in the final minute of the first half when Matt Coupe lost possession allowing Hughes to play the ball to Orilonishe who slid it past Paul Evans. The half had been scrappy and lacking any real quality up to that point. Only a swirling corner that Evans tipped into the crossbar and Dave Gilory’s shot from six yards out that went the wrong side of the post coming close to a goal. The second half began with Gilroy heading another chance just wide but City were struggling to impose themselves on the game. Matt Coupe prevented Thurrock increasing their lead with a goalline clearance just before the hour-mark. Home keeper Blackmore almost carried a Hogg cross over his line then turned a Luke Prince free-kick away for a corner, but the home side were comfortably dealing with all that City could produce. Even when they were reduced to ten men – Swaine seeing red for kicking out at Darren Edwards while they waited for a free-kick – eight minutes from time, the Fleet still held onto their lead to condemn City to their sixth league of the season, all by a one-nil scoreline.
Mark McKeever is set for month on loan at Southern League Mangotsfield United to recover his match fitness following nearly two months sidelined with a broken rib. The winger picked up the injury back in the 2-0 win over Maidenhead United in December but could feature in the Mango’s home meeting with Bromsgrove Rovers tomorrow if the paperwork goes through in time.
Manager John Relish has hit back at a small minority of critical City fans after a post-match incident following the 1-0 defeat against Fisher Athletic last Saturday at Twerton Park. Relish, along with midfielder Scott Rogers, was involved in a confrontation with a small group of supporters at the end of the game and he admits the incident has left him ‘disheartened’ with this negative attitude. He said, “I think it’s a real problem the club has got. There is a very, very small minority who want to have a crack when we are not doing well. In fact, I think they take pleasure in it and I find it very disheartening. I suppose that’s football today, but some of the criticism is completely over the top. Nobody is more upset after a defeat than the players and management,” he added. “People need to have a reality check. We’ve got one of the smallest playing budgets in this league and were playing against a full-time side in Fisher last Saturday. Yet we’re still challenging for a play-off place. People need to take all of that into account.”