Hemel Hempstead Town (0) 0 Bath City (1) 3 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 9 March 2019 – Vauxhall Road
It’s unlikely Jerry Gill’s final words to Ross Stearn upon introducing him was “go out there and get a hat-trick, son.” Left out of the starting XI, Bath City’s top scorer produced a remarkable 57-minute cameo, taking home the matchball in a straightforward success against a poor Hemel Hempstead Town side at Vauxhall Road. One win in five wasn’t the ideal form for the Romans ahead of their trip to Hertfordshire, but the Tudors had picked up one victory in 13, with Joe Deeney’s men also shy of several first-teamers owing to injury.
City shot down the slope first half and with a strong wind behind them, looked to pin Hemel back. James Morton was the first to test Laurie Walker when his fizzing strike was flamboyantly tipped over by the home stopper. The hosts looked tidy enough in the build-up but lacked a killer punch up top. Lone striker Leon Lobjoit was set free down the left by Jordan Parkes but hammered wildly over. The wind was effecting the game, with City’s attempted balls through often overrun and Hemel barely troubling Ryan Clarke, resulting in a scrappy period broken up by an enforced substitute. Sean Rigg had earlier been clattered into by Kyle Connolly, earning the full-back a yellow but more crucially, eventually cutting the midfielder’s afternoon short. Stearn was sent on in the 33rd minute; he scored in the 34th. Anthony Straker’s good work saw him pull it back to Ryan Brunt, whose goalbound shot took a heavy deflection off Stearn, completely wrong-footing the keeper and giving City the lead. It should have been doubled six minutes later. Freddie Hinds’ free-kick stung the palms of Walker and rebounded straight to Brunt, but he couldn’t keep his shot down, firing over from close range. Straker and Jack Batten sent efforts miles over as City looked to assert their authority further.
Hemel were pumped up in the second half. Lobjoit blazed over from outside the box and Parkes tried hit luck from further out, nearly catching out Clarke with an audacious effort from 40 yards, leaving the stopper to back-pedal and palm it over. Close range seemed to be the easier route to goal, as proven by Stearn on 68 minutes. He had Joe Raynes to thank for winning possession down the right, driving to the byline and teeing up the effort, side-footed past Walker from ten yards; City’s 50th league goal of the season.
It only took two minutes for two more milestones to be hit, and they were grateful for a helpful hand, literally, from Walker. Straker’s hanging cross was misjudged by the usually reliable stopper, Stearn nicked it off him and lashed home to complete a hat-trick, his second of the season, and Bath City’s 600th goal in National League South.
Parkes tried to rescue some pride within 60 seconds. The Hemel talisman delivered another daring try from just inside the City half which narrowly missed the bar. Walker redeemed himself by punching away Hinds’ thumping shot, before Clarke was called into action twice in the closing stages. Kavan Cotter tried to catch out the Bristolian at his near post but it was tipped away, and the Romans custodian did even better in the 87th minute. Connolly’s diagonal ball looked too long for Parkes, but he showed superb athleticism to connect and sent a volley towards goal, which Clarke got a strong glove behind to keep his clean sheet intact. Andy Watkins’ afternoon proved a forgettable one, entering the fray with ten minutes left but a calf strain cut short his involvement with stoppage time approaching. It gave Dan Ball a brief run-out, his first since August in stripes, and he should have marked it with a rare goal. Stearn turned provider this time, his cross was met by the longest serving player at the far post, but from a yard out he contrived to head over. It didn’t matter. A play-off place was strengthened by this routine win, and confidence boosted with a 14th league clean sheet and the converted chances ratio far better than recent weeks. The matchball will take pride of place in Stearn Towers, no doubt.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke, Straker (c), Batten, Artus, Rigg (Stearn 33), Hinds, Brunt (Watkins 79 (Ball 89)), Cundy, Raynes, Romanski, Morton. Subs not used: Amankwaah, H Wiles-Richards.
Scorers: City – Stearn (35, 68, 70)
City Bookings: Stearn (44), Brunt (60), Clarke (85)
Officials: T Bishop, L Jessup, A Gray