Larkhall Athletic (2) 2 Bath City (0) 3 – Saturday 16 September 2023 – FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round – Plain Ham
Match Report by Mark Stillman.
Jordan Thomas’ wonder strike helped Bath City recover from 2-0 down to overcome city rivals Larkhall Athletic in a pulsating cup tie.
Jack Camm and Matt Bowman appeared to have put Step 4 Larks in the next round with early goals to stun their neighbours.
But City overran the hosts after the break with two Cody Cooke penalties and Thomas’ howitzer earning progress for the National League South leaders, who now travel to divisional rivals Weymouth in the next round.
Larkhall rocked the Romans on five minutes when goalkeeper Arthur Nasta’s free-kick wasn’t fully cleared and Camm neatly fired into the bottom left corner from 18 yards.
Ollie Price’s side were in dreamland six minutes later when Max Williams’ corner was headed back across by Lewis Graham for Bowman to stab home from close range.
It could have been three when Eben Mortimer-Taylor’s ball from the byline was struck over by Camm as the hosts’ energy and willingness forced off-colour City into several errors.
The afternoon went from bad to worse for Bath when Archie Ferris dug his studs into Kieran Parselle’s thigh but escaped with a yellow card while the captain was helped off and replaced by Jack Batten.
Ferris nearly made full use of his reprieve when he burst clear down the right with City appealing for offside but shot too close to Ollie Wright’s legs.
Nasta showed good reactions to tip away Cooke’s effort at the near post and Sam Boulton’s interception prevented the front man with a tap-in after Ewan Clark’s teasing cross exposed the home backline.
A turning point in first half stoppage time changed the tide of the tie. Bowman’s clearance saw Ferris hold off Batten and from 40 yards he tried to hook the ball over the stranded Wright. Somehow the ball bounced two yards from the goalline and over the top when it looked certain to be 3-0.
The eventful nature of the day continued during the interval when referee Oliver Mackey had to withdraw with a pulled hamstring, meaning senior assistant Said Ouchene took over in the middle with a qualified official running the line. During this delay City replaced Scott Wilson with Dan Hayfield, adopting a 4-3-3 shape.
It worked wonders as the Larks’ efforts from the first half clearly caught up on them whereas Jerry Gill’s side had plenty in the tank and piled forward from the whistle.
Joe Raynes, a former Larkhall player, saw his header from Clark’s corner brilliantly nodded away on the line by Camm and from the ensuing pressure Clark blazed over.
Cooke wastefully headed Clark’s cross wide on 56 minutes before the forward’s smart strike on the turn was repelled by Nasta low to his left.
Elliott Frear replaced Clark on 67 minutes, allowing Thomas to switch to the right, and this combination proved a masterstroke for the visitors.
Hayfield’s lay-off to Frear saw him attempt to skip around Graham before he went to ground and replacement referee Ouchene pointed to the spot.
Cooke held his nerve to sent Nasta the wrong way and there was a sense that it was going to be an ask for the hosts to hold on.
Athletic’s hopes of an upset began to fade with Cooke’s attempt to turn near the penalty spot saw him rashly toppled by Jack Goodall for a clear-cut second penalty.
In a battle of wits, Cooke went the same way to once again out-fox Nasta and swing the momentum in City’s favour.
After Hayfield’s downward header was superbly clawed away by Nasta, a third goal in 15 second half minutes completed a stunning turnaround.
Cooke collected Tom Smith’s pass in midfield and found Thomas in room down the right.
The winger cut inside of Graham and unleashed a tremendous shot which clipped the underside of the bar and bounced in, much to the joy of the City fans in a packed Securitas Stadium.
A few late set-pieces gave the Romans some minor issues but they dealt with them with more authority than in the first half to claim a place in the next round.
While Larkhall will rue a missed opportunity, a record attendance and eye-catching first half display from them gives them a platform to build from, while City will hope to make it seven wins in eight when they return to league action next Saturday against Dover Athletic.
They’d probably want a more stress-free afternoon.
City’s Line-Up: Wright, Raynes, Greenslade, Dyer, Parselle (c) (Batten 26), Cooke, Smith, Clark (Frear 66), Thomas, Wilson (Hayfield HT), Russe. Subs not used: Fletcher, Forster, Lines, Morgan.
Scorers: City – Cooke (pen 73, pen 82), Thomas (88); Larkhall – Camm (5), Bowman (11)
City Bookings: Batten (37), Cooke (45)
Officials: O Mackey, S Ouchene, S Jenkins