City’s relegation back to the Blue Square Bet South could be confirmed as early as next Tuesday after they lost 4-1 at Twerton Park to champions-elect Fleetwood Town. Any hopes City had of producing one of the shock results of the season disappeared as early as the 11th minute when Vardy latched onto Fowler’s pass to lift the ball over Glyn Garner. McGuire somehow managed to miss the ball completely when Beeley’s cross presented him with a simple tap-in as the visitors showed why they came into the game 71 points ahead of City before Cavanagh’s 25-yard effort made it 2-0 nine minutes before the break. City began the second half more purposefully with Jamie Cook dragging their first chance wide on 55 minutes and Scott Murray hurriedly slicing an effort off target shortly after replacing Marley Watkins. Three minutes after this miss Beeley’s centre was turned into his own net by Andy Gallinagh under pressure from Vardy and any hope of an unlikely comeback was extinguished. Substitute Brodie then raced virtually unchallenged through City’s defence to slot home goal number four, although he was central to a more unsavoury incident two minutes from time when he feigned a blow to his face from Gethin Jones which led to a yellow card and the clear embarrassment of his teammates. To their credit City kept battling and, after Lewis Hogg had forced an excellent save from Davies, Adam Connolly headed home a consolation from Jamie Cook’s cross. There was still time for Davies to deny Joe Burnell his first goal for the club with an even better stop but the defeat plus results elsewhere mean a win for Newport County over York City on Tuesday will ensure a bottom four finish for City, although any other result just delays the inevitable.
With relegation (and finishing bottom of the table) now all but certain City have six more chances to give their supporters something to cheer in a season that has been desperately short of such moments. The pick of these would be a victory over big-spending Fleetwood Town when they travel south tomorrow looking to move another step closer to a place in the Football League. The Trawlermen currently hold a six point advantage over second place Wrexham, although having played a game more and due to meet the Welsh side in eleven days time they know they cannot afford to drop points against City.
As the City and Fleetwood look set to end the 2011-12 season heading in opposite directions it is easy to forget they arrived together in the Blue Square Bet Premier two years ago as Conference South and Conference North play-off winners respectively. From the word go though it was clear this was the only thing the two clubs had in common as the Lancashire side immediately turned full-time and midway through the season paid £50,000 for Plymouth Argyle striker George Donnelly. All this came against the backdrop of a £4.5m redevelopment of their Highbury Stadium home as the apparently unlimited funds of chairman Andy Pilley looked set to buy their way out of non-league football sooner rather than later. By the end of the 2010-11 this vast difference in resources at the two clubs had translated on the pitch to just 15 points and five places (although that was enough to secure Fleetwood a play-off place) but this year the gulf has been exactly as to be expected.
Their intentions were made clear when highly-rated striker Jamie Vardy was signed from FC Halifax Town during the summer for an undisclosed fee alongside Crawley Town striker Richard Brodie on a year-long loan deal. Whilst the latter has failed to live up to the rumoured £80,000 fee that took him north the same certainly cannot be said of Vardy as he has netted 30 goals in just 33 appearances. This has understandably drawn the attention of a number of clubs, including Blackpool, Rangers, Celtic, Crystal Palace, West Ham United, Leicester City and Southampton. The latter two were rumoured to have made offers of £1m for the 25-year old but, once again showing the financial position of the club, these were turned down, although it looks certain that he will be plying his trade much further up the football ladder next season whether the Trawlermen secure promotion or not.
After an injury plagued opening to the 2011-12 season which saw Fleetwood win two, draw two and lose two of their opening six games Mickey Mellon’s side soon hit their stride and have suffered just one defeat in their last 34 league games, and are currently on a 25 unbeaten league run. They also enjoyed a memorable FA Cup run which saw wins over Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town earn a local derby Blackpool in the 3rd Round. Ironically chairman Pilley is a self-confessed Blackpool fan which led to some interesting pre-match banter between the clubs but on the pitch the former Premier League side cruised to a 5-1 victory, with unsurprisingly Vardy grabbing Fleetwood’s consolation goal.
Complete record against Fleetwood Town
City would almost certainly take a repeat of the scoreline when the sides met last season at Twerton Park during Fleetwood’s first trip to Bath. The home side took the lead on 16 minutes when Marc Canham’s free-kick eluded everyone to curl inside the far post. Canham and Lee Phillips were denied by keeper Davies but the majority of the game was played in the City half. However, City’s rear-guard was only breached once during the particularly one-sided second half when Rogan’s pace got him a couple of yards of space to slide the ball under Carl Pentney. The meeting at Highbury Stadium earlier this season was typical of numerous games for City as they dominated the early exchanges but a lack of cutting edge rendered this meaningless when McGuire headed the hosts in front on 42 minutes before Vardy made it 2-0 in first half stoppage time. Fleetwood looked content to sit on this advantage before Paul Stonehouse’s stunning right-footed shot reduced the arrears with 16 minutes left. Rather than heralding an unlikely comeback this just woke up Fleetwood and Seddon and Vardy struck in the closing ten minutes to make the final scoreline 4-1.
If City’s task isn’t already tough enough they will go into the game without top scorer Sean Canham after he picked up an Achilles injury at Stockport last weekend that could sideline him for the rest of the season. On the plus side captain Gethin Jones will be available having missed the York City match through illness and Marley Watkins could start if he suffers no reaction to his ankle injury following a 30 minute run out against the Minstermen.
City have announced that main sponsor Moore Stephens have agreed a new deal for the 2012-13 season. The gobal accounting firm’s name first adorned the club’s kit during the 2010-11 campaign and the new agreement is a welcome statement of continuity during what has been a difficult year at Twerton Park. City chairman Manda Rigby said, “We are very proud to have a company as prestigious as Moore Stephens agree to sponsor us for a third season. It is quite an honour for Bath City to have a logo on its shirt that would not look out of place on any Premier League side. Having Moore Stephens’ early backing for the 2012/13 season is a huge boost for the club, and we are looking forward to what we hope will be an increasingly strong relationship.”
Although City produced a performance that was immeasurably better than their limp effort three days earlier at Stockport County this couldn’t prevent them sliding to their 24th defeat of the season against York City at Twerton Park on Tuesday. Once again the outcome of the game was decided through an avoidable error by City compounded by a toothless attacking threat. Despite the visitor’s play-off pretensions there was little to choose between the sides during a poor first half, Scott Murray firing City’s only effort on goal well over the bar. Whether this was a sign that the Minstermen were content to wait for the usual gift to arrive from City is debatable but within five minutes of the restart it dully arrived. Sekani Simpson lost possession deep in his own half to Reed and he sent McLaughlin clear to fire a shot across Glyn Garner into the corner of the net. Although York created several half chances after this they looked increasingly nervous and the game entered its closing minutes and in the second minute of stoppage City came agonisingly close to grabbing an equaliser when Marley Watkins’ back-heel wrong-footed keeper Ingham only for Oyebanjo to clear the ball off the line.
City face FA trophy finalists and play-off chasing York City at Twerton Park on Tuesday evening as they look to bounce back from the desperate 4-0 defeat at Stockport County yesterday. The loss that ranks amongst City’s most depressing in a season when such outcomes have been painfully regular means their relegation fate could be sealed as soon as this weekend if they suffer further reversals against the Minstermen and title favourites Fleetwood Town on Saturday, and other results go against them.
York come into the game knowing that a win over City would lift them above fast fading Luton Town into fifth position on goal difference ahead of the vital clash between the two clubs on Friday night in front of the Premier TV cameras. Any hope that this game may distract Gary Mills’ side is likely to be forlorn as they know, with Kidderminster Harriers, Gatsehead and Grimsby Town breathing down their neck, they cannot afford any slip ups as the 2011-12 season heads for its final month. This is even more the case after they suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to fellow play-off contenders Southport on Saturday. This was only the Minstermen’s second defeat in 2012, both at Bootham Crescent and they have to go back to September for their last away defeat in the league, a run of eleven games. They have already booked one appearance at Wembley Stadium this season with an FA Trophy Final date against Newport County but the pressing priority at the club is no doubt retaining the Football League place they lost in 2004 and ending their unwanted status as the longest serving BELT in the Football Conference.
Complete record against York City
Although York had played at Twerton Park before against Bristol Rovers on several occasions last season was their first ever game there against City. The hosts came into the match having won their first home game as a Blue Square Bet Premier side against Rushden & Diamonds four days earlier and, despite the visitors posing the greater threat, they struck first on 38 minutes through a stunning 30-yard shot from Adie Harris. This lead lasted only five minutes though as Gash deservedly headed York level from Carruthers cross. The second half continued in the same pattern and once again City went ahead against the run of play when keeper Ingram inexplicably missed Adam Connolly’s cross allowing Lee Phillips to nod home his first goal for the club. Once again City could not hold this lead as substitute Till’s half-volley from the edge of the box flew past Ryan Robinson to ensure the points were shared.
Demotion back to the Conference South now looks all but certain after City produced an abject performance to crash 4-0 against Stockport County at Edgeley Park this afternoon. Despite facing a side with serious relegation worries of their own City never looked like getting anything from the game and but for several good stops by Glyn Garner and wayward finishing from the home side the final scoreline could have been even more embarrassing. The Hatters had already threatened to open the scoring with simple long balls forward but City failed to heed this warning and on 14 minutes Hattersley raced clear to find the corner of the net despite Garner getting a hand to his shot. County were completely in control of the game although they showed similar fraility at the back as twice Scott Murray broke clear but on both occasions he allowed King to smother the ball before he could get a shot away. Having been fortunate to reach the break just one goal behind City were still in the contest but two goals in six minutes before the hour mark ended any hopes of a comeback. First Elliott became the latest player to get in behind City’s defence to fire under Garner then an unmarked Piergianni headed home a corner. And with eight minutes Elliott netted his second goal of the game from eight yards out to ease his side’s relegation fears but leave City firmly staring at the end of their two-season Blue Square Bet Premier journey.
Following the setback of a single goal defeat to Gateshead in the week, City travel to Stockport County on Saturday once again knowing that anything less than a victory will leave them facing almost certain relegation back to the Conference South. Although the gap to safety did not widen, with Hayes & Yeading United losing to Grimsby Town, with just eight games left for City it remains an imposing nine points. And with difficult home games against play-off chasing York City and league leaders Fleetwood Town, a defeat against the Hatters would be a major blow for Adie Britton’s men.
In common with last Saturday’s opponents Lincoln City, County were relegated from the Football League last May and are facing a desperate battle to avoid a second successive relegation. If the Hatters do end up plying their trade in the Conference North next season it would mark a remarkable drop as the they were a Division 1 (now Championship) club as recently as the 2001-02 season. They began life as a non-league club with the surprise appointment of former Liverpool FC and German international midfielder Dietmar Hamann as manager. Although Hamann had an impressive footballing CV there was nothing on it to suggest that he was an obvious choice to lead a side back to the Football League. Although they began the campaign unbeaten in their opening five games, four of these ended 1-1 and by the time he was sacked in November the Hatters had won just three league games, crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle and were languishing in 17th position just two points above the relegation zone.
Hamann’s departure saw County turn to former player and manager Jim Gannon. The 43-year old had made approaching 500 appearances for the club between 1990 and 2000, and holds a unique record, having scored in all four English divisions, the FA Cup, the Football League Cup, the Full Members Cup, the English League play-offs, the League of Ireland, the FAI Cup, the League of Ireland Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. He returned to Edgeley Park in November 2005 as director of Stockport County’s centre of excellence for girls but before the year was out was appointed caretaker manager following the resignation of Chris Turner. When he took over the Hatters were nine points adrift at the foot of League 2 but he steered them to safety on the final day of the season. He was appointed permanent boss and after narrowly missing out on the 2006-07 play-offs a fourth place finished the next season saw County beat Wycombe Wanderers in the play-off semi-final before a 3-2 win over Rochdale at Wembley Stadium to return to League 1. After a bright start to the 2008-09 season financial problems began to take their toll and after the club went into administration in April Gannon was made redundant shortly after the last match of the season.
After largely undistinguished spells in charge at Motherwell, Peterborough United and Port Vale, Gannon’s return to Stockport did not bring any immediate change in their fortunes. It took nine attempts – including an FA Trophy exit to Conference North side Stalybridge Celtic and a 7-0 thrashing at Grimsby Town – before he enjoyed a first victory, by which time the side had slide to second from bottom of the table. The New Year’s Day win over Barrow did lift them back out of the relegation zone and a run of just one defeat in seven matches finally game them some breathing space. However, County have lost their last three matches, including further heavy defeats against Alfreton Town (6-1) and Southport (5-0). The latter of those games also saw keeper Ormson sent off forcing goalkeeping coach Hirmer between the posts for the last 20 minutes. Although County had released first choice no.1 Matt Glennon to reduce costs at the start of the year, any hopes City harboured that the 44-year old would have to line up against them on Saturday were dashed when County signed teenage Sunderland shot stopper Lewis King on loan until the end of the season.
Complete record against Stockport County
This game will be City’s first ever trip to Edgeley Park and they will hope for more success than when the sides met at Twerton Park back in October. In a scrappy encounter County enjoyed the greater possession but City the better chances as Lee Phillips shot narrowly wide then saw Glennon tip his lobbed shot over following a poor clearance. The game turned on 56 minutes when City’s defence – still adjusting to losing captain Gethin Jones with an injury – gave Chadwick too much room and he fired past Glyn Garner. City should have been awarded a penalty with 20 minutes remaining when Piergianni clearly blocked a Paul Stonehouse cross with his hand but mystifyingly referee Amy Fearn briefly appeared to think it was a rugby match she was refereeing and saw nothing wrong with the defenders intervention. Jim Rollo – making his 450th appearance for City – came within inches of reaching a Sean Canham flick but it was the visitors who guaranteed the three points would return north when Paton blasted home from 25 yards in stoppage time.
City look set to once again be without Sekani Simpson (hamstring) and Marley Watkins (ankle) plus recent signing Tommy Doherty, who has not featured in the last three squads although manager Adie Britton has confirmed he has not left the club.
City’s relegation fears deepened this evening as a single second half goal was enough to send them to defeat against Gateshead at the International Stadium. The decisive strike came on 67 minutes when City failed to deal with a long throw allowing Shaw to net his 25th goal of the season. The first half had seen the home side dominate possession with their neat approach work but Glyn Garner in the City goal was only called into real action on a couple of occasions. The second half was a much more even contest and Joe Burnell spurned a good chance to put City ahead following good work from Jamie Cook and Paul Stonehouse. Even after Hatch’s goal City battled back but they couldn’t repeat last season’s late equaliser against Gateshead and the defeat sees them slip back to five points adrift at the foot of the table ahead of Saturday’s massive trip to fellow strugglers Stockport County.
City have added former Truro City midfielder Dan Smith to their squad ahead if their long trip to Gateshaed tonight. The 22-year old began his career as a trainee with Plymouth Argyle, where he made his debut against Burnley in January 2008. After loan spells with Morecambe and Eastbourne Borough he joined the latter permanently in May 2009. He spent the end of that season with Weymouth before joining Truro in July 2010. After making 46 appearances and scoring ten goals for the Cornwall club he was released in January 2011. He joins City on non-contract terms and will wear squad number 41.
Following the back to back wins over Barrow and Lincoln City in the last ten days, City return to Gateshead tomorrow night with the tantalising prospect of climbing off the foot of the Blue Square Bet Premier, if they can complete a hat-trick of victories. The desperately needed six points has brought Kettering Town within reach and finally injected some real hope that a remarkable relegation escape is still possible.
After the original meeting between the sides was postponed just an hour before kick-off due to a frozen pitch City will now face the disadvantage of having to make the 6 hour journey to the North East on the day of the game but hope that the confidence gained from their brace of successes will outweigh this handicap. They will face a Gateshead side still harbouring play-off hopes having won three and lost three of their games since the late cancellation. The Heed currently sit in eighth place, but just six points behind stuttering fourth position Luton Town and, on paper at least, have a favourable run-in to the season. Piping the Hatters to a play-off place would be revenge for their FA Trophy exit at the Quarter Final stage.
Complete record against Gateshead
City are set to have to make at least one change from the starting XI that beat the Imps on Saturday and man of the match Marley Watkins limped off just past the hour mark after turning his ankle. His absence is likely to see Scott Murray start and the only other player doubtful is Sekani Simpson as he still troubled by a hamstring injury.
Two goals in the opening four minutes set City on their way to a vital 2-1 win over Lincoln City at Twerton Park this afternoon. With just two minutes on the clock Marley Watkins burst into the area where he was tripped by Williams allowing Marc Canham to fire home his sixth penalty of the season. Then two minutes later a Marc Canham free-kick was headed across goal by Gethin Jones for Watkins to cheekily back-heel the ball into the corner of the net. It was a start City could not have imagined in the wildest dreams and they seemed almost as stunned as the Imps as both sides made the rest of the half a forgettable affair. The visitors enjoyed the greater possession but it wasn’t until the closing moments of the half they began to apply any real pressure on the City back-line. They began the second half in similar style and Paul Stonehouse had to produce a superb goalline block to deny Williams on 48 minutes before he repeated the trick from Sheridan. This second goalline clearance appeared to deflate Lincoln but with 16 minutes left Lloyd was allowed to win the ball deep in the City half before firing a low shot past Glyn Garner. This should have sparked a tense closing spell for City but remarkably they were the side who looked the more likely to add to the scoring as Sean Canham was denied by keeper Anyon when clean through and then headed home only for the referee to correctly disallow the effort for a foul. Even a generous five minutes of stoppage could not help the Imps and City easily held on to record back to back wins for the first time this season and keep their hopes of a late late relegation escape alive.
City return to action on Saturday looking to achieve a feat that have failed to manage on six previous occasions this season – record back to back victories. The surprise 1-0 win at Barrow ten days ago, which broke their 2011-12 away league win duck and ended a run of eight successive Blue Square Bet Premier defeats, kept alive City’s faint hopes of avoiding relegation back to the Conference South and they will need to repeat this effort when fellow relegation strugglers Lincoln City visit Twerton Park.
The Imps travel south lying just three points and one place above the relegation zone (although still 12 points ahead of City) facing the real possibility of consecutive relegations having dropped out of the Football League in May 2011. A run of nine defeats and a draw in their final ten league matches saw them end the 2010-11 League 2 season in 23rd place and when they picked up just five points in their opening ten games this year the die was set on another season struggling at the wrong end of the league table. Unsurprisingly this dismal start cost manager Steve Tilson his job ten days into October and a couple of weeks later the club appointed David Holdsworth as his successor. The former Mansfield Town manager’s reign at Sincil Bank did not get off to the greatest start with a FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round exit to Alfreton Town after a replay but wins over Barrow and Ebbsfleet United in the next three league outings suggested they were finally finding their feet at this level. However, this proved to be a false dawn and the Imps have only recorded another two league wins since then and they come into the game against City without a victory in their last six outings.
In a scenario that will be painfully familiar to those connected with City, Holdsworth identified the number of ‘soft goals’ his side have conceded as the root of their problems. To this end Lincoln chairman Bob Dorrian has confirmed that funds are in place for Holdsworth to strengthen his backline before the loan transfer window closes in two weeks time. One name mentioned is widely travelled centre-back Guy Branston, currently out of favour with League 2 strugglers Bradford City. No doubt City will hope that his search proves fruitless before Saturday’s clash although the Imps did boost their attacking options with the capture of striker Mark McCammon on loan from Sheffield FC. The deal for the 33-year old – who is taking former club Gillingham to an employment tribunal on the grounds of racial discrimination – was delayed for several weeks due to registration issues before he finally switched to Sincil Bank.
Complete record against Lincoln City
Lincoln have made just one previous trip to Bath when they faced City during the 1987-88 season. Both sides came into the midweek game desperate for the points but for very different reason. The Imps were battling with Kettering Town and Barnet for the Vauxhall Conference title and a quick return to the Football League having been relegated the previous season. They were just a point behind the London side with two games in hand and knew a win would take that back to the top of the table. In contrast, City were fighting to stay in the division, languishing in 20th position and looking to close a six point gap on Welling United, with just four games remaining. On the morning of the game long-serving manager Bobby Jones was sacked and it was reserve team boss Paul Gover and ex-player Colin Tavener who took charge for the match. The visitors started the game brightly but after losing top scorer Ginley with a hamstring injury on 16 minutes they were stunned as City struck twice in three minutes. On 19 minutes midfielder Cumming headed a Paul Stevens free-kick into his own net then a surging run from Mickey Tanner saw him cross for Ricky Chandler to volley past Wilson. Two minutes before half-time Mathewson headed past Len Bond to make it 2-1 but City stood firm in the second half to record a remarkable win. Unfortunately four days later defeat at Runcorn condemned City to relegation whilst the Imps bounced back from the loss to pip Barnet for the title on the final day of the season.
City will hope to go into the match refreshed after their unexpected break at this stage of the season. The ten day gap has given midfielder Lewis Hogg the chance to fully recover from the illness that saw him substituted midway through the first-half of the defeat against Luton Town then miss the long trip to Barrow three days later. The only player likely to be unavailable to manager Adie Britton is defender Sekani Simpson as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.
A 27th minute Sean Canham goal was was enough to finally earn City a first away league win of the season at Barrow this evening, ending their eight match losing run in the process, and giving a small glimmer of hope that they could yet pull off a remarkable relegation escape. With Holker Street the location of their last Blue Square Bet Premier away victory over 11 months ago the remote north east outpost has become a happy hunting ground for City. With a strong wind and heavy rain battering the ground the game was never going to be a classic but that will not worry City as Sean Canham converted Marc Canham’s cross despite Bluebird’s keeper Pearson claiming the ball had not crossed the line. Not surprisingly City came under some pressure during the second half, Paul Stonehouse clearing one effort off the line and Glyn Garner producing several good stops, but for once their defence stood firm to earn just their second league clean sheet of the season and close the gap on 23rd place Kettering Town to four points. They now have a ten day break before their next match when Lincoln City travel to Twerton Park on Saturday 17 March (ko 3pm).
While the first team were plying their trade 260 miles away City’s U21 Development Squad was drawing 1-1 with Redditch United at Twerton Park. Smith put City in front on 18 minutes before the visitors levelled ten minutes before the interval. Despite several chances for both sides in the 2nd half that was how the game finished.
Chris Shephard has returned to Exeter City at the end of his one month loan spell.
When City withstood a second half onslaught from Barrow at the end of March 2011 in a lively encounter to record a 1-0 win, little did they realise that not only would this be their last league success on the road for approaching a year but also the last time they kept a clean sheet away from Twerton Park in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Their search for this elusive victory (and clean sheet) enters its twelfth month and 23rd game tomorrow night when they return to the North West. And on a night when records could be made or broken if City do suffer a ninth league defeat in a row it will be their poorest run since the 1971-72 and their fourth worst of all-time.
So it is against that rather depressing backdrop that City make the 550+ mile round trip to face a Bluebird’s side in their best form of the season and with a home record only bettered by the division’s top three clubs. Since returning to the top flight of non-league football in 2008 Barrow’s main concern has been avoiding a return to the Conference North but a spell of just one defeat in their last seven league games has ensured they are safely placed in mid-table and suddenly the more optimistic Bluebird fans are looking to a play-off berth. Given that amongst their recent results they drew with in-form Grimsby Town and inflicted Luton’s Town only defeat in 15 league games this hope may not be as fanciful as it at first seems and although they are currently in ninth place a win over City could move them to within one point of the play-off places. Unsurprisingly this current form saw manager Dave Bayliss named Blue Square Premier Manager of the Month for February.
Had Barrow’s good run come at least a month earlier Bayliss would have had to share the award with Darren Sheridan. The pair had been joint bosses at Holker Street since December 2007, following a successful run as caretaker managers, but at the beginning of February Sheridan was suspended for undisclosed reasons and the club launched an internal investigation. A week later he left the club by mutual consent with club chairman Brian Keen saying, “It’s a sad time for the club, obviously and fans will be wondering about the future of the club. We’ve parted good friends and wish him every success in the future.” He added, “Darren had a few problems, we had a few problems – anyway we’re over that we’ve shaken hands and Darren has decided to go his way and we’ve accepted that.”
Complete record against Barrow
Lee Phillips’ 6th minute strike that was enough to earn the three points last season was City’s fourth success in ten visits to the North West all by the same 1-0 scoreline. The previous three all came during the 1980s, the first during the 1981-82 season. City travelled north proudly sitting at the top of the Alliance Premier League having won seven of their opening ten games. And they made it eight wins thanks to a rare goal from defender Jeff Sherwood. Another single goal victory three days later against Gravesend & Northfleet saw City open a three point lead but one further win in their next 13 league games saw any hopes of a prolonged title challenge disappear. When they next headed to Holker Street in March 1983 the Bluebirds were in a desperate relegation trouble which City deepened thanks to Dave Singleton’s goal. There were relegated at the end of that campaign but bounced straight back so City once again travelled up the M5 and M6 in March 1985. City went into the game in second place, five points behind leaders Altrincham but with three games in hand. And once again one goal was enough to secure the points, Ricky Chandler on target this time, and move them to within two points of the Robins. However, in the end Wealdstone overhauled both sides to claim the title although only due to the short-lived experiment of 2 points for a home win and 3 for an away victory. Had it been 3 points for both City would have been crowned champions that season.
Luton Town inflicted a ninth successive defeat on City at Kenilworth Road as a goal in each half saw the Hatters canter to a straightforward 2-0 win. Although City had the first shot on target when Sean Canham nearly took advantage of a poor clearance they were second best for almost the whole 90 minutes despite a performance from the hosts that saw them booed off at half-time and frustrate their supporters until they scored a second goal nine minutes from time. They had led from the 17th minute when an unmarked Kovacs headed a corner past Glyn Garner but for all their possession couldn’t add to this advanatge. And City almost made them pay for this when Marley Watkins was inches away from turning home Gethin Jones’ header across goal just before the interval. The second half began with City at least showing slightly greater attacking threat but it was still the Hatters who looked the likelier scorers, Jones producing a great goalline block to deny Lawless after Garner spilled the ball into his path. Just as it looked like Luton would face a nervous final ten minutes Mark Preece failed to get any distance on a clearing header and Watkins fired a low shot into the corner of the net.
City travel to promotion chasing Luton Town on Saturday looking to end the seven match losing run and breathe some life back into their ever more corpse like hopes of avoiding relegation back to the Blue Square Bet South. If the increasingly inevitable drop does happen it will be games such as these that City players and supporters alike will miss – last season’s trip to Kenilworth Road was played in front of a 7000+ crowd – but equally should help fuel the desire to return to this level as soon as possible. In the meantime though City have to continue to believe that a positive result against the Hatters could yet spark a revival and see the club continue to enjoy life at the pinnacle of non-league football.
If there is a remarkable turnaround in City’s fortunes they could remain league rivals with Luton as Gray Brabin’s side look almost certain to face the lottery of the play-offs again this year. When they dropped out of the Football League in 2008-09 on the back of a 30-point deduction for various financial irregularities there would have been few people inside or out of Kenilworth Road who’d have believed they’d still be trying to get back three years later. However, that is exactly the scenario faced at the Bedfordshire side, having been unable to stop Stevenage winning the Conference title in 2010 then big-spending Crawley Town the following year. Although they twice had a second promotion opportunity via the play-offs, a semi-final defeat to York City and penalty shoot-out loss to AFC Wimbledon saw them miss out both times. So, it will be with a certain sense of dread that they have witnessed Fleetwood Town and Wrexham moving 15 and 12 points ahead of them respectively with about a quarter of the campaign remaining. A struggle for consistency during the opening three or four months of the season allowed this gap to open and for a while it even threatened to derail their play-off hopes, which would have been considered the bare minimum of their aims. However, an unbeaten run of 13 matches – including five successive wins either side of Christmas – saw the Hatters climb back to third place and they look nailed on for another tilt at the play-offs this year. This run was brought to an end by a single goal defeat in an ill-tempered match at Barrow two weeks ago, although they reached the FA Trophy semi-finals last weekend thanks to a 2-0 win over Gateshead.
The club received some unwanted publicity during the week when a Channel 4 documentary on the far-right group EDL suggested that the movement began with a demonstration involving Hatters fans. Hatters managing director Gary Sweet said: “We were bitterly disappointed that Channel 4 implied that the EDL grew from a handful of Luton supporters. The fact that they may (or may not) have been football supporters of any club, I feel, was completely irrelevant to the focus of the documentary. We are working very hard to ensure that Kenilworth Road is a safe haven for anyone to escape the pressures of everyday life and we’d like it to be an environment which brings people from diverse backgrounds together, not tears them apart.” And on the football front Town lost experienced keeper Kevin Pilkington after he took up a coaching position with Notts County. This departure appeared have been driven by manager Brabin’s policy of rotating the no.1 position between Pilkington and Mark Tyler.
Complete record against Luton Town
The aforementioned match between City and Luton last season at Kenilworth Road saw the home side celebrating their 125th anniversary and City were the perfect party guests as the allowed the Hatters to race into a three goal lead before half-time. City improved considerably after the break with Lee Phillips pulling a goal back on 65 minutes. For a spell the home side looked nervous that this could be the start of a unexpected fight back– their cause not helped by increasingly frustrated home supporters – but they denied City another goal and during the closing stages could have increased their winning margin. The match at Twerton Park earlier this season was one of very few high points for City this season as they held Luton to a 1-1 draw despite finishing the game with just nine men. Charlie Clough was the first to see red five minutes before the break for a second caution and Luton took the lead shortly afterwards through Morgan-Smith. However, the second half saw City come back into the game despite their man disadvantage and it was no less than they deserved when Phillips levelled on 72 minutes. Any hopes City had of grabbing a famous win disappeared two minutes from time when Paul Stonehouse followed Clough to an early bath and they were forced to endure several nervous moments before they could enjoy picking up their first home point of the campaign.
City’s only serious doubt for the game is Sekani Simpson who is still struggling with the hamstring injury he picked up against Hayes & Yeading United ten days ago.