Oxford City (3) 3 Bath City (0) 3 – Saturday 24 September 2022 – Vanarama National League South – RAW Charging Stadium
Match Report by Mark Stillman.
Bath City recovered from 3-0 down at half-time to secure a remarkable point at Oxford City.
The Romans were brushed aside in the first half as Josh Parker’s double, his first goal for the club, and Klaidi Lolos’ penalty put the hosts firmly in control.
Joe Raynes also limped off before half-time and when Chris Lines succumbed to a muscle pull soon after the restart, it looked like an afternoon to forget for Jerry Gill’s men.
But substitute Rex Mannings pulled one back, Alex Fletcher slotted away a second and Cody Cooke’s penalty, awarded in controversial circumstances by referee Jamie O’Connor, who later went off injured, secured a point City’s second half display warranted.
Following a hard-fought two hours at Hartley Wintney on Tuesday night, City looked understandably jaded from the off at the RAW Charging Stadium.
On five minutes Tom Harrison’s long ball over the top picked out Parker. He capitalised on hesitation between Raynes and Joe Wright but meekly lobbed wide.
City did not heed the warning. Two minutes later a near identical ball from the centre-back saw Raynes find himself the wrong side of Parker, who held him off and confidently side-footed across Wright from 12 yards.
It was doubled on 21 minutes. Aaron Williams-Bushell’s initial low cross was intercepted by Jordan Dyer, but when latching on to the follow-up ball he went down in the box under pressure from Tom Smith. Referee O’Connor pointed to the spot and Lolos sent Wright the wrong way with minimum fuss.
Dan Hayfield’s free-kick sailed just over as Bath tried to impose themselves before they nearly conceded a third on 37 minutes. Josh Ashby pulled the ball back from the byline to Reece Fleet, whose miscue hit Oliver Sanderson before ricocheting off the legs of Wright and away to safety. A messy end to an otherwise exquisite move which carved the Romans apart.
City were dealt a blow five minutes before half-time when Raynes appeared to twist his ankle which forced him off and saw Luke Spokes on in midfield with Hayfield switching to right-back.
The defensive reshuffle did them no favours as Ross Jenkins’ men added a third on 44 minutes.
Kieran Parselle’s poor clearance under pressure from Lolos fell to Sanderson, whose perfect centre was prodded home by Parker to seemingly wrap the game up.
Parker, a former Come Dine with Me contestant, looked hungry for a hat-trick but shot straight at Wright after half-time as a comeback didn’t look on the menu against an Oxford side starved of wins having lost their previous three league games.
However, the introduction of Mannings for his debut on 56 minutes changed the course of the contest, as he took just six minutes to reduce the deficit.
It was after a contentious moment. Smith appeared to upend Zac McEachran on the edge of the box, to the extent that Lewis Coyle pulled out of clearing the ball anticipating a whistle for a foul. It was costly as Mannings pounced and his fine low strike from 20 yards zipped into the bottom corner past Ben Dudzinski.
There was nothing wrong with City’s second five minutes later. Spokes’ superb through ball caught Oxford napping and goal machine Fletcher composed himself to roll in his seventh in eight games to set the nerves jangling among the home faithful. City took full advantage of their anxiety.
Cooke’s flick-on set Mannings free on the left. His cross was clearly handled by Canice Carroll but referee O’Connor deemed the offence was inside the box much to the anger of the hosts, awarding his second spot-kick of the game.
Having seen his previous penalty saved against Weymouth, proving to be a YouTube sensation for the wrong reasons, Cooke had no fears of stepping up again and he nonchalantly sent Dudzinski the wrong way to make it 3-3.
Fletcher headed Parselle’s cross too close to the home keeper before a flowing contest was forced to halt when referee O’Connor hobbled off injured, meaning assistant John Perry took the whistle and a qualified official located from the crowd required to run the line.
The replacement referee had his hands full with three late cautions to round-off a madcap afternoon. It was the first time since February 2004 that City had recovered from three goals down to draw and few will anticipate a similar contest taking place again any time soon.
City’s Line-Up: Wright, Raynes (Spokes 40), Dyer, Batten, Parselle (c), Fletcher, Hayfield, Cooke, Smith, Lines (Mannings 56), Morton. Subs not used: Frear, Clarke, Wilson.
Scorers: City – Mannings (62), Fletcher (67), Cooke (pen 70); Oxford – Parker (7, 43), Lolos (pen 20)
City Bookings: Fletcher (72), Smith (80), Batten (90+12)
Officials: J O’Connor, A Kadir, J Perry