St Albans City (2) 3 Bath City (2) 2 – Saturday 26 February 2022 – Vanarama National League South – Clarence Park
Match Report by Mark Stillman.
Johnny Goddard’s fortunate 90th minute winner left Bath City tasting the bitter pill of defeat once more in a remarkable contest at Clarence Park which they were mightily unfortunate to lose.
Cameron Green and an unlucky Jordan Dyer own goal put St Albans firmly in control, but a change of shape saw the Romans recover to level before the break thanks to a fine Cody Cooke header and Alex Fletcher strike.
Cooke had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside and then dragged an 86th minute penalty wide as City dominated the second half.
But the play-off chasing Saints snatched victory when the hip of Goddard unwittingly deflected Dyer’s clearance past Ryan Clarke to consign Bath to a seventh defeat in nine league games.
The drama began before kick-off when news spread that the National League South top scorer Shaun Jeffers was missing through a virus, the first league game he’d been absent for since joining St Albans 18 months previous and after a midweek brace pushed him to 29 goals in all competitions this season.
With him on his sick bed, the recalled Mitchell Weiss proved an able deputy, marking his return to a side with an assist on 12 minutes, benefitting on a wayward offside trap from the hosts.
Eddie Jones’ failure to step out in time saw Weiss clean through and he unselfishly squared it for Green, who tapped in his first goal for the club.
A superb parry from Clarke denied home debutant Joe Neal, whose reacted quickest to Michael Clark’s header from Goddard’s corner.
Clark claimed an assist in a midweek win for Ian Allinson’s men at Hemel Hempstead, and he proved key for the Saints’ second on 22 minutes.
A through ball by the centre-back saw Weiss exploit an absurdly high back line, again leaving him in the clear. His initial shot was blocked by a combination of Clarke and Dan Ball, but ricocheted back off the helpless Dyer to trickle over the line.
Jerry Gill changed his side’s formation to 3-5-2 to match St Albans but it didn’t have an immediate effect as a last-ditch sliding challenge from Jack Batten, making his 200th appearance, deflected Weiss’ strike wide.
By the half hour, City had finally developed a sense of calmness. Green was well placed to block Batten’s goalbound strike from Ryan Jones’ corner, before City pulled one back on 41 minutes.
Dyer found enough room on the right to bend in a perfect cross for Cooke, who expertly planted a powerful header past Michael Johnson from 10 yards, his 16th goal of the season in all competitions.
City were purring and deservedly levelled in first half additional time. Joe Raynes’ long throw clipped off Dyer to Fletcher, who lashed home from six yards to silence the home crowd.
Arguably the visitors didn’t want half-time to come, but they continued their intensity after the restart.
Cooke was denied by an offside flag, wrongly as it later proved, as another long throw from Raynes caused chaos.
The hosts, who had 16 clean sheets in all competitions before Saturday, were all at sea again as Ryan Jones’ corner was nodded on by Dyer to Cooke, whose header was superbly palmed away by Johnson at close range.
Omar Holness’ 30-yarder grazed the roof of the net before St Albans appeared to steady the ship, introducing 40-year-old David Noble to midfield as they reverted to a back four.
It didn’t ease their calamitous defending from long throws. On 85 minutes, another Raynes missile bounced against the arm of Clark and referee Steven Hughes pointed to the spot.
Having scored his previous five spot-kicks with ease, Cooke stepped up and side-footed wide much to the dismay of Bath players and supporters.
Substitute Tom Richards shot tamely at Johnson after Fletcher had robbed Clark during a tussle, and these misses proved costly as St Albans snatched all three points with seconds of normal time left.
Avan Jones worked his way to the byline, his pull back missed Goddard but in attempting to clear, Dyer smashed the ball against the midfielder who watched in glee as it rebounded back into the net to give Clarke no chance.
City couldn’t muster another chance in added time and slumped to the ground following this latest setback.
Four defeats from four in February against play-off and title contenders is tough to take for Gill’s charges, they’ll be hoping to march back next month from this loss against the Saints and haul themselves back up the league table.
City’s Line-Up: Clarke (c), Raynes, Batten, Fletcher, Holness, Cooke, E Jones, Ball, Rowe (Richards 76), Dyer, R Jones. Subs not used: Fuller, Smith, Frear, Sims-Burgess.
Scorers: City – Cooke (40), Fletcher (45+4); St Albans – Green (12), Weiss (21), Goddard (90)
City Bookings: none
Officials: S Hughes, M Chalkley, A Hitchcox