Report - Oxford City 1-1 Bath City
Late Bath Equaliser denied City 3 points
A last minute goal denied Oxford City an unlikely victory in their rearranged fixture against mid-table Bath City.
With the original date having fallen victim to the weather, Tuesday night saw Conference South football return to the turf at Marsh Lane for the first time since New Year's Day. Bath City provided familiar opposition having already faced The Hoops three times this season, both sides logging one victory with another match drawn.
Oxford City made just once change from the starting XI which earned a point at Wealdstone, Stephane Ngamvoulou replacing Jefferson Louis in the front three. The visitors will have been relieved to only see Mike Fondop earn a place on the bench: the forward having terrorised their defence in each of the previous matches, bagging 4 or City's 5 goals over the three fixtures.
The match started cagily with neither side crafting any significant opportunities in the opening quarter of an hour. The main highlight was a narrow offside call against City, Kaiman Anderson producing a lovely touch to bring down a long ball before finding a teammate in slightly too much space.
Although it was Valentine's Day, there was no love lost between Godfrey Poku and the Bath defence as Andy Watkins brought the midfielder down about 30 yards from goal. The tackle itself didn't earn a booking, but Oxford United loanee Miles Welch-Hayes saw his name taken in the aftermath. The free kick was played short to Reece Fleet out wide but his low ball into the box failed to beat the first man. However, the Bath defence took their time clearing their lines and were almost punished as Jean Niate forced a mistake from his man, gifting Fleet a free effort from 8 yards out which narrowly cleared the bar.
With the game starting to open up City were nearly caught out by a long ball over the top, Craig Hill showing commendable bravery to come out of his area and clear with a flying header. Hill was put to work again in the 21st minute as Nick McCootie rose to meet a cross from the right hand side with a solid downwards header which the City stopper did well to gather cleanly.
The rest of the half was played out with both sides trading unsuccessful set pieces. The visitors came closest in the 29th minute, a well-worked short corner routine resulting in a low ball to the near post which the City defence did well to scramble behind. The following corner was played straight into the box with Niate rising highest to clear.
At half time it was fair to say that neither team was coming up smelling of roses, Fleet's short range effort being the only clear-cut chance of the game thus far.
The Blues were first out for the second half but it was Bath who got going the quicker, forcing hill into two excellent saves in quick succession. Substitute Marvin Morgan using his considerable height to meet a corner with a powerful header which Hill did very well to tip over. The second corner almost produced a goal of the season contender as a half-clearance fell to Watkins on the edge of the area. The midfielder's audacious overhead kick looked to be looping directly towards the top corner but Hill reacted quickly, flying at full stretch to put the ball around the post.
It took until the 63rd minute for the hosts to strike. Scott Davies' free kick from the right wing looked to be going straight down the throat of goalkeeper Max O'Leary. Despite a lack of pressure, the Bath stopper's punch was weak and fell directly to the feet of Fleet for a routine tap-in.
The Hoops came close to doubling their lead in equally fortuitous style with a quarter of an hour remaining as Carvalho picked up the ball on the corner of the Bath City area, unleashing a low drive which kicked up viscously off of the uneven turf. O'Leary likely knew very little about the save but will have been relieved nonetheless as the ball struck his torso and bounced behind for a corner.
Bath pressed forwards on the back of this let-off, applying all of the pressure in the closing 10 minutes. It did, however, take until stoppage time for the breakthrough to come. Substitute Jefferson Louis rose well to clear a corner but, with nobody following up the clearance, the ball was soon back in the box and on the head of McCootie. The big forward once again powered his header into the ground, forcing yet another excellent stop from Hill as he tipped the ball over the bar. The corner which resulted initially seemed mis-hit, barely making its way into the 6 yard box, but Watkins reacted quickly to squeeze the ball home from a tight angle.
With just two of the three added minutes still to play the draw looked like a certainty, but the Hoops still found time for one final attack as Loius was brought down as he looked to race onto a speculative long ball. The big man himself rose to meet the resulting free kick and, although his header lacked power, its placement still forced a smart stop from O'Leary.
Speaking after the game, Mark Jones reflected on the side's disappointment at the manner in which they were denied 3 points:
“Obviously we're majorly disappointed that we couldn't hold on for the three points. I thought the boys gave absolutely everything. It was a difficult game against a team who have only lost one in ten games. They're a difficult side to play against – they're quite direct and they're solid. I think we defended absolutely brilliantly for the main: Lee Henderson and John Niate at center back were tremendous as were Jordy Ngathe and Freddie Grant at full back so everybody contributed tonight. I thought we worked ever so hard but we couldn't quite get over the line.
The dressing room was very down afterwards – when you concede an injury time equaliser its very very tough to take but we can take a lot of positives from the performances of certain players.
We just needed that little bit of luck tonight: the lads were telling me that it wasn't a corner and even the Bath player said to them at the end that it was never a corner. We've then conceded from the next corner and I think that's just very difficult for them to take. But, we've got to accept it. On balance Craig Hill has pulled off three of four very good saves so you probably could argue that the draw is maybe a fair result but when you concede in those final seconds its obviously a complete sickener.”
Looking ahead, Jones's mind is already on Saturday's fixture and the rest of the season:
“We'll keep going, we'll dust the boys down on Thursday and try and lift their heads up We need to take the frustration that we felt tonight out on Hemel Hempstead on Saturday.
We've played against Bath 4 times now and they're in the top half of the table but there's nothing between the teams so we can take positives from that. If we continue to play like that for the rest of the season then we'll be fine.”
Oxford City: Hill, Ngathe, Grant, Davies, Henderson (c), Niate, Carvalho, Poku, Anderson (Louis 71), Fleet (Khawaja 71), Ngamvoulou.
Unused Subs: Fondop, Peake-Pijnen, Winters.