Sunday, 22 February 2015

Bath City 2 v 2 North Ferriby United

Saturday 21st February 2015
FA Trophy Semi Final Second Leg
Twerton Park, Bath
Admission: £12.00
Programme: £2.50
Attendance: 1,730
Match Rating: 4

When booking today's Megabus coach tickets to Bath for the bargain return price of £2 from London Victoria on Christmas Eve, I was looking forward to visiting a ground apparently full of character and tradition, and which was previously a Football League ground, with Bristol Rovers calling Twerton Park "home" between 1986 and 1996. Today's visit became even more appealing though when, instead of today being a run of the mill league game, instead I would be able to watch one of biggest occasions Twerton Park has hosted in recent years.

Twerton Park is just under two miles, a brisk half hour walk westwards from Bath Spa railway station, and happily found it to indeed live up to my hopes of a traditional ground with infinitely more character than the ever more widespread newly built or rebuilt stadia. One enters in one corner of the ground, and along the length is an old fashioned, elevated all-seater stand, which doesn't appear to offer the best of views, with a seemingly claustrophobic interior and supporting pillars along the front. Uncovered terrace steps are along the front of the stand, and towards the furthest corner flag from the main entrance is a further, smaller all-seater stand, again with supporting pillars. Behind both goals are uncovered terraces, although one is very shallow. Along the remaining length is arguably the finest part of the stadium, a large terrace with an old fashioned stand, which is not in the best of condition, covering the length, a real throwback to how stadia used to be prior to the modernisation of football. Even traditional floodlight pylons continue the feel of a football ground from the last century. All in all, Twerton Park has seen better days - virtually nothing of substance has changed since the stadium hosted Bristol Rovers' Football League matches almost 20 years ago - which is precisely what makes it such a refreshing experience these days compared with the sanitised surrounding usually found elsewhere. It even has quite scenic surroundings as despite being hemmed in between houses, a green backdrop is provided on hills behind both lengths. The 52 page programme was easy on the eye and printed in full colour, with more than enough information about both clubs, but contained 27 pages exclusively of advertising.

With a trip to Wembley the reward for the winner of this two legged tie, both clubs would probably have been relieved to have avoided Conference National and former Football League clubs Torquay United and Wrexham. Today's teams looked well balanced on paper,  Bath in in 11th place in Conference South with 40 points from 27 games, whilst North Ferriby 11th in the parallel Conference North, with 42 points from 28 games. To reach this stage, Bath, who warmed up for today's game with an astonishing 7-4 home win against Farnborough, beat Gloucester City, Bristol Rovers, Wealdstone, Altrincham and Dover Athletic, whilst North Ferriby conquered Mickleover Sports, Boston United, Hyde, Farnborough and Ebbsfleet United. They appeared to be a team that is difficult to break down, as they had not conceded a goal in their last four games.

Apart from a hail shower at kick off, and a heavier and more prolonged hail shower early in the second half, it was a mainly overcast afternoon, and the home side started the brighter, but it was the visitors who took the lead on 25 minutes. St Kitts and Nevis international Jason St Juste drilled a low cross from the byline to the near post, and the ball squirmed into the net with the final touch coming off defender Dan Ball for an own goal. That really seemed to set Bath back, as North Ferriby comfortably preserved their lead at half time.

Not much seemed to change at the start of the second half, and the visitors opened up a two goal lead on 55 minutes. St Juste ran onto a flick on, shrugged off the attentions of Ball, before eventually poking the ball past the keeper. From Bath's point of view it was particularly symbolic that shortly after the goal, skies darkened to produce a heavy hailstorm. It really was looking like Bath's dream of a Wembley appearance were vanishing with a disappointing performance, however out of nothing, they were given a chance to equalise on 61 when they were awarded a generous looking penalty for a push in the box. Dave Pratt, who was fouled to win the penalty, powered the ball down the middle to give the home side a lifeline. That woke the home fans up, and certainly perked the team up too, as they belatedly started to look threatening, and they got a precious equaliser five minutes from time. Nick McCootie took possession of the ball from a throw in, drove towards goal before firing a fabulous powerful dipping shot which lobbed the keeper and found the far bottom corner of the net via the underside of the bar. That really got the home side going, and they spent most of the remaining minutes in and around North Ferriby's penalty area. The winning goal did not materialise, but Bath must be happy to head to East Yorkshire next Saturday with the scores level, coming from two goals down and being second best for long spells in today's game. It will be an intriguing game, which will probably be decided on which team holds their nerve better, as well as, based on today's evidence, which style of football will prevail - Bath's neater, passing game, or North Ferriby's physical approach.

Video highlights of the goals can be found here

In the second leg the following Saturday, Bath took the lead in the second minute, with North Ferriby equalising. 1-1 was how it remained after 90 minutes, and despite North Ferriby being reduced to ten men early in extra time, there was no further score and so the tie went to a penalty shootout, which North Ferriby won 4-2.

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